In the 2007-2008 school year, the 830-student Milam Elementary School in the Conroe (Texas) Independent School District started to pilot an RTI program. Before implementing RTI into K8, “we analyzed and looked at district-level data trends,” including district common assessments, standardized assessments and outcome assessments, according to Andrea B. Ogonosky, a licensed psychologist and an independent consultant in RTI who helped the Conroe district.
That data was used to identify subpopulations that were having difficulty progressing through the district, such as English language learners, Ogonosky says. The district brought in several heavy hitters of educational pedagogy for staff development in order to build teacher capacity in implementing differentiated strategies, including Eric Jensen, a former teacher and leader in professional development for 20 years. “A lot of districts don’t sustain staff development, and the RTI team becomes a referral to special education instead of a problem solver for all kids,” Ogonosky says.
Ogonosky helped train the staff in RTI, explaining the process, how to choose a team, and what the principal’s role should be, according to Judy Davis, principal of Milam Elementary School, where 78 percent of its students are economically disadvantaged. The principals must be the leaders of RTI in each school and must believe in the process and take ownership. “The principal must have the skills to take the staff through the times of doubt as to whether RTI is working or not working,” Davis says. She adds that she and her staff started to feel “truly comfortable” with RTI this year, the third year of implementation.
Next was choosing the collaborative team. “Choosing the team was a big piece,” Davis recalls. “We had the basic training, but there was no set way to do this. You do it your way and see how it works best for your school. It was exciting to me as a leader.”
Teachers also had to buy in to the idea and collaborate, which they did, Davis says. Her team consisted of respected teachers of each grade level, including a special education teacher, guidance counselor, bilingual teacher and diagnosticians for special education.
The team of educators spends most of its time assisting teachers with interventions at tier 1, which is the first of three tiers of instruction in most models, Davis says. Tier 3 is usually the last step before a child could be referred to special education.
The committee looks at the universal screening data to determine which students need to undergo decision-point meetings, she says. At such a meeting, the teacher reports to the team what a student’s reading, math and behavior status is, and then the team determines if it’s appropriate to bring the student to tier 2 or to give the teacher more ideas and interventions to use at tier 1.
The idea of RTI is about “good teaching practices,” Davis explains. “And that guided us into training the staff and really understanding that the staff development has to be truly understanding of the model and tier 1.”
Davis says there has been some success since the program started at the school. Last year, not one student was referred to special education, although three students entered tier 3. In a typical year in the past, the school had at least five students referred each year. This year, the school has had three referrals from tier 3 to special education, Davis says.