Watertown Daily Times
Students getting assistance sooner
RTI: Program divides children into 3 tiers according to needs
Date: Monday, December 29, 2008
By KELLY L. REYNOLDS
TIMES STAFF WRITER
A new method for helping students obtain additional help in school will be required by the state in 2011, but many north country schools are starting now.Response to Intervention is a model for providing additional assistance to elementary school pupils who need help in reading and sometimes math or behavioral issues. The tier model identifies pupils in three core areas.
The first area, or tier one, is the largest chunk, representing 80 percent of all children. They typically respond well to information presented in a regular classroom setting.
Tier two represents 15 percent of pupils. They typically need small-group instruction or additional help outside the classroom to understand information.
Tier three pupils, representing 5 percent of all children, typically need one-on-one or intensive extra help to comprehend information.
Once children are identified as needing extra help, they can move in and out of tiers depending on progress made. If tier three students still need additional help, they often are classified as needing special-education services.
“Now, before we refer a student to special education we have to demonstrate there’s data behind that,” said Laura A. Carbone, assistant supervisor of the office of special programs at Indian River Central School District. “Under Response to Intervention, we have to do our homework on every student.”
Indian River started the program before many other districts because it was classified by the state as a district with a school in need of improvement. It integrated Response to Intervention to improve reading scores and has since moved off the list.
“Under the old model, we were waiting for students to fail,” Mrs. Carbone said. “Now, instead of waiting for them to struggle and then classifying them as special education, we can identify them correctly and give them the help they need.”
In Sackets Harbor, Principal Jennifer L. Gaffney-Goodnough said Response to Intervention reinforces good teaching in the classroom.
“It makes teachers more accountable,” she said. “If students have a problem, teachers have to have data to prove progress or lack thereof. Data is collected throughout every step of RTI.”
Sackets Harbor teachers test three times a year to identify pupils who need extra help, and have recently completed the first round of testing.
“We test every student to find out who are the kids in need of some intervention and who’s already on target,” Mrs. Gaffney-Goodnough said. “The testing gives the data to identify students in tiers.”
Most schools do some sort of testing throughout the year as part of Response to Intervention because of the heavy reliance on data in the program.
“Mandate or no mandate, I would support RTI,” Mrs. Gaffney-Goodnough said. “Data is so important in making decisions, and one of the main parts of RTI is collecting and responding to that data.”
In the South Jefferson Central School District, teachers started implementing Response to Intervention this year. Mary Beth Denny, director of programs, said Response to Intervention is a good way to identify which area of reading children are having problems with.
“We know they’re struggling, but now, instead of saying a child can’t read we’re saying, ‘We’ve used these assessments and these are the pieces they’re struggling with the most,'” she said. “This way, they know what they need to focus on in the classroom and how we will conduct an intervention.”
Mrs. Denny is chairwoman of the Committee for Special Education and said she has seen Response to Intervention change how students are classified.
“I have seen that we have not gone through with (special-education) classifications with certain children because we have some other things we want to try first,” she said. “A child that a year or two ago we might have said, ‘Yes, this child needs special-education services,’ now we say we’re not sure we’ve tried everything we can.”
Rebecca C. Stone, principal of South Jefferson’s Wilson Elementary, Adams Center, said she likes the direction Response to Intervention is going in her school.
“We’re helping the student and the teacher much better,” she said. “I also really like the data piece of it. I like to see the progress we’re making. It’s not based on how a teacher feels but now we can also see the data to back it up.”
The General Brown Central School District has seen a big difference in students since implementing Response to Intervention. Lisa K. Smith, administrative intern at Brownville-Glen Park Elementary School who has been in charge of the program, said that last year the district identified 56 pupils at risk. By the end of the year, every child had been moved back into the classroom except for four, who were referred to special education.
The Watertown City School District started Response to Intervention in the fall of 2005.
“It makes all the sense in the world,” said Shannon Whitney, coordinator of special education. “It’s just another level of service we can provide to our students.”
The district has added nine positions to coordinate Response to Intervention at the five elementary schools.
“We’re trying to provide students with the help they need instead of waiting for them to fail,” Assistant Superintendent Marilyn H. Trainor said. “Overall the reaction has been positive and it has increased our student achievement.”