Bethany Public Schools: Oklahoma

Nicole Power is a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) and Response to Intervention (RTI) Coordinator in Bethany Public Schools, Oklahoma.  She works with Oklahoma schools to advance RTI programs and develop interventions for students who struggle with language and literacy. Nicole has worked directly with Earl Harris Elementary School, a Pre-K-5 school on the outskirts of Oklahoma City, with an enrollment of more than 700 students. The school was one of the first in Oklahoma to implement a Response to Intervention model.

What did you do?

Bethany schools implemented a Problem Solving Model of RTI in the 2005-2006 school year.  Our story initially began when our special services director returned from a conference on RTI and couldn’t wait for our school to get started.  Her enthusiasm for RTI was infectious!  Our first step was to find someone who could show us the ropes.  Local RTI specialist, Gary Duhon, an associate professor of school psychology at Oklahoma State University helped us set up an appropriate model and provided professional development for our staff.

Our district uses a Four-Tier system of problem solving.  Tier 1 is core instruction received by all students.  This includes a 90-minute literacy block and differentiated instruction for reading.  Universal screenings are given to all students at least three times per year in the areas of reading, math, and writing.

Those students who are in need of intensive instruction, based on screening results, receive Tier 2 services.  Tier 2 services consist of low intensity interventions that focus on specific skills that the student is missing.  Each intervention at Tier 2 is tailored to the needs of the individual student and carried out by general education teachers or other certified professionals or paraprofessionals.

Students who are not successful with low intensity interventions then receive Tier 3 level services.  These consist of medium intensity interventions that continue to focus on specific skills.  Most Tier 3 interventions are provided by general education teachers.  They offer explicit instruction, correction, and feedback.

All students who do not meet grade-level expectations are progress monitored weekly to make sure that they are progressing and interventions are effective.  The RTI team meets biweekly with all teachers to discuss individual student progress and develop intervention strategies.  Members of the RTI team include: general education teacher, speech-language pathologist, principal, school psychologist, counselor, and reading teachers.  Other members who contribute their expertise are Title I teachers, special education teachers, and special service directors.

The first three levels of interventions are usually implemented by general education teachers and supported by other specialists through consultation. When a student continues to struggle despite general education interventions, they are placed on the most intensive end of the continuum.  At this time, special education implements a highly intensive intervention in addition to investigating other areas of relevance.

What challenges did you face?

As with all change, RTI did not come easy.  All members of the staff struggled with changing roles and expectations.  One big challenge was professional development.  Making sure everyone understood why we were changing from a discrepancy model to a problem solving model was a big step.  Next, we implemented training on effective interventions and how to analyze the data we were collecting.  The first year was the toughest, but providing good professional development was a step in the right direction.

What was the outcome of your effort?

There have been several positive effects of changing to an RTI model.  The first is that our staff is able to help many more students than we did through a discrepancy model.  In the past we would test up to 80 students a year.  If there was no discrepancy, they didn’t receive further help.  Now we provide interventions for up to 150 students per year.  Approximately 50% of these students respond to interventions and are able to catch up to their peers.  Another 25% continually receive Tier 2 or Tier 3 interventions in order to maintain success in the general education curriculum.  The last 25% may receive more intense interventions through special education or other programs.  Some caseloads of special education staff have decreased.   This reflects the success of remediating early, before difficulties turn into disabilities.  It also frees up time for special education teachers to participate in co-teaching and collaborating with general education in preventative efforts.  The biggest plus to beginning RTI has been a better understanding between general and special education.  Our teams are more aware of each other’s expertise and can work together for the benefit of all of our students.

What advice would you give others?

Never give up!  There are always going to be challenges.  RTI isn't something you can implement and then breathe a sigh of relief when it’s in place.  There is always something that can be done better.  There are new ideas, better interventions, and more effective ways to reach kids.  Continue to provide ongoing professional development.  Remember to celebrate your victories with children in addition to targeting your weaknesses.

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