Implementing RTI in Middle Schools
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Join Jeanice Kerr Swift and Lori Smith as they answer your questions about key issues related to RTI including scheduling; staff buy-in; preparation, planning and training for RTI; benefits to students and staff; challenges, and next steps. Ms. Swift and Dr. Smith will offer specific tips for how school teams can work together to introduce and sustain RTI at the middle school level.
This RTI Talk is presented by the RTI Action Network in collaboration with the National Center on Response to Intervention. A companion to the February 9th webinar, "RTI in Middle Schools," this Talk provides an opportunity for you to submit questions directly to experienced implementers regarding how RTI works in middle schools.
For example, in a math class, CBMs can be implemented as a warm-up activity where students complete their set of problems, correct them, and mark the number correct on their progress graph. This can be a line or bar graph. The teacher must set the number of problems a student must achieve correctly to move on to their next benchmark. In our school, many of the math teachers use CBMs to practice math skills several months prior to taking the state assessment. Students have roughly 3 to 5 benchmark/goals to meet.
The resources for CBMs are numerous. Some are in the form of workbooks, others can be downloaded, and other can be purchased through software. It is my experience that the workbooks are the simplest to implement because they can be done as a daily warm-up.
These forms are then sent to our school for review and each screening sheet is categorized red, yellow, or green. Students with a low score are "red," students with a median score are "yellow" and students with a high score are "green." The "red" students are then reviewed and interventions are determined prior to the school year starting. To see this form, please go to our school website: then click on Cheyenne Mountain Junior High School, then click on Programs and Departments link, then click on RtI.
We also do little things like have lunch catered for the Problem-Solving team. We meet once a month so this is relatively inexpensive but much appreciated when teachers do participate. We only meet once a month, all day, so that the process does not become too burdensome on staff. It has worked well, but you are tired after an entire day of talking interventions for kids.
Shift #1: We need to make a critical shift from a "teaching" system to one centered on learning. We can no longer be content with whether we "taught" the material but we must take our direction from the levels at which our students are learning and growing, using "real-time" achievement data to inform our work. We must understand that in a successful RtI system, student success is the only option. We are committed to provide increasing supports until our students achieve successful academic and behavioral performance.
Shift #2: We need to begin and end our work in implementation of RtI with building system capacity toward a top-quality Tier 1 Universal instruction. We can use an 80% proficiency rate as our guide. We must realize that there is no "silver bullet"—we can't "purchase a program" to achieve proficiency for our students. Rather, we must build our RtI plan on a strong foundation of solid strategies, consistently delivered, everyday—a top-quality Tier 1!
Shift #3: We must "catch the vision" of a school—a day and a time—when students move seamlessly in and out of the supports they need to be successful learners, regardless of the labels they may or may not have. It is this "vision" of ALL learners successful that will carry us through the inevitable "bumps" and numerous challenges of a systems-change as profound as RtI implementation to a place of full, robust, flowing RtI practice.
Particularly in schools where students are coming from at-risk backgrounds, including ELL, poverty-impacted, etc., Tier 1 work in areas such as organization for learning, developing academic vocabulary, and skill gap work can yield dividends for many of our students. I would add here that, while developing Tier 2 and Tier 3 curriculum, classes, locations, instructors is exciting work—there is something visible to "show" for this part of the process—reflecting on and improving our own teaching and learning practices in Tier 1 instruction requires us to accomplish the difficult work of examining our own practice. As such, it often comprises some of the more challenging steps in an RtI implementation, but, also when accomplished well, it yields the rewards of an improved system and dramatic improvement in rates of student success in schools.
- How will we know when students have learned? and
- How will we respond when they haven’t learned?
Teams comprised of teachers, counselor, administrator, parents, and other support personnel participate in the problem-solving process whenever students are not responding well to the interventions/instruction they are currently receiving. The problem-solving team articulates the problem, collects and analyzes data on the student’s progress, and determines a prescribed course of action.
You may want to see any of DuFour's books for more on this, particularly Whatever It Takes: How Professional Learning Communities Respond When Kids Don’t Learn, (2004).
My experience has been that once we're working more deeply at the level of root concerns, the results of the team problem-solving processes are much more dramatic and positive. This kind of problem-solving helps us shift from "stories" to "solutions," promotes the efficacy of the team involved, and really gets quickly to a level where we can see dramatic results more quickly. You may want to visit the Six Sigma website (there are many other good ones as well) for more information on the "5 Whys" activity, including the article "Determine The Root Cause: 5 Whys."
From these initial data-analysis and "kid-talk" meetings, they flag students who may need to be engaged in a problem-solving process to further define what interventions are needed. Our experience suggests that regularly scheduled meetings with clearly defined participants, roles, and protocol contributes to teams developing expert proficiency, over time, in ongoing Response to Intervention processes. When meetings are efficient and bring results in improved student academic and behavioral performance, we've discovered that teachers see the "win-win" of dedicating a portion of their meetings to facilitating the RtI process.
- Understand that a full-scale RTI implementation is a systems-change process and, as such, should begin with a genuine understanding of a vision for what this change to an RTI system can bring. Someone has said, "Without a vision, the people perish," and this is certainly true when it comes to implementing a successful RtI instructional design. Organizations that understand and "capture" the vision of a time and place where students move seamlessly in and out of the "real-time" supports they need to be successful in school, regardless of their "label" or lack of "label," are much more likely to be willing to make the sacrifices the implementation process will inevitably require.
- Set the school's achievement data out "early and often" to compel, and even propel, the work of the RTI process and its capacity to stimulate much higher levels of success for kids. In addition to reviewing the "numbers" achievement data regularly, tell the stories of individual students who are benefitting from the RTI process, succeeding in interventions, and growing beyond what they normally would. While staff members are not often compelled by school "initiatives," they rarely fail to respond enthusiastically to the success stories of students with whom they work.
- Repeat steps 1) and 2) often, and remember that moving forward in teams within an organization is a one-step-at-a-time process for real growth and school improvement. Watch closely for teams to experience success and have those folks share their scenarios with other teams in the building. I believe you will discover that success builds success!
For support in navigating the change process, I recommend any of Michael Fullan's works on change; I particularly enjoyed The Six Secrets of Change and would recommend this piece for schools who are working this change process.
Lori Smith, Ph.D.:
One way to avoid resistance from staff members is to begin by looking at current programs and interventions already being implemented in your school. Knowing the requirements and recommendations of RtI, look for areas of improvement within your own school's process. If you never introduce this as "RtI" you will be in a much better place to gain staff buy-in because it comes across as improving what you already have, not "something else" we have to do.
Another key component to adressing resistance from staff is to involve all of them in the process so that the all understand how it works and see the possible benefits of it. The way we incorporate all 46 staff members in our process is to have them rotate into Problem-Solving meetings (we have 2 general ed teachers each month) participate. Then, if we need a specific teacher to speak about a specific child, then we invite that teacher usually during their planning time. This has really helped all the teachers understand the purpose and the process of RtI.
Jeanice Kerr Swift:
Students needing additional supports are identified as early as possible. Teachers working in Tier 1 - Universal Tier classes have the understanding that we will try early support and intervention structures right away in the Tier 1 classroom while collecting data as to how the student responds to these initial inerventions. The process of intervening for students in need of help begins early in Tier 1 and continues to progress in intensity until we see sufficient positive movement in achievment data for the student. In my experience, we've seen success with a traditional master schedule of five core classes—with the 5th core class serving as a Reading Enrichment, Gifted and Talented, or Intevention class. Some schools have referred to this 5th CORE class as an "Essential Skills" class time where students are assigned to the area where they most need support.
Jeanice Kerr Swift:
I will respond to this question from personal experience rather than from the research: While I understand your district's concern about a "replacement" core, we have discovered value in alternative cores that feature differentiation for learning styles. For example, a math curriculum that offers more "hands-on" learning as opposed to a strictly "paper and pencil" traditional core curriculum offers promise for students who learn better in this way. When we have experienced success with an alternate curriculum options, it has not been because we compromise the level at which students learn, but typically involves honoring the various ways in which individuals approach learning—particularly, by allowing students additional time and practice to master skills or by providing alternative "doorways" into achieving comparable levels of learning and proficiency.
- during the school day,
- attached to the school day, either before or after school
- beyond the school day—to include interventions that can be accessed from home
- summer, intersession, or academy "bridge" sessions
While some schools have great participation in before or after school programming, if your school is not one where students can or will stay after school, I advise that you place your focus on building interventions in during the school day.
Many middle schools have been successful in leveraging the "enrichment" class, or the 5th CORE class for intervention, and some schools have accessed one of two exploratory periods for additional support. We have also had success with some access-online-from-home skill acquisition packages, but would advise that this intervention would need to be fairly dynamic and high-interest, such as a gaming-style intervention. Our schools have experienced success with one called Study Island where kids work to achieve "levels," building skills as they move up in the "game."
While there is a cost involved, we’ve discovered that many students look forward to the sessions and willingly participate on their own time. Teachers can easily monitor student activity in the system as well. While we have observed some level of success with students who are motivated for a "bridge" session, say in preparation for the transition to middle or to high school, we have not experienced sustained growth from a more traditional summer session. Typically, our students will show a "bump" following the session, but data at the following semester or spring mark is no different from similar-student peers.
Undoubtedly, the most powerful student improvement data we’ve observed, in terms of what we call "catch-up" growth, has resulted from the additional class period formatted into the school day—using an alternative instructional format—five days per week continuing through the school year. In leveraging this kind of time, we typically observe students making 1.5- to 2-years growth in one school year and, as a result, our schools who are most successful in RTI have anchored their implementation in this rather fundamental approach to leveraging extra time into the school day for student support.
Our school psychologist also helps us with any additional testing or assessment that we feel may be needed for a student. They also serve as a building expert to help us determine the types of assessments that might be implemented to gather more information on a particular student. This involvement usually occurs in Tier 2 to Tier 3 interventions/assessments because current intervention has failed or not shown adequate progress with a particular student. Once assessments have been given, the school psychologist is involved in the review of assessment results with parents, the Problem-Solving Team, and the student. Then as a team, we attempt to determine next steps and further interventions to be progress monitored.
Our school psychologist usually meets with our Core Problem-Solving Team once a week just to check in and make sure that everyone is staying on track with their assignments regarding RtI and particular students.
Two particular strategies that have proven interesting—and successful—for many students with ADHD are additional physical activity as an intervention at regular periods (once, twice, or even three times per day). Some students may self-select to take a "walk" as needed and we've also had success with assigning physical activity in a prescriptive mode - school personnel may supervise a student(s) for a walk or laps on the track at, say, 10, 1, and 3 PM.
I'm not sure of the proper term, but the "gel" seats are another "tool" that have proven successful for students who need a lot of physical movement. The "gel" seats are not expensive and they provide a less disruptive option than the "fit" balls that many of us have used in the past.
A second strategy I would offer is the behavior monitoring "sheet" where students use a self-check for each hour of the day and "check in" at the conclusion of each class period to mark a "score" in terms of how they did that hour. The most powerful piece of this structure is the 2 minute conversation where teacher and student come to an agreement on the scale score, say 1 = low and 5 = high. Over a period of two weeks, this behavior data can accumulate and then be charted; the resulting chart is most insightful in informing patterns of student behavior - time of day, days of the week, etc.—and can inform the next set of interventions that would be appropriate to support the child. Sample behavior charts can be found at the Intervention Central website.
While dealing with behavior challenges is especially trying in the middle school setting, I would also offer that growth with student behavior is, in my experience, most rewarding for students and staff and the process proves well worth the investment of our time in supporting increasing levels of success at school for our students.
For example, reading in the content areas and writing across content areas could be a focus of all teachers in the building where teachers can identify and look at particular strategies specific to their content area that can contribute to the overall student achievement of students. For a math department, these school-wide goals could be applied by focusing on how to "read" and "tear apart" word problems and for the writing emphasis in math, teachers may want to emphasize how to write out the solving process.
To begin considerations for Tier 2, it is again important to evaluate what interventions are already in place at a school. Because of the time that progress monitoring takes, it is important to consider using a "protocol" approach whereby a school has one or two specific interventions for reading, one or two interventions for math, and so on. Hence, when a student demonstrates a concern in math there are one or two research-based interventions that have several or many students with the same issue and therefore can be progress-monitored on a regular basis and consistently.
To introduce or "roll-out" such a framework, it should come from the teachers that are going to teach/train/use the intervention and share its benefits with the rest of the staff. Having more than on or two interventions for a subject area becomes very hard to monitor, track, and evaluate so start small! Get teachers invested in the process by asking them about specific gaps in the curriculum and about interventions for kids.
First, I would suggest that if your school team has not yet been trained in Positive Behavior Support (PBS) that, if possible, you begin with this piece.
Secondly, I would offer that it's critical at the beginning to participate in open and reflective conversations about what you believe, as a team, is important for students to understand about how we behave with each other at school. These preliminary conversations should address the question: "How do we believe we should behave at school?" and will uncover patterns in staff expectations.Coming together to adopt a common vision and language regarding behavior is, in my experience, a transformative experience, so resist the temptation to "borrow" a set of behavior values - invest the time to create your own as a team. Of course, from the set of values, your team can adapt a catchy acronym that becomes imbedded into our lives at school.
Third, I would suggest that during preliminary conversations, staffs commit to "lead with the positive" at school. By this, I mean to agree to model, teach, reinforce, reward, and celebrate the positive student behaviors we value. Students will respond to this "treatment" right away and staff will welcome the positive responses of students.
Fourth, working with Tier 2 behavior students in intentional and purposeful ways: behavior contracts, weekly counseling and group work, regular mentoring by caring adults in the building. Investing time, attention, and prescriptive "treatments" right up front often proves a transformative intervention for students who have historically struggled in school.
Finally, really committing as a team to invest up front in creating a positive culture and climate at school means that the "value-added" ways in which we behave together forms a strong foundation for learning together today - and for the future! School becomes, naturally, a much "happier" place!
- Math: during homeroom time (approx. 38 min) 15 students work with a teacher in a one-on-one setting and additionally they have a class with the same teacher that is a remediated class to meet their needs.
- Reading: We offer a Literacy Lab in place of an elective. This is a class of no more than 10-12 students and there are four possible levels to meet the needs of students. This class is everyday for 44 min...a regular class period. The curriculum used is called "Language!"
It is helpful to remember that exploratory time and/or elective times can be used for students that are behind or that have significant gaps. We call parents and "tell" them that we are placing their students in a specific intervention and rarely have disagreement about such placement even though they will not have elective or exploratory time.
An interesting discovery we've made in terms of primary math curriculum for Tier 2 and 3 students is a program called Algebraic Thinking. As I understand it, this curriculum was designed specifically for students who struggle in "crossing over" from concrete to abstract thinking and features several components that provide another "doorway" into math achievement—"chants" for math fact mastery, manipulatives, online lessons, and smart board capacity. It also includes a strong emphasis on math vocabulary that addresses a gap we've noticed particularly with students from poverty-impacted and ELL backgrounds.
In using both a different style of math primary curriculum paired with a robust tech-based intervention, we've observed dynamic improvement in math achievement outcomes for many of our students who have traditionally struggled in this area. In fact, we've just received an honor designation from the state for having achieved a 60+ median percentile growth over three years in math - this "recipe" of treatment described above delivered by an incredibly talented math team is really what generated this level of sustained high growth performance for our kids.
Lori Smith, Ph.D.:
Math has been a tough area to address intensive interventions because there is just not that much out there. However, through ARRA funds (stimulus monies) we were able to train several math teachers in the district in the "Math Recovery" curriculum. This is intense, 10-day training for teachers to help students with elementary math skills or basic skill gaps not learned. We have had great growth in our students in Tier 3 intervention and student with disabilities. In Tier 2, we have used a web-based program called Study Island that progress-monitors students for you and puts the skill building activities in the form of games. All activities are aligned to the content area standards for most states. Therefore, questions are asked in the state assessment format so that students practice answering test questions as they will see them on state assessments. Our kids seem to really enjoy this program.
Progress-monitoring tools should be specifically matched to content areas and interventions. For example, the progress-monitoring tools for math (such as CBMs) will be much different than the progress monitoring tools for reading. Therefore, when choosing research-based interventions, it is important to also choose progress monitoring tools for the intervention.
It may be possible to have too many interventions because you must progress monitor each one. Therefore, it may be helpful to start with one intervention per subject area and correlate it to one progress monitoring tool.
That concludes our RTI Talk for today. Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful questions and thanks to our experts, Ms. Swift and Dr. Smith, for their time today.
Related Reading from RTINetwork.org:
- Response to Intervention in Secondary Schools: Is It on Your Radar Screen? by Barbara J. Ehren, Ed.D.
- Create Your Implementation Blueprint: Introduction, by Susan L. Hall, Ed.D.
- Screening for Reading Problems in Grades 4 Through 12, by Evelyn S. Johnson, Ed.D., and Juli L. Pool, Ph.D.
- Integrating Academic and Behavior Supports Within an RtI Framework, by Hank Bohanon, Ph.D., Steve Goodman, Ph.D., and Kent McIntosh, Ph.D.
- National Center on Response to Intervention
- Johnson, E.S., Smith, L. & Harris, M. (2009). How RTI Works in Secondary Schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.