A Des Moines middle school was struggling with student reading scores. Last fall’s tests showed that only 33 percent of students were considered proficient. Winter tests, however, show 49 percent are now proficient. And this is just the beginning. Read about what this education team did to bolster their students’ reading comprehension.
Pictured here, teachers at Des Moines' Hoyt Middle School confer with one another over individual progress students are making in reading.
You don’t have to convince Laura Kacer that Response to Intervention, or RtI, is the way to go for screening student performance. She knows it works.
Consider: In the time this principal at Hoyt Middle School in Des Moines rolled out RtI building-wide last fall, reading proficiency has soared. Whereas only 33 percent of students in grades 6-8 were considered proficient last fall, this winter’s testing revealed that a full 49 percent are proficient. And they expect those percentages will continue to get better.
There’s no question it was a labor of love and necessity. In a school where nearly nine out of 10 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, the percentage of students proficient in reading was low -- and unacceptable to Laura.
“We needed to be diagnostic and break down the complex reading skills,” she said. “We needed to determine what components were missing from each individual child.”
Enter RtI, which focuses on individuals.
“This year is different than before because our work has been specifically targeted at individual needs of students,” Laura said. “We care very little about the age, but focus on their needs. It made for a messy schedule for adults, but it’s great for kids.”
RtI is a general education tool, meaning that is for all students, including those with Individualized Education Programs.
Liz Griesel, the academic achievement coach, said the frequency of progress monitoring depends upon the individual student. Some receive it more than weekly, while others are monitored every other week.
Heartland Area Education Agency’s Sue Severson, who has worked closely with the school on implementation with fidelity, says it has been interesting watching the school transform.
“Everybody is looking at each kid and asking, ‘What is happening here?’ and ‘What do we need to do differently?’ These students are lucky.”
“What’s going on here is not so much about materials, it’s about routine,” Sue said. “How do we develop routine to ensure the effort becomes self-sustaining? It is very explicit in nature.”
“Teachers are really talking about what’s happening,” Sue said. “I have seen teachers become truly effective teachers.”
“It’s no longer guesswork,” Laura said. “No time is wasted. We take into consideration each student. If the intervention isn’t working, we adjust. It is not an option for it not to work. Each student will succeed.”
When a student is determined to need interventions, the information is shared with student and parent alike, outlining the student’s deficit and the trajectory of improvement that is expected.
“Teachers are feeling more empowered,” Laura said.
With the elaborate screening under way, struggling readers are readily spotted.
“Especially in middle school, if you can’t read by then, the student has developed coping skills to get by,” Liz said. “With diagnostics, they can no longer fool us.”
Today, the students at Hoyt are much more engaged – particularly noteworthy, since they are middle-school age.
“Students are looking at their (trajectory) graphs and watching their progress,” Liz said. “We also share with the parents and make suggestions on what they can do at home to help reinforce classroom work.”
For Laura, this approach is about dignity.
“I talk with the students, saying ‘This is where you are, and this is where we are going with you.’ Students know you have a plan for them.”
There’s no question in Liz’s mind that other schools will soon be scrambling to launch RtI.
“When other schools see the incredible growth, they will to do this, too.”
Liz, who previously taught social studies, remembers well the challenging behaviors of some of her middle school students.
“But I understand that when there are behavior issues, oftentimes it’s because the student feels frustrated when you ask him to do something he cannot do.”
Sue says that without Laura’s leadership, the plan would have never taken off.
“Laura’s leadership makes a huge difference,” she said.
Laura hastened to add, “You’re only as strong as the teachers who are around you.”
When teacher Kristi Brown came to Hoyt, she became concerned.
“I have a special education background, and I’m used to using data,” Kristi said. “But when I started, I didn’t feel like everyone knew the children. There were a lot of assumptions.”
The implementation of RtI makes all the difference, Kristi said. But does RtI take up more time?
“At first, yes, while you are setting up the routine,” Kristi said. “Now that we’re on the routine and the kids know the routine, it just flows.”