FOUR YEARS AGO, UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF SUPERINTENDENT RUDOLPH F. CREW, THE MIAMI-DADE COUNTY Public Schools began an ambitious school improvement initiative that relied heavily on Response to Intervention. To find out about Miami-Dade’s use of RTI, Achievement Today interviewed two key district administrators: Ava Byrne, Associate Superintendent for Professional Development and Educational Services, and Joseph Jackson, Administrative Director for Psychological Services.
What’s the historical background of RTI in the Miami-Dade school district?
Byrne: RTI had been largely a special education initiative, but in 2004 Dr. Crew and his cabinet adopted it on two levels: at the micro level, it would be used with all students for early intervention, and at the macro level, it would be used to assess the additional attention and resources that specific schools needed to improve.
Let’s talk about this concept of RTI at the macro level.
Byrne: Essentially we mirrored the RTI process as it is used in a student’s support team or a child study team. We looked at our schools at special monthly meetings called CompStat, where our senior administrators and school principals would examine key data for each school: test scores, truancy, discipline and other factors. We used that data to make decisions on where interventions were needed, on how to intervene, and on how to monitor our progress and modify our interventions.
How did the cabinet work to get this process embraced by all constituents?
Byrne: The nature of our monthly meetings, where we’re using objective data to assess school performance, makes everyone accountable. All of us sat in the hot seat. We had a five-day turnaround to take care of the issues. The buy-in came because our people in the field saw that resources were deployed quickly, that the intervention was coming immediately. They saw the benefits.
So the cabinet was modeling behavior you wanted to see at the school level.
Byrne: That was just one piece of it. Success with RTI also requires changes in roles. And one of the roles that really changed was the role of the school psychologist, who began playing a key role in school leadership teams.
Give us examples of how school psychologists have participated in RTI.
Jackson: We got the school psychologists involved in the reading teams. The psychologist began sitting in testing rooms, looking at data and offering another set of eyes. We had psychologists helping the administration monitor the intervention services that we provided in the schools. We have school psychologists participate in decision-makings about how you change your universal screening to make it more effective and powerful. So across the board our psychologists have got involved in ways that we have never been involved before.
What are some of the interventions that you’ve used to improve schools through your “macro” RTI process?
Byrne: You look at some of your fragile schools, and then you let the data drive the kinds of resources you deploy. So maybe you insert some additional reading coaches, or you create small professional learning communities. Or you create incentives to attract national board-certified teachers to those schools. You might have a mentor for the early career principal.
What kind of results have you seen from your RTI initiative at Miami-Dade?
Byrne: We had 26 “F” schools last year and now we have 13. We have seen 25 percent of our elementary K-8 centers improve their performance grades, 50 percent of our middle schools improved their performance, 63 percent of the senior high schools improved.
What advice would you have for other district administrators as they move to implement RTI initiatives?
Jackson: The universality of implementation is not there. And that’s got to be tightened up. If it is not, it will be mish-mashed and you’re going to find that this will be another initiative that will be abandoned down the road.