Panel 2 Speaker: John Carruth - Vail School District (AZ)

RTI Leadership Forum
Washington, DC
December 8, 2010


Thank you.  In preparing comments for how RTI is meeting the needs of struggling learners across the spectrum, it’s just a lot of fun for me to go through and read Amanda’s, and respond to that paper that she wrote.  As I get older I find particular connection with the prostate exams (laughter).  I did squirm when she talked about the urologist.

I want to, now that this is my second panel, I want to kind of …I know that the pre/post thing I understand how this works a little bit so let me in one of the questions, let me just pre-, I’ll tell you what my preference is.  I believe that a strong core curriculum and effective instructional delivery is paramount.  I believe that the ease and movement between tiers is also paramount for students, so we’ll see if that (laughs) influences everybody.  There’s a learning objective, that would be my learning objective and I state it freely here.

(male voice):  Let’s just take the vote now with the clicker!

I do want to step back a little bit and address some of the common vision piece again.   We, when we had 18% of our students in math failing, we didn’t need….we needed intervention.  We absolutely needed intervention.  That was a piece of that.  But what we really needed was a wrecking ball.  And a new way of thinking.  And that’s how we went about that process.  There’s a belief that all students need high-quality instruction in our system.  We fundamentally and soundly believe that.  There’s a belief that all students need differentiated instruction sometimes.  And there is a belief that some students, a few, need instruction that looks different, that is different—either a process, expectations, access, or outcomes.  But that’s a few. And I think what we struggled with and what we’ve tried to implement is how do we use our time effectively as an allocation to make those things happen.  I often talk about, Arizona is just horrible in regards to funding, as I know many other places are, but our most precious resource is time and how are we using that time effectively.  When we talk about interventions and what those look like, we really want to focus on our students demonstrating growth and what does that growth look like.  We try really hard at not focusing on or caring about where the location is or what the program is called, but what does it, does it really work.  The other critical component and I can’t stress this enough over the 8 years that we’ve been doing that is just the general integrity of the process.  It took me probably 3 to 4 years before I really understood this, but there—I hear it all the time, but when you talk about integrity of the system or integrity of the process, what does that mean—but I finally came to understand that there is this continual – even though I read it – there’s a continual drift away from what the process should look like, from that standardized process.   It’s just human nature.  I used to get frustrated with it.  I don’t anymore.  And it’s how do you, how do we put a process of system checks in place so that we can hold our own selves accountable.  It’s just this natural drift that occurs.  I no longer want to get frustrated about that.  I want to address it and from a systems standpoint in how we do that.

Another key I think of making sure that struggling learners’ needs are met but all students’ needs are met is what does RTI mean to your superintendent?  What does that mean?  Why is that effective for them?  And not just what we think it means.  What are their needs?  What does that look like?  How can we work with them to make that language a common language?  I think we often trip ourselves with some of the languages and some of the beliefs that are held behind that language and that is a barrier that I see to effectively implementing this process.

In Arizona we’re working with over the last several years about 20 other districts in our local area to help coach them through some system change in regards to instructional implementation in response to intervention.  And the fundamental thing that I see is missing is, one, that vision, that’s the first thing.  And then the second thing is that the social context and component that we see, and it’s just simply doing the hard work of getting along.  If those two things aren’t in place, then it’s really, really hard to make effective change both at the building level and the class level or at a district level.

Stepping back a little bit from that, some of the things that we’ve done structurally that have been very effective for us is our Master Schedule at all of our schools.  What does that look like?  And looking at how we can align simple things like common plan time in place. Simple things so that we can structure data teams on an effective, regular basis.  But that seems so simple to me and I was working with a colleague in another district and she was a principal and she said, Oh, I was the first to implement a master schedule in our school.  And they have six other elementary schools and not one of them have a master schedule, and I almost fell out of my chair.  But it’s those kind of things that are easy to talk about but are in context are harder to deliver.

We talked about some of the exceptional learners.  Not only should students have an opportunity to be re-taught on information and content that they don’t have, they should also have an opportunity to be enriched on that.  And we’ve built in our system we’ve been able to build that into their day and we focus it on the particular content that we find that our data demonstrates that we need the most help with.  In our case that’s math.  So every school day and all of our elementary and middle schools there’s a re-teaching and rich component where depending upon where that student is performing they are re-taught the standard and given another opportunity to learn that content or they are provided an enrichment opportunity on that same content strand.

We’ve also done some simple things like our overall instructional calendar.  We have an extended fall break and an extended spring break that allows us to hold targeted intersession and tutoring sessions on standards mid-semester.  That’s very effective, especially when you look at things like high school algebra where there’s such a high failure rate.  We bring those students in and for two weeks they are provided remediation, targeted remediation, on that skill so they don’t get further and further behind.

And then the last thing I just want to talk a little bit about is just the general bang for the buck. And it varies for us.  Reading and literacy we see by far as the biggest struggle for students who are those struggling learners.  That is by far the most, our biggest issue.  So we put a lot of time and effort into addressing that especially on the intervention side.  Core instruction, but also on the intervention side whereas math, we needed to overhaul, completely overhaul, the general way we delivered math instruction.  We just needed to tweak the general reading instruction, but we needed to throw out what we were doing with math and start over.  But as far as individual students struggling learners go, we only have a very few number of individual struggling learners who come up specifically for math.  It’s usually intertwined with something else, most often with reading and literacy.  So when we look at the individual intervention piece for those particular students it’s often more limited and more individual.

So I just wanted to kind of paint a little bit of a picture on what that looks like.  And then the last thing is we spend, there’s a lot of conversation about identification and specifically LD identification, and I will tell you our school…I bring this up every year to our school psychologists, and they really, it’s a non-issue for them.  The time that they spend doing LD identification is so small it doesn’t really matter what they use.   They just get to the point and they need, what additional data do we need?  And at this point in Arizona because what RTI means from district to district, it makes more sense for them to go ahead and run them through discrepancy model is a piece of that, so that when they…if a kid, we also have a transient district.  If they move from district to district, there’s both pieces that are available so the districts have information to hang onto.  I don’t necessarily…I think I can, in the best of my world we would get to that piece and we would select some sub-tests, what additional data we would need that are pertinent to that student, but there is no (laughs) pushback from our school psychs to do that and they’re doing so few that it’s a non issue.   So again from my point of view in regards to bang for the buck, I think we can spend a lot of time debating that but from a putting it practice perspective, I don’t think…it’s not a huge time consumer for us.  So.  Thank you. (applause)


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