RtI at work
If you think Response to Intervention, or RtI, is aimed only at struggling students, teachers at Van Meter Elementary School would beg to differ. Strongly. This year, seven high-performing fifth graders jumped a year-and-a-half ahead in math.
“That whole group of students was put into a hybrid class in which we blend sixth grade math standards with pre-algebra standards,” said Janelle Thompson, one of the elementary’s two instructional strategists. “The teacher is fully assessing each student and targeting instruction, and it’s all standards-based. And the students are loving it.”
Though Van Meter Elementary had previously implemented many facets of RtI, the school joined 10 percent of Iowa’s schools this fall to officially launch RtI. And Van Meter already is seeing results.
In one year, the elementary school saw an average proficiency increase of 8.1 percent in reading, and 8.7 percent in math, among the third-through-fifth graders.
The district’s goal is even more impressive, with its collective eyes set on having a full 25 percent of their student body performing at advanced proficient – in the 90th percentile or higher. Indeed, since RtI, many high-performing students have increased their proficiencies.
“If they are doing well with core, then we need to challenge them and not just pay attention to the data that says this kid isn’t getting it,” said Principal Jen Sigrist. “What I really like about RtI is that it gets rid of labels, it focuses on skills set, and you don’t pay attention to the grade or if they are in special education or if they are Title 1.”
RtI is a proven practice to help schools early on identify, and intervene with, students who are on track as well as those who are struggling. This is accomplished by adapting instruction to fit those students’ individual needs and then monitoring their progress. Eventually, all schools in Iowa will be trained in the education framework.
Though the school kicked off RtI in earnest this fall, Van Meter Elementary has been using RtI principles for a few years. That made the full transition easier, but it was not without pitfalls.
“This fall the training challenged our thinking,” Thompson said. “We had RtI time set aside in our schedule, but RtI isn’t just a time – it is a process.”
Sigrist stressed the importance of collaboration when kicking off RtI.
“If you collaborate only within your own district, that could be problematic,” she said. “We need to collaborate with other districts to see how people are doing it.”
Brooke Gadberry, the school’s other instructional strategist, knows first hand what it is like when RtI isn’t implemented with proper supports. Gadberry was teaching in Kentucky when that state decided to incorporate RtI into every-day decision making.
“We were told ‘you are going to do it and so do it,’” Gadberry recalled. “That first year there was lots of high pressure and grief. There were no supports in place, no instructional strategists. Having supports in place is important to the morale of the staff.”
Even then, a school will still meet with staff resistance.
“We heard a lot of ‘oh, not another thing,’” Thompson said. “The reluctance comes from ‘I have 25 kids and I am responsible for them, and now this?’ It’s understandable when you see it as a separate thing. But as administrators, we have to be able to convey that RtI is an umbrella for everything that we do; it’s a way of doing business.”
Gadberry cautions about getting discouraged in the RtI learning process.
“When you’re passionate about teaching each child, and you hit a speed bump and think ‘oh this isn’t working,’ it is easy to get discouraged,” she said. “But then you need to look back through the data and see the overall progress, that helps when you hit those speed bumps.”
For Sigrist, there is no question that RtI is the way all schools should go.
“RtI is a process of responding to your data and instruction,” she said. “It really is this system wide ‘how are our kids doing?’ If we try to reach them with a certain intervention and it doesn’t work, well, try something else. It comes down to this: If you’re not doing RtI, what are you doing to meet the kids’ needs?”