Collaborate, Communicate, and Respond

by Roni Myers-Daub, Ed.D.

In response to large numbers of referrals to the student support team (SST) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004) provision supporting a response to intervention (RtI) process, Larrymore Elementary School expanded its teacher assistance team (TAT) to include a three-tiered, collaborative, problem-solving approach. With this model, support is provided to students experiencing academic and behavior difficulties in the general education environment. The process involves data collection and analysis to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions by measuring the student's response to the interventions over a period of time. Response data are then used to make informed decisions about continuing or changing the type or intensity of specific interventions. Increasing intensity of interventions is accomplished: (a) by more frequent use and increased duration of interventions, (b) by delivery of instruction in small, homogeneous student groups, and (c) by the use of specialists to address specific student needs (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006). The expected outcomes of this process are classrooms and supports that optimize learning for all students by addressing concerns through intervention rather than remediation.

As a school functioning as a professional learning community, the staff at Larrymore is committed to ensuring that students are not only taught, but that they learn (DuFour, 2004). Therefore, the school was ready for introduction of the RtI process in the 2006-07 school year. Rtl was presented as a reframing of current practices rather than as a major change. Most components to support the RtI process were a part of the existing Larrymore culture; hence, they began the process by discussing what was not going to change, and most importantly, how they were going to build upon existing effective practices (Reeves, 2007).

One such practice was the use of common formative assessments to redirect instruction and improve the quality of learning (Ainsworth & Viegut, 2006). Each month, Larrymore students in 1st through 5th grades participate in common formative assessments in reading and math created by content specialists. After administering the assessments, classroom teachers are charged with the responsibility of analyzing the data, identifying students who struggled on skills assessed, and developing interventions to address the identified student weaknesses. Results of these assessments are discussed with administrators and content specialists as part of grade-level professional development. Discussions involve sharing classroom interventions and, when necessary, planning for small-group support by specialists to provide more intensive instruction tailored to students needs.

In addition to this practice, the educators and support professionals serving on the teams at each tier of the RtI model have the experience and willingness to do what is needed to help all students. They are a true reflection of the strong professional community at Larrymore. The Tier I team consists of the grade-level teams, the Tier II team consists of designated general educators and content specialists, and the Tier III team consists of the SST members. The work of these teams involves cooperation, communication, and a "student-centered" approach. The collective ability of the team members enables staff to work together to enhance student achievement through a continuum of services.

In the first year of using the RtI model (2006-2007), the SST convened to discuss 19 initial referrals. Of those referrals, 5 resulted in comprehensive evaluations, and these 5 students were found eligible for special education services. These numbers reflected a tremendous difference from the previous year, when SST met on 57 initial referrals, conducted 25 comprehensive evaluations, and found 18 students eligible for special education services.

The first-year success of this model was a direct result of the collaboration among the entire staff and the overall culture of the school. The process involved no additional staffing or major changes in school resources. However, it did involve special educators, general educators, content specialists, counselors, psychologists, social workers, and administrators working collaboratively in response to students experiencing academic and behavior difficulties. Most of all, it involved being proactive rather than reactive by improving instructional capacity and behavioral supports to meet the specific needs of students.

References

Ainsworth, L., & Viegut, D. (2006). Common formative assessments: How to connect standards-based instruction and assessment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Dufour, R. (2004). Schools as learning communities. Educational Leadership, 61(8), 6-11.

Fuchs, D., & Fuchs, L. (2006). Introduction to response to intervention: What, why, and how valid is it? Reading Research Quarterly, 41(1), 93-99.

Reeves, D. (2007). Leading to change: How do you change school culture? Educational Leadership, 64(4), 92-94.

Date: May/June 2008