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Pyramid Response to Intervention: RTI, Professional Learning Communities, and How to Respond When Kids Don't Learn

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Accessible language and compelling stories illustrate how RTI is most effective when built on the Professional Learning Communities at Work™ process. Written by award-winning educators from successful PLC schools, this book demonstrates how to create three tiers of interventions—from basic to intensive—to address student learning gaps. You will understand what a successful program looks like, and the many reproducible forms and activities will help your team understand how to make RTI work in your school.

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13 Chapters

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Chapter One What Is Pyramid Response to Intervention?

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The only source of knowledge is experience.

—Albert Einstein

This book is written for practitioners by practitioners. As authors, we represent three different generations of public school educators—a Baby Boomer, a Gen-Xer, and a Millennial—with over 75 years of combined experience in working with children and their parents. Each of us has implemented professional learning communities in our schools and districts. Each of us believes deeply in the power of collaboration and the goal of continuous improvement, and we’ve struggled to find increasingly better answers to the question, “How do we respond when students don’t learn?” Woven throughout this book are stories of real schools that have also been seeking better answers. Narrative case studies that open each chapter show how various responses play out at the school, classroom, and individual student levels. We believe that educators should always consider our actions’ impact upon individual students, not just upon the average scores that comprise a school’s collective adequate yearly progress. As practitioners in our own schools and districts, the three of us have witnessed firsthand the power of timely, systematic interventions on student learning. This book explores two closely related ideas, response to intervention (RTI) and the pyramid of interventions (POI), that we believe benefit educators at every level in finding new ways to help every child be successful.

 

Chapter Two The Facts About RTI

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At first glance, response-to-intervention (RTI) is a method to identify learning disabilities. But, RTI could play a much larger role. It has the ability to transform how we educate students—all students. With RTI, students may get the support they need as soon as they show signs that they are having difficulty learning, regardless of whether or not they have a disability.

—Council for Exceptional Children

The student study team (SST) at Crabapple Elementary was stumped. Anna had transferred during the middle of kindergarten from Mexico; it was unclear whether she regularly attended school there. When she came to the United States, Anna spoke no English. First grade was a struggle for Anna, and some members of the SST have acknowledged that she did not have the best teacher. Anna failed to grasp phonics, her English was not developing, and she was falling farther and farther behind her peers.

The SST convened when Anna was halfway through first grade and recommended that she sit toward the front of the room, complete fewer homework problems each week, and attend after-school reading class twice a week for an hour. These interventions did not bring Anna’s achievement to grade level, and at the end of the year, the SST recommended retention; Anna’s parents and the principal (who had been members of the SST from the beginning) agreed.

 

Chapter Three RTI Models

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We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

—Albert Einstein

Three months into the school year at Pine Elementary, a team of energetic fifth-grade teachers decided to screen all students with a benchmark reading comprehension assessment. Nearly 60% of the children scored remarkably low on questions testing their literal comprehension of passages. Many of these students had been working periodically with Pine’s reading specialist, who arranged pull-out interventions in the area of literal comprehension.

Something was going wrong. But it was unclear whether the students who performed poorly needed more time and support to master literal comprehension, or whether they were casualties of a subpar curriculum. In a meeting with the fifth-grade team, the principal of Pine suggested, “If such a large percentage of students are failing, we have a major problem on our hands. We’re going to need to look beyond just this class or grade level to find the root of the problem.”

 

Chapter Four Laying the Foundation: A Professional Learning Community

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We embrace explicitly the proposition that effective practice and popular practice are very likely two different things.

—Douglas Reeves, chairman and founder, The Leadership and Learning Center

Elm Elementary School is located in a suburban area of moderate socioeconomic status on the Eastern seaboard. It’s not the poorest elementary school in the district, but its students consistently score below the state average, and parents regularly request to transfer their children to other schools. In theory, Elm’s student study team (SST) provides a systematic, schoolwide intervention process, yet teachers rarely refer children. Instead, most teachers want to “keep” their kids, choosing to handle all student needs on their own. The few teachers who do regularly make referrals have tried limited in-class interventions and offer few helpful observations or hard data on student performance to inform the student study team.

One or two teachers who refer students to the team have tried everything they know, but unfortunately, their efforts have not made a significant difference in student learning. Given Elm’s below-average scores in state assessments, the district office has directed the school leadership team to develop and implement a more effective intervention program to support students at risk. At their first meeting, however, the team sat in silence. No one knew where to begin.

 

Chapter Five Learning CPR

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The educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living from the dead.

—Aristotle

Maple Elementary School was located in a remote area in the Pacific Northwest; most of the students’ parents had attended Maple themselves, and staff members knew most children by name even before they started school. Life was uneventful in their small town—until the day the attendance secretary entered the principal’s office and announced with a concerned voice, “Amy Johnson is suffering a severe asthma attack in PE; we think she’s lost consciousness.” Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the principal first instructed the secretary to call 911 immediately and then rushed to the gymnasium. There, he noted that the site crisis team was already working to assist the student in need and the school nurse was administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR); the physical education teacher was clearing the area of on-looking students, and a designated member of the crisis team was waiting at the front of the school to guide the ambulance crew to the correct location.

 

Chapter Six Tier 1: The Core Program

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In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

—Al Rogers, pioneer in long-distance learning

Built in the 1960s, Oak Elementary School was once surrounded by single-family homes and cornfields. Most of Oak’s students were white, English-speaking, and from middle-class families. Through the years, the school gained a well-deserved reputation in the community for educational excellence. However, in the 1990s, the district radically altered Oak’s attendance area. The new boundaries encompassed an area comprised almost exclusively of low-income, high-density apartments populated by factory workers in a nearby city. Oak’s demographics now were reversed; a vast majority of its students were economically disadvantaged, minority, and English-language learners.

Within a year of the boundary changes, most students were scoring below proficiency in reading, writing, and mathematics on state achievement tests. Individual teachers worked tirelessly, but unfortunately, their teaching practices, which had been highly successful under the old demographics, proved ineffective with the school’s new students. Teachers referred struggling students to intervention programs, but with so many students at risk, these services quickly were overwhelmed.

 

Chapter Seven Tier 2: The Supplemental Level

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Don’t tell me you believe “all kids can learn” . . . tell me what you’re doing about the kids who aren’t learning.

—Richard DuFour

Teresa Sanchez is an experienced language arts teacher at Sequoia Middle School, a large school in a densely populated urban area. At the beginning of the school year, she worked with her fellow English teachers to write a departmental SMART goal that all eighth-grade students demonstrate proficiency on the district’s persuasive writing assessment by the end of the school year. (SMART stands for Strategic and Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented and Time-bound.)

After giving students the end-of-term persuasive writing assessment, Ms. Sanchez discovered that her teaching of the core curriculum had been very effective; more than 90% of her students demonstrated mastery of this skill.

But some students did not reach proficiency. A few were close to passing the assessment but made slight errors in organization or content; others had not mastered creating a thesis statement; a handful failed to grasp at all the basic concepts of persuasive writing and thus strayed off topic. Finally, some children failed to complete any of the practice assignments or the final essay, so it was impossible to measure their competency.

 

Chapter Eight Tier 3: The Intensive Level

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What RTI does is put everybody on the same playing field. It doesn’t matter what your language structure is, whether or not you’re disabled, or whether or not you’re poor. What matters is what you need to progress at a satisfactory pace in the general curriculum.

—Wayne Sailor, associate director, Beach Center on Families and Disability, University of Kansas

Many students receiving supplemental Tier 2 interventions at Forest Glenn Elementary School seemed to be making good progress. In fact, several students had made such good progress that the SST deemed the interventions no longer necessary to their educational progress. A few students had not made enough progress to leave Tier 2, however, and a few others had not grown at all, according to the results from progress monitoring. The SST studied the progress-monitoring data carefully and subsequently decided to administer even more intensive interventions to the students who had not responded sufficiently to Tier 2 interventions.

 

Chapter Nine The Role of Behavioral Interventions

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I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or dehumanized.

—Haim Ginott, Clinical Psychologist and Author

Tina was a seventh-grade student whose impulsive behavior created many problems throughout the day. In the classroom, Tina had difficulty keeping comments to herself, while with her classmates, Tina had difficulty reading their social clues. Other students didn’t include her in their social groups, and Tina didn’t understand why others didn’t like her. As the school year progressed, one of Tina’s teachers, Bill Morrison, felt a parent-teacher conference was necessary.

 

Chapter Ten Meeting Legal Requirements

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The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

—George Bernard Shaw

Jeremy, a third grader at Magnolia Elementary School, has struggled for the past 2 years. A student study team (SST) met with his mom last year, when Jeremy was in second grade, but no follow-up meeting has yet occurred.

For the first 4 months of third grade, Jeremy made little progress. He was encouraged to attend after-school tutoring sessions, but baseball practice often prevented him from doing so. His teacher, Mrs. Campbell, requested that Jeremy sit at the front of the room and reduced his homework load, but to no avail. The school’s administrative team discussed whether special education, or at least formal evaluation, might be a good idea for him. But then, as Magnolia developed a PRTI, the student study team (SST) became “gung ho” about behaving like a professional learning community.

So for the next 5 months, an instructor pulled Jeremy out of Mrs. Campbell’s class in the afternoons to receive assistance with fluency and comprehension; the team began with those two areas based on Jeremy’s low percentile on the standardized reading test. The program used appeared to work well, although the research base on it was inadequate.

 

Chapter Eleven Putting It All Together

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Do not wait; the time will never be “just right.” Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.

—Napoleon Hill, American speaker and motivational writer

To help their students at risk avoid failing, Sycamore High School educators created a PRTI system. At the end of the first quarter, Joe Smith, a teacher, referred one of his students, Tim O’Brian, for intervention support because Tim was failing his biology class.

After meeting with Tim, Nancy Chu, the school counselor and Tim’s intervention coordinator, assigned him to daily after-school study hall. “There are still 9 weeks left in the semester to improve your grade,” Ms. Chu reminded Tim.

Tim leaned back in his chair and announced, “Yeah, well, I don’t plan on doing anything else until next semester.”

“But you have to pass science to earn enough credits to graduate!” Ms. Chu exclaimed.

 

Epilogue A Moral Responsibility

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The price of greatness is responsibility.

—Winston Churchill

As we stated in the opening chapter, this book was written by practitioners for practitioners. Our goal has been to provide our fellow educators with a powerful, research-based, highly effective process to ensure high levels of learning for all students. We have offered a compelling case for a pyramid response to intervention, demonstrated how PRTI’s guiding principles and procedures are firmly grounded in research-based best practices, described the entire PRTI process in detail, and provided real-life examples. We know this process works because we have successfully implemented PRTI practices at the site and district levels, at elementary and secondary schools, at small and large schools, at rural and urban schools, and at schools that range from highly affluent, native English-speaking students to schools with high rates of economically disadvantaged, English-language learning students. In every case, the results on student achievement have been substantial, significant, and sustainable.

 

Appendix Reproducibles

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Visit go.solution-tree.com/rti to download these reproducibles and other helpful information.

Recall the two fundamental assumptions undergirding a school’s mission to provide high levels of learning for all students: 1) Educators believe that all students are capable of high levels of learning, and 2) they assume the responsibility to make this outcome a reality for every child. This exercise offers a process to create a common mission of learning.

Step 1: Create Individual Mission Statements

Have staff members sit in teams. Ask each person to write a response in 8 to 12 words to the question, “What is the fundamental purpose (mission) of our school? In other words, why does our school exist?”

Step 2: Share Individual Mission Statements

Ask each person to share his or her answer and ask a team member to chart the responses. Once all team members have shared, have each team discuss how the responses are similar and how they are different. Then inquire, “How can we work collaboratively to help our students if we have different missions for our school?”

 

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