Jared's Blog: Looking at the Core

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    As we began our journey in RTI, one of the first questions that we really delved into was "Are our core programs meeting the needs of our students?" On our state assessment, nearly 40% of kids were not proficient in reading and math and over half of our kids were not proficient in writing. Further data showed that between 40 to 60 percent of our students were not proficient in reading, writing or math. Obviously, we had some major gaps in our core programs or the implementation of these core programs. We were also going to have to find some screening tools that would help us to identify those students that needed further assessment or intervention. The purpose of this screening is not to identify students for special needs, but to identify specific skills and knowledge that students need to obtain in order to be proficient. These screening tools would also tell us the effectiveness of our core programs.

    In looking at these core programs, we had to determine which data we were going to use to evaluate these programs. The data had to be valid and reliable to ensure that we had a clear picture of what was happening with our students. We have actually run into a problem that we may have too much data and we were spending too much time assessing students. We have a saying in Wyoming; "If you want a calf to gain weight, you can’t spend all of you time weighing it!" In other words, if you want students to learn and gain skills, then you cannot spend all of your time assessing them; you have to take some time to teach them and let them practice!

    So what data did we use to assess our core programs? We used our state assessment to help determine proficiency rates for students and to identify students who need help with certain skill; however, it is not a screening tool and cannot be used as a progress-monitoring tool. The two main screening and progress monitoring tools that we use are DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) and MAP (Measures of Academic Progress). Using the data from these three assessment tools, we were able to get a clear picture of how our core programs were not meeting the needs of our students. We choose these three to triangulate our data and ensure accuracy and, hopefully, eliminate any anomalies in our data. By looking at these data and doing some research, it became very obvious to us that our core programs were not meeting the needs of our students. But we asked ourselves a second question; was it the core program or was it how we were teaching the core program? We wondered is the core program faulty or are we not teaching the core program with fidelity and thus not getting the results we would like? We took a step back and looked at how we were teaching the core programs. We revisited the fundamentals of our core programs and tried to ensure that we were presenting the information and following each program the way it was intended. After taking this new approach for the last half of the year, our data were still not showing the improvement that we thought was necessary to have all of our students meet proficiency. After much deliberation and research, we made the decision that we needed to switch our core programs in both language arts and math. We did some extensive research and visited schools that were having success to help determine which core programs were best for our students. We chose new programs that were closely aligned to our state standards and met the needs of our students. There are some great Web sites out there that review, evaluate and offer resources for core programs. Here are few Web sites that we used to get started or you can "Google" core reading program or core math program to get more information:

    We have changed quite a bit in a short amount of time. Maybe this was too much, too soon; but we knew we needed to do something. We were not afraid to face the reality of what was really happening in the classroom. As I have said before, you have to face the data brutally and honestly. Sometimes this is not an easy or forgiving process, but it is the only way that you can make positive and lasting changes. Plus, data are hard to argue against.

    Along with the new interventions that we have been using, we have added a great deal to an already full plate. I know all this change has caused a lot of stress among the teachers and we have talked about this in staff meetings and have taken a few things off of the plate to try and relieve some of the tension. Our paraprofessionals have taken on more duties to free up time for teachers. We have also had some great discussions about some topics that do not need to be taught and really focusing on the knowledge and skills that are necessary for students to be successful. As we have moved through this school year, the stress has been decreasing. Becoming familiar with the process and coming to understand what really is important in the classroom has also contributed greatly to reducing the stress level in the classroom. Furthermore, some of the data we are starting to see have shown some promising results (I will share some of this in another blog), which is further motivation to continue the process.

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