Introducing Jared's RTI Blog

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    I have been asked to write a blog describing our journey as we begin to implement a Response-to-Intervention (RTI) model. First, I would like to tell you a little about myself, our school, and our community. I am in my second year as elementary principal and special education director for Big Horn County School District #4. We are a small rural district in Wyoming and so many people around our district wear multiple hats. This is my fifth year as an administrator; I was an assistant principal at Powell High School for three years prior to taking this position. I also taught high school math for 4 years while earning a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Wyoming. Laura Irwin Elementary is a K–4 school with 114 students. The vast majority of our students, about 95%, are Caucasian. Our free and reduced lunch population is right at 50%, but we have a high number of identified special education students, about 26%. We are a Title I targeted school with about 54% of our students qualifying for Title I services. Our community is agrarian based, as the main economy is driven by farming and ranching. We do have a couple of bentonite mines in the area that also contribute to the local economy. Our economy has seen a bit of an upturn with an interest in natural gas and oil in this area, but for the most part it is still a fairly economically deprived area.


    The purpose of this blog is to provide you with some real down-to-earth solutions that you can use to implement an RTI model. I will explain what got us to this point, why we do what we do, and what works for us. I am not going to try to impress you with all the research and data behind RtI. As Dave Tilly said when I saw him speak in Jackson, WY, "The beauty of RTI is that it is logical and it works." If you want all of the research stuff, it is not hard to find and I can show you where to find it, but that is not what we will be looking at here.

    So that is a little background, but now to the more serious questions as to why are we looking to implement an RTI model? What brought us to this point? Two years ago our school did make adequate yearly progress (AYP), but our writing scores on our state assessment were in the tank. (I know that No Child Left Behind does not require writing to be included in computing AYP, but Wyoming has chosen to use writing scores in computing AYP; this could be a topic for a blog all in itself.) Here are some data on our test results:


    PAWS (Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students) results



    As you can see, our results on our statewide assessment were inconsistent at best and we have a few items to address. As a staff, when we began to look at our data we determined that our students were not reading at the level they needed to be in order to be successful on our state assessment. Furthermore, the data showed us that we were not building a solid foundation in reading, which put at risk student success down the road. Just look at some of the data and research showing what happens to students who are not proficient readers by the end of the 2nd or 3rd grade — this is extremely scary stuff. With a little research, we also discovered that one of the best ways to improve writing skills was to increase reading skills. So our next logical question was how are we going to increase the reading skills in our students? As a side note, I want to emphasize that the state assessment provides by no means the only assessment data that we use to determine the skill level of a student or whether an intervention is being successful.

    A second item that raised some concerns was our special education population. We have a situation where we could be overidentifying students for special education. As a matter of fact, I hope that our state department does not read this blog and see the percentage of special education students. If they do, this may be my first and last blog!

    So as we began to look at our data and do a little research on how to address these two situations, it began to become very clear that an RTI model would address both of these concerns. Our teachers had never heard of RTI before, and as a matter of fact we do not even say that we are using RTI. We found something that helps us to target specific skill weaknesses in our students, provides a means to address these weaknesses, and gives us feedback on whether we are succeeding. I am not trying to oversimplify things here, but this is how it works for us and what we were looking for; it fits perfectly into an RTI model.


    In future blogs, we will be looking at how we provide these interventions, how we progress-monitor students to see if the interventions are being successful, what data we use to determine whether an intervention is successful, and how to get students, staff, and the community to buy into an RTI model. I will try to look at this blog often and answer any questions that may come up. Please keep in mind that I do not know all the answers but will hopefully be able to relate some of our experiences and insights so that you will be able to successfully implement RTI. Thank you for joining us on this journey!

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