Building a Master Schedule to Facilitate RTI

June 2, 2010 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM • Leslie Van Kleek, Steven Vandemark

About this Talk

The creation of a workable schedule that maximizes school personnel resources and collaboration among all members of the teaching force to deliver tiered instruction is essential to the effective implementation of RTI. Join Leslie Van Kleek and Steven Vandemark during our next RTI Talk as they answer your questions about building workable master schedules with the flexibility to respond to student needs at both the elementary and secondary school levels.


Ken Heath
With budget cuts, we don't have extra staff to provide interventions, how do you cover all your intervention groups?
Leslie Van Kleek

I work at a high school, so interventions are complete classes, either every day for 90 minutes, or every other day for 90 minutes. We are on a 4-period block schedule.

Our school district has made interventions a priority. The funding ultimately comes from there. However, without a supportive building administrative team, it would not be possible to offer appropriate services. Our principal has met with the staff throughout the year to discuss the importance of interventions, especially in reading. He has been willing to tackle controversial issues, including the fact that elective class enrollment and, as a result, FTE (the number of full-time equivalent staff) may suffer. Our district has also coached the community members regarding class sizes.

Parents have been made aware that, even with a limited budget, reading and math interventions are still a priority. Thus, class sizes in other areas will be larger. Regular Language Arts and Math classes will have more students than in past years, so that more teachers may be freed up to teach intervention classes. Advanced classes will also grow, as sections are limited to accommodate interventions.

It would be much more of a challenge without full district and building administrative support. There are, of course, staff members and community members who are unhappy with the direction the schools are going. However, in our state, passing grade level benchmark tests is being phased in as a graduation requirement. The parent, teacher, and administrator mindset has to change in order to come to terms with the fact that reading and math skills are going to have to be directly targeted in order for our students to meet with success. Until the state is able to provide more money for education, this will be at the expense of elective classes and smaller class sizes.

Steven Vandemark

Ken - we are in the same boat in terms of budgetary constraints so we have simply had to make our groups larger. We have also had to utilize our "Seniors Serving Schools" as well as parents and the YouthFriends programs.

Susan Kelly
How do you organize the master schedule to allow for collaboration, interventions, and data team meetings? We're having difficultly finding a common time for team meetings.
Leslie Van Kleek

At the high school, our teachers and subject specialists are bound by the master schedule and have one prep time of 90 minutes per day. When planning the high school master schedule, the EBiS team is given priority to have a specific, common prep time in order to accommodate meeting time. In our case, we meet weekly from noon to 1:30pm. The specialty teachers attend one time per month during their prep (3rdblock this year). Our meetings are organized by topic, which allows specialists to have only one prep time per month used up for EBiS (example: week 1 - literacy, week 2 - math, week 3 - behavior, week 4 - other interventions). The other team members are counselors (who are the real backbone of EBiS and RTI here) and administrators, who make the meeting a priority. It is scheduled the same time and day for the entire year, it is well known to be important, and we have worked hard to make it productive and worthwhile. Often, people bring their lunch and only miss the meeting for urgent matters.

The master schedule is built with interventions first (reading, behavior and math), followed by other "special" classes (advanced, IB, special education), and filled in with "regular" classes. It is a giant effort on the part of counselors, software specialists, data specialists, and department chairs. At our particular high school, we use the eSIS software and tons of time and expertise. Counselors spend many hours hand-scheduling students who need interventions and other special classes, who did not get placed correctly by the computer process.

Steven Vandemark

Susan - We have gone to a system in which our educational aides and paraprofessionals have covered classrooms so that specialists can meet with classroom teachers. We have also set aside two staff meetings a month as a combo MTSS/PLC (Professional Learning Community) time in which our K-2 meets once a month with specialists while on another meeting the grades 3-6 meets with the specialists.

Dan Wright
What is your RTI scheduling process and who are the major players involved?
Leslie Van Kleek

We have two teams of people who are involved in the RTI scheduling process, though there is overlap for sure.

The EBiS team meets weekly and includes counselors, subject area specialists (math, reading, and behavior), special educators, and administrators. This group discusses interventions that are in place and monitors student progress. They also keep track of students who are of concern and place students into interventions as needed. The EBiS team is essentially “data central” for all things academic and behavioral. This team advises the administrative team which interventions are working, which need expanding, and which could change. They do not, however, make budget and master schedule decisions.

The master schedule team begins meeting and planning for the next school year in February. Based on input from the EBiS team--and the district budget--the master schedule team (which includes counselors, administrators, department chairs, and data personnel) begin building the schedule. It must include needed interventions, advanced classes, special education classes, electives etc. Interventions and other specialty classes are placed first, with the "regular" classes filling in.

Steven Vandemark

Dan - our major players are me as the principal, our Title Reading and Math specialists, a learning center teacher, a primary level teacher and an intermediate level teacher. (We are an elementary level building). We have just recently met as a Building Leadership Team (which includes these people) to map out the schedule for our MTSS plan for 2010-11.

Walt Smith
How do you create a schedule that includes the RTI framework at the HS level and still enables students to earn the credits they need to graduate?
Leslie Van Kleek

This is definitely a challenge. Students in our state (Oregon) are now required to pass state benchmark tests in order to receive a high school diploma. This impacts all students up through the current 10th graders. With this law in place, intervention classes are needed now more than ever. In the past, we have allowed students to receive core academic credit for their reading intervention classes, along with elective credit for those classes that were double blocked (offered every day, all year, for 90 minutes). Beginning next year, intervention classes in reading will continue to be double blocked, but with the exception of our lowest readers (Language! Level A), students will ALSO be enrolled in a regular English class. If those students are also taking a math intervention class (every other day for 90 minutes in addition to regular math), then they will have a very full schedule.

We have put a few things in place that will assist students receiving interventions to graduate on time.

  1. Intervention classes count toward elective credit at the 9th and 10th grade level. Students need 8.5 elective credits to graduate.
  2. Students currently need 27 credits to graduate, but a full-time, 4-year student has the opportunity to earn 32 credits.
  3. 2010-2011 11th grade students in reading intervention classes will be allowed to count those classes for Language Arts credits.
  4. We are looking more closely at the graduation requirements in general and will likely be making changes in order to allow students more flexibility, while still achieving all state and college entrance requirements (cutting back on district requirements that are not requested by the state department of education or state college entrance).
Tina Jenkins
I am one of five "special area" teachers that are in the rotation wheel so that teachers can have double plan time on a given day. I only have classes every other week but because it is during double plan time, I can't be a part of the teachers' meetings. I need to be able to meet with them. How can we plan a master schedule so that every teacher gets their planning time (45 minutes a day using art, music, p.e. and media) but has an additional 45 minutes one of those days without guidance being one of those classes? We need to figure out where to put the kids while I am meeting with the teachers at least once a month. I still want to have the kids every other week, if possible. My principal is supportive if we can come up with a schedule that works. We need to think outside the box but are having trouble coming up with a solution.
Leslie Van Kleek

This is definitely a question for the Elementary expert. However, I know that our district's elementary schools meet in grade level teams once per month AFTER school. The specialists (reading, behavior, speech, special education, etc.) go to all of the meetings. Therefore, each classroom teacher is committed to EBIS (RTI) meetings once per month, each specialist meets once per week (sometimes twice).

Our schools are K-5, busses leave around 2:30, contract time for teachers is until 3:30 or 4.

Steven Vandemark

Tina - We have gone to a system in which our educational aides and paraprofessionals have covered classrooms so that specialists can meet with classroom teachers. We have also set aside two staff meetings a month as a combo MTSS/PLC (Professional Learning Community) time in which our K-2 meets once a month with specialists while on another meeting the grades 3-6 meets with the specialists.

Amy Pinto
When we try to make a schedule that also allows for grade level planning time, it usually makes a specialist (art, P.E +)schedule quite challenging. Their concern is having multiple and diverse preps with little time to change equipment/supplies. (i.e. changing from kindergarten to grade 6). Any thoughts on this?
Steven Vandemark

Amy - I have forwarded a master schedule that could be used as a model. We try to keep our intermediate class specialists in the morning and primary classes in the afternoon.

Mrs. Paula Dykstra
How do I make the RTI model work when, by contract, my K-5 building has a 15 minute morning recess, a 40 minute lunch recess, and a 15 minute pm recess? We also have to fit in 210 minutes of prep time per week. There are so many disruptions to the day!
Steven Vandemark

Paula - I have forwarded a master schedule that could be used as a model. We try to keep our intermediate class specialists in the morning and primary classes in the afternoon.

Martha Benes
How can secondary schools with one resource room teacher and no Chapter 1 or other support services staff help facilitate the process of RTI best?
Leslie Van Kleek

I believe that RTI should be looked at as a regular education system, rather than a special education system. Our intervention teachers and our counselors are at the center of the RTI process and work collaboratively with the special educators if a student has participated in interventions and is not progressing. Speaking academically, it is only AFTER a student has received research-based interventions for a set period of time that they can be referred for special education evaluation.

Our special educators are ON the EBiS/RTI team, but they are not at the center of it. Counselors, administrators, and regular classroom teachers are responsible for providing the interventions and tracking the progress. All of this is, of course, possible only with a cultural shift away from special education being the catch-all for every kid that struggles. It requires tremendous administrative support at the district level, and the building level.

Jennifer Betters-Bubon
How do you carve out time to intervene both for academic and social deficits? Often students who go through the RTI process demonstrate difficulties in both areas. The time constraints involved in having students receive "double doses" of reading or math services leaves little time to focus on social and learning skills. Any advice?
Leslie Van Kleek

At the high school level, this is becoming more of a challenge as the requirements for graduation increase. In Oregon, not only do students need to meet their district's graduation credits, but they also need to meet the state benchmark for reading and math assessments. The class of 2012 and above must meet these stricter guidelines to receive a diploma. Next year we will likely have a number of students who need reading intervention, math intervention, and behavior intervention, as well as services for ELLs. In a perfect world, these students would need only one semester or one year of intervention, and then they would return to all "regular" classes. There will, however, probably be some students who will need interventions for longer.

Reading at grade level, as well as developing the math and social skills needed to function in the real world, come at a price for some kids. There will be those students who miss out on "fun" electives because their class schedule is entirely made up of interventions and core academics. Many adults are concerned that if we add a class or program to meet their social and behavioral needs as well, that they will lose all motivation to come to school. However, we are concerned that without intervention in ALL areas, we will lose them anyway.

Our students with the most lacking social skills and the most challenging behavior are already disconnected. We have found that if we don't give them the behavior and emotional support they need, they will fail academically anyway. We have chosen to offer a behavior support class that meets every day in order to fulfill this need. They can get elective and health credit for the class, and can receive individual assistance based on their skill deficits. It costs an entire 1.0 FTE (full-time equivalent staff person) to offer this support, but the district has decided that it is worth it.

Steven Vandemark

Jennifer – We have a program called PBS (which is known as Positive Behavior Supports) that is a national program and helps with our social piece. We also have Behavior Specialists at the district level who come in to work with students in need. The important thing our staff has had to keep in mind is that without successful behaviors there will not be healthy academics. You can look up information on PBS at the TA Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports Web site. It has been very successful at little or no cost to implement!

Laurie DeAngelis
How do you schedule around teachers who work in more than one building?
Steven Vandemark

Laurie - It is tough and the key is "playing nice" between the administrators. It truly becomes a game of compromise. As an administrator, I simply discuss with the other principal what I can and cannot live with and then we start negotiating.

Laura DeAngelis
How do you create grade level homerooms in terms of student's reading level?
Leslie Van Kleek

In our school district, students "walk to read." This means that kids of all levels are grouped into homeroom classes, and they move to ability groups for their 90+ minute reading block every day.

Should students be pulled out during core instruction literacy time?
Steven Vandemark

Mary - We do not pull out during core unless that student is on a form of alternate assessment.

Leslie Van Kleek

In our elementary schools, students are grouped by skill level into their core instruction, and it is considered pretty sacred. Typically, everyone in the building who is in an instructional position is teaching reading at that time, including special education staff. Therefore, there are not pull-out services happening. However, many schools are different, so specialists may be trying to pull out students during literacy. I would discourage that practice, if possible.

Dena Liedke
Public school budgets are being cut. How do we get all the "bodies" we need to differenciate instruction K-grade 3? If there are limited "bodies" to assisst, would it be best to concentrate on K-1 or gr 2-3?
Steven Vandemark

Dena - We are in a similar boat and we have put a lot of our "eggs" (staffing) into the K-1 "basket."

Sally Grimes
As a consultant, I find that the challenge is to get the Special ed Director, Title 1 Director, Curriculum Director, Principal , ELL and all of the "silos" to build bridges....taking "collective responsibility" and share resources, so a true RTI model is possible. Any thoughts?
Leslie Van Kleek

This is so hard. I am very fortunate that I work in a school district where the RTI systems are expected from the top layer of administration. In fact, our directors are doing the professional development and changing the way the district does business to follow the RTI way of thinking. The hardest people to get on board in my experience are the regular classroom teachers, who are used to the special educators taking the entire burden of struggling kids themselves. In the past, the unspoken philosophy was "if the kid is struggling, there is something wrong with them." Now, we as a district know otherwise. The administrators at the top are on board. They are willing to shake things up in order to reach all kids.

Mary Lee
We would like to know more about Tier III kids and kids already on IEP's. Do they all get a "double dose"? Does the Tier III time during a reading block count towards their IEP goals for time? In short, what is the difference in services for Tier III kids and kids on IEP's?
Leslie Van Kleek

Tier 3 students who are already on IEPs are treated essentially like any other student who needs access to the intervention. In fact, most of our Tier 3 reading students are either students with IEPs or students who receive ELL services. For special education purposes, the case managers have access to the data from the interventions, and are able to use the data for progress monitoring and goal setting. In our district, we have determined that intervention classes are, in fact, specially designed curriculum. Therefore, a placement in a Tier 3 intervention (for us, it's Language! for reading and Social Responsibility Training for behavior) is considered sufficient to meet IEP instructional minutes.

Steven Vandemark

Mary - Our Tier 3 kids are IEP kids - they do get a double dose (they get the core time of 60 minutes then 30 + 30). We do try to work smart and make sure the 30 + 30 is included in their IEP.

Bonnie Campbell
Should the elementary schools use block scheduling to maximize interventions?
Steven Vandemark

Bonny - We have not done this but what we have done is a method called "SWOOP" in which we have 6 to 8 staff members (aides, paras, classroom teachers, specialists) swoop into a grade level for 30 minutes daily and work with small groups of students on prescriptive interventions. It has made a significant difference in test scores the last two years!

Our school is PreK-8th and there are two sections each of grades K-6. We have three Sp. Ed. teachers for the school and one instructional coach. Is there a solution to creating a RTI master schedule to incoporate interventions without any additional personnel?
Leslie Van Kleek

In our school district, we have determined that RTI is really a regular education system. It does not begin with special education, though students who are not making sufficient progress in research-based interventions may end up being referred for special education evaluation. Therefore, personnel decisions around RTI are more about how many "regular" teaching staff are available, rather than how many special education staff are available.

The really challenging part comes in a budget crunch, which we are all facing. Districts have to make hard decisions about class sizes and electives, which impact all kids and all staff. In general, we have chosen higher class sizes at all levels to free up instructional staff for intervention purposes when there is no money for additional personnel.

Steven Vandemark

Sharon - We have the same set up, 2 sections in a K-6 building. If you are only going to use these staff, then you would simply have to have larger groups with each staff member. We try to have only up to 5 kids in Tier 2 groups and 1 to 3 kids for Tier 3 groups.

What we have done is a method called "SWOOP" in which we have 6 to 8 staff members (aides, paras, classroom teachers, specialists) swoop into a grade level for 30 minutes daily and work with small groups of students on prescriptive interventions. It has made a significant difference in test scores the last two years!

Adam Maciejewski
How can we implement RTI in a middle school setting when using traditional 41 minute periods? Are there ways to preserve encore classes for students who need secondary or tertiary intervention?
Leslie Van Kleek

I teach high school, so I can answer from that perspective, as well as what I know about our middle schools. In our district, students have their interventions (reading, behavior, math) as a class in their day. So, they may have reading intervention every day for 41 minutes, and may not have access to a particular elective as a result. The high school functions that way as well. Middle schools have more flexibility, however, because they are not focused on graduation credits. In high school, intervention classes are counted for elective credit, which helps with that problem, though a kid who is severely in academic trouble, may never be able to take certain electives, which is very hard for some of them.

I'm new to middle school, but am thinking that interventions should be scheduled by subject area (eg.reading and math and then drill down into the data to find what students need a particular skill in each areas). Does this sound right?
Leslie Van Kleek

I work at a high school, so I am not an expert in middle school, per se. However, that does sound like a plan that could work. In our subject-specific interventions, the kids are receiving whole group instruction, though the group size is small, typically. Students who need skill-specific instruction, that maybe other students don't need, could be pulled out individually, if time allows. For example, in our Tier 3 reading interventions, most students in the groups have similar skill deficits, which have been determined by pre screening. If a student is on an IEP, they may have access to even smaller group instruction and individual pull-out instruction.

Kim Riley
When creating a master schedule to deliver RTI, what special considerations should Title I schools make? How can RTI help them be successful?
Steven Vandemark

Kim - We are a Title I school and the biggest consideration we make is to work smart...utilize and maximize as much as possible the additional staff you are provided. I have sent in an example of a master schedule that shows how we utilize staff, which will be posted under "Additional Resources" below.

What we have done is a method called "SWOOP" in which we have 6 to 8 staff members (aides, paras, classroom teachers, specialists) swoop into a grade level for 30 minutes daily and work with small groups of students on prescriptive interventions. It has made a significant difference in test scores the last two years!

How does one best meet the needs of the students at ALL levels in RTI?
Steven Vandemark

Cheryl - What we have done is a method called "SWOOP" in which we have 6 to 8 staff members (aides, paras, classroom teachers, specialists) swoop into a grade level for 30 minutes daily and work with small groups of students on prescriptive interventions. It has made a significant difference in test scores the last two years!

Kim Riley
How should special educators collaborate across special and general ed with scheduling?
Leslie Van Kleek

At the high school level, we have a process called “forecasting” in which students are able to choose classes for the following year. At the same time, teachers and specialists are pouring over data and generating lists of students who need interventions. This list is constantly updated, especially as we use state assessment data as a universal screening tool. For example, our spring "window" for testing just closed, so only today, do we actually have the final list of students who will need reading intervention next year.

During the forecasting process, the special education department is heavily involved. They work with the counseling team and administration to build special education classes into the overall plan, based on what IEP students need. They also have access to the intervention lists, so that they can cross-check special education services with those services. All special education students who need intervention based on screening scores will have access to them.

Steven Vandemark

Kim - We have gone to a system in which our educational aides and paraprofessionals have covered classrooms so that specialists can meet with classroom teachers. We have also set aside two staff meetings a month as a combo MTSS/PLC (Professional Learning Communities) time in which our K-2 meets once a month with specialists while on another meeting the grades 3-6 meets with the specialists.

Patti Ward
How does a small school offer Tier III instruction in all areas that might be required e.g. Math, Reading, Writing Remediation, etc. with limited staff and limited course offerings?
Leslie Van Kleek

I work at a fairly large high school, with 2000 students. I am not sure how small your school is. In general, we are having to make really hard choices in order to free up staff to implement Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions. What has suffered for us in class size. "Regular" English and math classes are larger in order for instructors to be available to teach intervention classes. The other area to suffer in high school and middle schools is elective offerings. Kids who need extensive intervention will likely miss out on some "fun" classes in order to bring their academic skills to grade level.

Katy Perry
Under the model you describe, is there room for flexibility as students make progress, or are they scheduled into the intervention sections for an entire quarter, tri or semester?
Leslie Van Kleek

This is a good question. We have found that it is more of an "emergency" to get kids INTO interventions when they need them, rather than waiting for a natural grading period break. This is not as difficult to do, though a student may lose an elective or even a core class, and they may have a schedule shake up. For kids who are progressing OUT of interventions, we have decided to wait until at least a quarter change (all of our classes are semester length) to move them out. All of these schedule changes are hard, though. And have been a cultural shift for our teachers. It has been made clear by administrators that we are to welcome kids to our classes whenever they come, even if it is at an inconvenient time for grading or at an awkward point in the curriculum.

Steven Vandemark

Katy - We have data boards that we use that visually display our flexible groups and every 4 weeks we meet as a staff to review the boards and discuss any group changes that are warranted.

Laurice Sommers
Many of our schools have small learning communities. How do you suggest integrating intervention courses into the master schedule while honoring the integrity of the small learning communities?
Leslie Van Kleek

We are planning to begin small learning communities (SLCs) for our 9th grade students in the fall. It is VERY hard to incorporate interventions at the same time. We have a 4x4 block schedule. Students will be in an SLC for 2 blocks. They will be available 1st and 2nd, 2nd and 3rd, 3rd and 4th, and 1st and 4th. Kids who need interventions will be shuffled into the SLC that best fits their schedule. It is possible, though, that a student who needs math, reading, behavior and ELL, for example, will not have access to an SLC, or will only have 1 block instead of 2.

Fran Jacobson
In our RtI framework, we try to keep students in the 2 hour reading block with Tier 1 instruction. They receive interventions outside of this block. It is difficult to schedule this so that all students get their interventions. They miss Science and Social Studies if they are pulled out for interventions. How and when do other elementary schools schedule interventions?
Steven Vandemark

Fran - This is a common issue in our elementary building. I have to have this conversation often with parents as many of our Tier 3 students do miss social studies and or science. We simply modify what is expected of those students. The bottom line becomes, as the student gets older, so much of the coursework is really reading, so we have to have that critical piece in place.

I work in a new start-up magnet Middle school where we're trying to start an RTI program for Math. Our biggest challenge is scheduling and class size. Also, how soon should we screen the incoming students to assess the requirement?
Leslie Van Kleek

At the high school, in terms of screening, we use the state assessment scores (taken up to 3 times per year) as a universal screening tool. So, for next year's incoming Freshmen, we are looking at the current 8th grade math test scores. If students did not meet the benchmark by their 3rd try, they are scheduled into an intervention class, which will begin in September. Within the classes, and throughout the year, students' progress will be monitored and discussed at monthly EBiS meetings. If this is not possible, I would start screening them in September!

At the Elementary Level, we have a large group of students who are targeted for Tier II and Tier III support. In your opinion, do you see any issues with paraprofessionals leading these support groups?
Steven Vandemark

Vanessa - We do a lot of advance training for our paraprofessionals who do a great job with our Tier 2 and 3 students. It is necessary for the high number of Tier 2 and 3 students we have that our paras work with these students.

To minimize the scheduling conflict do you prefer homogeneous classrooms? I mean, grouping the students with similar abilities and have enough number of support staff for the regular classroom! Your thoughts please.
Leslie Van Kleek

At our elementary schools, kids are grouped into classes NOT by ability level, but heterogeneously. They use a model called "walk to read." They are moved to their ability group by subject, but their homeroom and their classroom identity is not based on skill level. So, for example, each first grade teacher has a mixed ability homeroom, but teaches a specific reading level during literacy block. The kids "walk" to their reading group for 90 minutes per day.

That concludes our RTI Talk for today. Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful questions and thanks to our experts, Ms. Leslie Van Kleek and Mr. Steven Vandemark, for their time today.

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