ISD 271: Bloomington, Minnesota

Topics: K-5, Literacy

Dr. Aaron Deris is an intervention specialist for ISD 271 in Bloomington, Minnesota. He has been in this district role for the past 2 years. Before taking on this position, he was a special education teacher in both Louisiana and Minnesota working in programs for school-age students and in early childhood special education programs.

What did you do?

RTI planning in my district began in the summer just prior to the 2007-2008 academic year. The special education director, special education supervisor, director of research and evaluation, and I collaborated in order to choose two of the ten elementary schools in which we would pilot the RTI framework. The K - 5 elementary schools selected were those whose personnel were interested in the concept of RTI and were open to change within their schools. Currently, the RTI initiative is focused on reading, although some schools also have Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) programs in place.

In each of the schools, all students receive Tier 1 instruction — high-quality differentiated classroom instruction. There are approximately 30 staff involved in RTI implementation in each of the schools. This comprises the entire teaching staff within these schools.

Student screenings occur every year to determine the level of intervention required. Students evaluated and found to be performing at 10 to 15 percent below grade-level or benchmark are deemed struggling and in need of intervention. In addition to the screening, data on student progress is obtained three times a year (fall, winter, spring) and measured against benchmarks. Tools used for this purpose include DIBELS and AIMSweb. The teachers often track the progress of the students on graphs. This helps the students to visualize their progress and keeps them motivated.

All students who test below grade level for reading receive Tier 2 interventions. At this time, Tier 2 includes all struggling students as there is not currently a Tier 3 in place. Introduction of Tier 3 intervention is expected in the next year or two.

What challenges did you face?

There have been several challenges we’ve run up against along the way. We had difficulty finding a common screening tool. Many wanted to use curriculum-based measurement (CBM) and some wanted to use the Diagnostic Reading Assessment (DRA). This is an issue that we are still addressing.

Another challenge dealt more with logistics and finding the time to conduct the interventions. The schools have started to solve this issue by either going to block scheduling where all grade levels have a common reading period or by conducting interventions during DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time.

Another major challenge was having enough staff to do the interventions. Tapping into community resources has been one good solution. We've partnered with other places, including the service learning program at the local community college and the Minnesota Reading Corps, an AmeriCorps project that has provided trained people to do screening, benchmarking, and interventions.

What was the outcome of your effort?

The greatest benefit of RTI practice is that we're finally able to help students who were caught in the middle — those who didn't qualify for special education and weren't getting help from their teachers because of caseloads and schedules. Students aren't getting lost in the shuffle, and that helps with their self-esteem. They see that they can be successful, even some who have never been successful before.

Parents are also pleased with RTI because they are getting up-to-date information about how their child is performing. They're seeing visuals that show their child’s progress, and they know exactly what is being done to help their child. In a recent survey of parents, virtually all of the responses were positive. Parents reported gains in their child's reading and willingness to do homework. In a survey of parents and community members, all of the feedback on RTI was positive, with many reporting that this approach evens the playing field. These survey respondents were very happy that there were interventions available for students not in special education, and they suggested that this programming should be celebrated and shared with all PTAs and the school board.

RTI is gratifying for the staff because they are able to see the concrete progress that students are making. They’re also getting more resources to do their jobs. In a survey of teachers, all of the responses were positive, with teachers stating that students' reading has improved as a result of them receiving intervention services.

What data could you share reflecting improvements due to RTI initiatives?

The student progress data are compiled and presented in report form to the administrative cabinet of the district. In general, our test results are showing fewer referrals for special education, more students reading on grade level, and higher standardized test scores.

  • We exceeded our goal that at least 40 percent of the students identified as being "at risk" on early literacy and reading fluency curriculum-based measurements (CBM) would improve to the "some risk" category. In fact, 66 percent of students (25 or 38) moved from "at risk" to "some risk."
  • We exceeded our goal that at least 60 percent of the students identified as being "low risk" on early literacy and reading fluency CBMs would improve to the "established" or "no risk" category. In fact 77 percent (55 of 72) moved from "low risk" to "no risk."
  • Our "quiet room" referral data indicate that 26 percent of students had fewer time-out referrals after implementation of RTI. Just 9 percent had more referrals; the remaining students were either never referred or remained the same.

Our schools have benefited from the use of RTI, and we are looking to expand it into other district schools. RTI is working so well that we plan to expand the program from the pilot schools to all elementary schools within 3 to 5 years. We are currently working on a report to the administrative cabinet to detail and assess the steps, procedures, training, and costs related to RTI implementation.

What advice would you give others?

In RTI is not something you buy in a box; it is about teamwork and working towards the goal of having all students be successful. It is imperative that open communication is occurring among staff and parents to ensure the success of RTI.

A final important aspect is that RTI isn't something you implement in one school year; it is a complex process that should be studied and implemented slowly in order for it to be most effective.

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