From the superintendent: Interventions are key to improvement
Just a few years ago, a revolution occurred in public education. It went off with very little noise or uproar outside schools, but inside schools the changes were profound. Teachers, administrators, and special education staff began to use a concept called Response to Intervention (RtI) to monitor progress for all students, and to qualify students for added services.
Under the old model of assessment and grading, students were given grades at set times. If a student struggled, they typically continued to struggle through an entire grading period.
Then a formal process began of analyzing the grades and looking at other student performance data.
A team gathered, parents were called, and a meeting held to determine what needed to be done to help that particular student. It took a relatively long time to get students the help they needed, and during that time the child fell further and further behind.
This was the model and process formulated and recommended by the federal government. In reality, most students who struggled did get extra attention or differentiated instruction in the classroom from caring and committed teachers. But the so-called "wait to fail" model was common practice in most schools in this country for many years.
One can imagine the impact this had on students.
Finally, about 10 years ago, educators rose up to contest this illogical approach. In concept, RtI is simple and logical. As soon as a teacher notices a student falling behind their peers, the teacher intervenes — does something different to help the student catch up. Then, for a short amount of time, the teacher closely monitors that student's progress as they work using the intervention. If the student responds, everyone is happy, and the student, now back on track with their peers, needs no additional help.
However, if the student does not respond to the intervention a team is quickly formed and new interventions put in place for the child. That cycle continues until either the child responds, or the team decides to recommend the most intensive level of interventions — special education. Whatever the ultimate outcome for a particular student, the process is much faster and more efficient at getting them the services and supports they need.
Excellent schools systematize RtI practices. Which means that a teacher at any level should not have to guess what they will try as a first intervention. The responses are automatic. First "X" is tried, response is measured for two weeks, and students who score at "Y" level on the test are back on track. If the student does not get the necessary score, the team convenes, and intervention "Z" is implemented. The team monitors student progress for two weeks, and determines whether the student is responding, or in need of further intervention. The process is fast and effective.
Interestingly, schools are beginning to see that RtI works on both ends of the ability spectrum.
From a purely statistical standpoint, a student at the 98th percentile is just as far from average as a student at the 2nd percentile. RtI also works with gifted students. It allows teachers to help those students stretch their abilities, and keeps them from becoming bored in the classroom. As we build our improvement plan, CUSD is committed to systematizing its use of RtI. It takes time to build the collection of interventions necessary for all grades and subjects. There are constantly new interventions to be tried, and ineffective interventions to be eliminated.
To paraphrase an old saying, "you can either change 1 thing 100 percent or change 100 things 1 percent, and either way you get significant improvement." Response to Intervention helps students learn, and that is the core mission of public education.
– Dwayne K. Newman is superintendent of Colusa Unified School District.