Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

March 11, 2014

Innovative Educator: Data-driven instruction

Northwestern program identifies the needs of each student

By Lauren Fitch Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Eight second graders sit in a semicircle around teacher Robyn Dill as they make their way through the pages of “How a Seed Grows,” taking time to sound out each syllable of “substance,” “seedling” and other vocabulary words.

Dill, who has taught at Northwestern Elementary School for 24 years of her 29-year teaching career, encourages students to look at the pictures on each page and anticipate what the text says. Students take turns reading aloud while their peers follow along in their own copies of the book, and Dill follows up each page with a series of questions to make sure they understand what they just read.

The rest of the students in her class are split into two groups: one is taking turns reading aloud from “A Slice of Mud Pie” under the supervision of a student teacher, and the third group is working together to complete a worksheet based on what they read about burrowing animals.

Small group reading time is part of the Response to Intervention program Dill helped implement at Northwestern three years ago. RTI focuses on identifying each student’s ability level and then using different intervention strategies to address areas of weakness.

“It looks different for every grade level and for every child,” said Dill, who has a background in special education and working with at-risk students in Title I programs. “First is basically us determining two or three skills you need to work on to raise that reading score. We try not to pull them out of class as much as provide different learning opportunities.”

Students don’t necessarily know to which ability group they belong. They can spend 10 to 30 minutes a day in intervention groups, and the interventions generally run six to eight weeks depending on the students’ needs.

A core group of five teachers representing different grade levels and assistant principal Jim Gish meet at least once a week to review students’ progress and discuss different intervention strategies. RTI is data driven, so teachers administer a reading test at the beginning of the school year and follow up with periodic testing throughout the year to measure progress.

“We felt like reading was the most important because it affects all curricular areas,” Dill said. “We are currently training staff K-6 so we are all using the same system. We can run reports to tell us just about anything. Those reports can show us growth, can help with instruction planning, they can tell us specific skills you need to work on, and they can give us benchmarks. There are a lot of layers in there where we have to identify what is impeding you from learning.”

RTI recognizes different tiers of ability. Tier one means the student is performing at grade level under general classroom instruction. Students who do not show adequate progress with that format are moved to tier two.

Tier two involves more targeted interventions. Often students will be separated into smaller groups to work specifically on the skills with which they are struggling. If that type of intervention still is not helpful, students move to tier three for more intensive individual intervention. If tier three does not work for the student, he or she will be evaluated for a special education plan.

The ultimate goal is to have every child performing at least at grade level, but really any progress is considered a success — and Northwestern is already seeing success from its budding RTI program.

When the school first launched the RTI approach in 2011, 29 second-grade students were identified as needing intervention. Those students continued in the RTI program throughout third grade and now, as fourth graders, 52 percent of that original group is at or above grade level and no longer needs RTI support. Thirty-eight percent still are at tier three or tier two, and 1 percent now receive special education services.

Within just the span of this school year, nine kindergartners who were identified as needing intervention have shown progress. Five of them now are performing at grade level, three are at tier two intervention and just one still needs tier three intervention.

“The success of this program shows in the statistics and is the No. 1 motivator for us as educators at NES,” Dill said. “Our staff is excited to be a part of something that has such a positive impact on our students.”

That positive impact is showcased at the fifth- and sixth-grade honor roll breakfast, said first-grade teacher Kim Cunningham. It’s rewarding to see students who needed intervention in previous years then make the honor roll, she added.

Cunningham and the rest of the teachers in the core RTI group praised Dill’s efforts in helping get the RTI program started and building it up in the past three years.

Third-grade teacher Kimberly Maynard works with Dill on the RTI team, and her children also were in Dill’s class. She appreciates Dill’s teaching style as well as leadership skills.

“One of the things I admire about her as a teacher is she is a learner,” Maynard said. “In my opinion, one of the core components of a good teacher is they see themselves as a learner.”

Dill turns the credit back to her co-workers.

“Every nice, big idea only becomes a great plan when you have cooperative staff,” she said. “Our staff is intentional in making a difference in kids’ lives.”

Education reporter Lauren Fitch can be reached at 765-454-8587, by email at lauren.fitch@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @LaurenBFitch.

Progress by the numbers 46 - The number of first graders who were identified as needing strategic or intensive intervention, based on scores on a reading test taken at the beginning of the school year. 30 - The number of minutes each group spent on skill-specific interventions, in addition to general classroom instruction. The intensive group met more often than the strategic group. 57 - The percentage of those first graders who now have shown a year's growth in reading. Thirty-nine percent are reading at a second-grade equivalency or higher. Northwestern Elementary's RTI resources · Scott Foresman Reading Street is the adopted reading curriculum. It is research- and state-standard based and includes materials for RTI and different ability levels. · Mclass state assessment for grades K-2. It provides detailed skills assessment in the five main areas of reading instruction. · STAR Reading and Accelerated Reader. The assessment measures students' reading comprehension and assigns a grade level equivalency. · FCRR.org. The Florida Center for Reading Research website offers interventions based on skills on state standards. · Candohelper.com. The website provides support material for teaching students the 300 words most commonly recognized by sight, known as FRY words. · Apps. NES is a 1:1 technology school, so students can download apps to their iPads that customize word lists and read aloud to them. Additional reading material: · Daily 5 and Readers CAFÉ by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser. · Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz, M.D. · Differentiating Learning Differences from Disabilities by John Hoover. · Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Olier Keene and Susan Zimmerman. Additional websites: · Readinglady.com · Pinterest for ideas for skill-specific activities and visual aids. · Teachers Pay Teachers, an online store where teachers make and sell material specific to different skills. Those interested in more specific information can contact NES principal Ron Owings at ronald.owings@nwsc.k12.in.us or assistant principal Jim Gish at james.gish@nwsc.k12.in.us.