Brian Miller is the principal at Jefferson Intermediate School in Pella, Iowa. Jefferson is a 4th-6th grade school with 540 students. He has been the principal there for ten years and has spent 20 years total in the educational setting as a teacher and administrator.
What did you do?
Through the years we have worked on trying to find ways to meet the individual needs of each student. This has led us to put several steps in place to help in diagnosing the specific needs of each student. Throughout the year our students will go through a series of screenings. Four times a year they are given a fluency/accuracy assessment. In the fall they take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. In the spring the Gates McGintie assessment is administered. Students' progress on Accelerated Reader and district benchmarks is also monitored. When a teacher is concerned about the performance of a student, we hold a Student Assistance Team meeting and discuss the current data we have on the student. This team is led by the Student Assistance Coordinator who receives the teacher’s request for a meeting, leads the meeting, and coordinates any follow-up meetings. Also included on the team are the classroom teacher, administrator, and any other staff members who may be able to assist with the student. At this time an intervention plan is developed that we believe will meet the needs of the student. This might include further diagnostic assessments to help determine the best intervention. Throughout the intervention data will be collected to monitor the student's progress. The team will meet again to determine if the intervention is effective and needs to continue, if the student has made sufficient progress to be exited from the intervention, or if a different intervention needs to be tried. We also schedule three Literacy Days during the school year to look at our screening data for all students and to discuss all students who are on interventions. The Literacy Day team is made up of the director of instruction for the district, the administrator, Title 1 teachers, special education teachers, classroom teachers, and support staff. This has been very effective in monitoring interventions and making placement decisions for students.
What challenges did you face?
It is always a challenge to find the time to look over the data and to meet and discuss it. All schools have limited resources and face the challenges of providing enough intervention support for the students who can use the assistance. The teachers have been pretty committed to meeting the needs of the students, but they also need lots of support, training, and materials to be effective. It is also difficult finding progress-monitoring tools you always believe are effective.
What was the outcome of your effort?
I think our overall system is much more effective. We are being more diagnostic and are meeting the individual needs of students better. We no longer use a one-size-fits-all program. All educators implementing interventions (Title 1 teachers, special education teachers, etc.) have multiple interventions going to help with various skill deficits. We are also doing a better job of utilizing our current staff. We try to match up students with teachers who are already delivering instruction so that we do not duplicate interventions if possible. This allows us to deliver a wider variety of interventions.
What advice would you give others?
Don't try to do everything at one time. Start by looking at what data you currently have on your students, and at how you are using the data. If you don't have data you believe in, look for ways to gather data you can use. Once you are confident in the data, look at how you can best use the resources you currently have in place. This may include staff, community volunteers, any college education students, or technology. It is too overwhelming to look at everything at one time. Just start where you are and slowly work toward putting things in place. I don't believe it is as much a system as it is a philosophy that you believe will help students.
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