A Day of Reckoning

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    In my previous two blogs (Address Realities in Planning for Implementation and Questions and Perspectives About RTI) I have used an article written by Kate Rix in the June 2008 Scholastic Administrator, "Your Guide to RTI," as a format of discussion about RTI implementation. In that article, I used the term "day of reckoning" to describe our reaction to data sets relating to student achievement in our school. In this, my third blog, I would like to address how that data motivated and inspired my school to implement the RTI process as the impetus of positive change.

    For years we have respected and honored teacher expertise, knowledge and skill as the most important method of deciding what students know and are able to do regarding their learning. With the implementation of NCLB and the requirements that legislation put on schools, teacher knowledge, expertise and skill, while always good, were not enough. With NCLB, bars for achievement were set and schools had to meet these requirements or face possible sanctions. Data came to our forefront, and we had to use that data to augment our instructional practice to positively influence student learning. Deciding on "what knowledge was of the most worth," and how to measure that knowledge became critical.


    As those of us at Tongue River Elementary began using data, we had some perspectives and experiences from our careers held by many educators across the country.  Many of us didn’t "trust" what the data was telling us.  "The tests aren’t valid or reliable," "The assessments aren’t aligned with our curriculum," or "You can’t fatten up the cow when you are weighing it all the time," we said.

    Four years ago, the Kindergarten, 1st and second grade teachers decided to try DIBELS for one year to see how it could be used to support instruction.  They had great success, and during the second year, there was discussion about implementing DIBELS school-wide.  As that school year began, it was decided that all students in the school would be screened by DIBELS. There was some hesitation, and many teachers wondered if one assessment should be used to make decisions about students.  During one of the first staff professional development days of that second year, DIBELS data was presented. The data showed that 50% of our students were at grade level in reading at all grades.  Again there was some discussion that this was "only one test".  Knowing this, the assessment team then presented another data set, this one focusing on the state assessment.  The results showed the same thing.  Two more data sets (district norm-referenced test, district assessments) were presented. They too showed the same thing.  There was no denying it.  No matter the assessment, the results showed that 50% of our students were not at grade level.   We had to address the fact that we needed to change what we were doing.  50% proficiency was not acceptable.

    Getting into the research, we decided to use a tiered model (RTI) to support student learning.  A school improvement plan was written, a professional development plan was written and implemented, and classroom and school schedules were adjusted to provide more instructional time,   Literacy teams were developed and data was at the center of every discussion.

    We just recently received the results from the State assessment for our school.  At all grade levels 80% of our students were at grade level.  Data had a lot to do with the rise of students reading scores in our school.  Without data, we would not have been able to define our focus, and without data we could not maintain our momentum.  Data is very important.  I do have to say, though, there is something even more important than data-The Heart of a Teacher.  If the teachers at my elementary school had not had the heart to change, the heart to take a different path, and the heart to keep kids at their center, the rise in scores would never have happened.

    Today we accept data as something we use to improve our craft.  The heart of a teacher, though, is at the center of everything we do, because we still use expertise, knowledge and skill to make decisions about students and learning.   It just looks a little differently then it did four years ago.

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