Ventura County Office of Education: California

Jane Wagmeister, Ed.D. is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Continuous Improvement for the Ventura County Office of Education. The Ventura County Office of Education provides education services to the twenty-one local school districts in California. Dr. Wagmeister has been with Ventura County for six years, and is entering her third year in her current position, where her responsibilities include leadership coaching, school achievement analysis, program review, providing schools and districts with professional development, and working with schools and districts that are in program improvement. She co-chairs the RtI2 Task Force with colleague Jeff Hamlin.

What did you do?

During the 2005-2006 school year, the Ventura County Office of Education set up a collaborative, multi-disciplinary RtI2 Task Force. (In California, the California Department of Education refers to RTI as Response to Instruction and Intervention, or RtI2.) The task force included members from our educational services and student services branches, teachers form local school districts, and the Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA). SELPA is responsible for the implementation of the Ventura County Special Education Local Plan and ensuring a free and appropriate public education for all students with identified disabilities according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

As its first task, the RtI2 task force group developed a 4-year plan to implement a Response to Instruction and Intervention model in schools and districts across Ventura County. This was positively embraced by the twenty-one district superintendents across the county. Our goals were to: 1) build district and school capacity to provide early intervention and enhance student achievement through a model of tiered interventions; 2) provide a replicable intervention model; and 3) promote a collaborative effort that offers a coordinated county-wide alternative to traditional identification methods for special education assessment.

We held many collaborative conversations with a wide range of educators. The seventeen-member task force set a schedule to meet monthly and created a "think tank" atmosphere of high-quality discussions. The task force also developed its own 3-tier instruction and intervention integrated model, with increasing levels of support to address the academic and the social, emotional, and behavior challenges of students. Having a collaboratively-developed county model helps to support consistency and to create a common language across all of the schools and districts involved. This also better supports students and their families who move between our county districts. An RtI2 graphic and narrative, with accompanying forms, can be found on the VCOE Web site.

Next, the Task Force provided materials and resources to the twenty-one school districts in Ventura County, helping districts create their own model of RtI2 tiered interventions. The task force maintained a feedback loop to continuously assess local needs. Responding to district staff requests, the task force coordinated RtI2 symposiums, district collaboratives, site visits, ongoing professional development training using a training of trainers model, and special events for decision makers, parents, and the community. We are now beginning our Implementation Network for site and district leaders who are responsible for the realization of an RtI2 framework at the school and district level. RtI2 is now an agenda item at superintendent's meetings as well as curriculum council and bilingual director's meetings.

At this point, every district is at least seriously considering RtI2, and a number of them are piloting it. Our approach is comprehensive and inclusive. RtI2 is happening in both the academic and social emotional and behavioral areas, and it is not viewed as being just special education or just general education; it's a unified every education effort. We are hopeful that all of our districts will stay committed to the idea of RtI2.

We also continue to develop resources for our schools and districts based on feedback received on our annual RtI2 survey. An example is a new resource page to support English Language Learners, and examples of supports for social-emotional and behavioral systems. This year we will include professional development in the area of RtI2 for behavior and RtI2 for English Language Learners. We will also feature local schools showcasing their models of tiered instruction and intervention.

We also developed our own Educational & Management Services Web site with RtI2 supports and examples for many areas, including academic, social-emotional and behavior, ELL support, district support, and assessment and progress monitoring. There is also information on our professional development offerings and symposium information.

What challenges did you face?

Challenges we have faced as a Task Force include assembling a Task Force that was representative of a variety of stakeholders who can support the core components of building an integrated framework, all the while keeping the Task Force small enough to be effective and efficient. We collaborated in developing a framework that reflected both the academic and behavioral system to support all children. With that in mind, we developed supporting resources for our model including Intervention Progress Team (IPT) forms used for data collection, documenting instruction, and intervention. These particular forms have been refined based on an ongoing dialog with the Task Force sub committees and our community. We have found that while having a recommended county model is a good compass, we encourage schools and districts to be sensitive in building models that work for individual sites and districts. It is important to allow time to build a model and this might begin as a pilot in a particular grade and/or content level. This can allow time to build on success while developing staff capacity to support student needs. Providing basic professional development is a foundational must. It will provide a clear understanding of what RTI is and is not. This, along with providing professional development on collaborative data teams, builds the capacity to visualize a strong Tier 1 core instruction which is the foundation in the pyramid.

Professional development in research-based, high-quality classroom instruction has been a key area for schools in developing their framework as well. While it builds Tier 1, it informs their Tier 2 and Tier 3. Other growth areas include looking at available resources and how best to use resources to support students and building the components for universal screening and progress monitoring. This will inform the building of the school's master schedule, which can be very challenging, to build time for the "extra scoop" of support. We have found when districts and individual schools look at their current reality, they see how that fits within a framework of tiered instruction and intervention. They may do a self-assessment and can see the areas they are doing great work in and look to other specific areas they might want to shore up and fill the gaps to build capacity. Schools and districts with a professional development plan that includes training for staff on tiered intervention, and specific training in core components of RTI, have supported schools and districts in building consensus, infrastructure and finally implementation.

What was the outcome of your effort and what data could you share reflecting improvements due to RTI initiatives?

Our Task Force activities are designed to build district and site capacity for the implementation of RtI2 throughout Ventura County. It is our belief that this process will foster challenging learning experiences that engage all students. We implemented an annual VCOE survey and other data collection related to this framework. Overall, we see great improvement in many areas.

As evidenced by data from the annual surveys, the percentage of respondents reporting a "thorough knowledge of the general principles of RTI" has increased from 18 percent at the start of the project to 27 percent after the second year. During the same time period, the percentage of respondents indicating "some knowledge" of the general principles of RTI increased from 27 percent to 73 percent, and the number indicating "limited knowledge" decreased from 55 percent to 0 percent.

Growth in knowledge was seen in all areas surveyed, with the highest levels of growth seen in the degree to which survey respondents indicated "some" or "thorough" knowledge of:

  • How to implement tiered interventions (from 60% to 90%)
  • Monitoring strategies to ensure that interventions are provided with fidelity (from 50% to 88%)
  • Strategies to monitor students’ responses to intervention in their area of need (from 60% to 78%)

At the start of the RtI2 Task Force, no Ventura County districts reported they were ready to begin RtI2 implementation. By the end of the 2007-2008 school year, 40 percent of the districts indicated that RtI2 was being piloted in a limited number of schools within their district, and 20 percent stated that they were in the process of district-wide implementation.

We observe a lot more analysis of formative and summative test data now, with 94 percent of schools reporting they now administer benchmark tests. Also, schools more fully and widely implement RTI, including non-academic areas such as behavior. Survey results indicate differentiated instruction and universal access increased by 30 percent in Ventura County classrooms.

The most compelling data is the increased learning that occurs in classrooms across the county. Where students receive targeted instruction and interventions based on specific data points they get higher assessment scores. Some Ventura County schools implementing the model have exited program improvement, meeting federal targets for all students and significant subgroups. Some have been recognized as California Distinguished Schools, serving as exemplars for model site visits. Leaders in these schools present at Ventura County Office of Education RtI2 symposia and collaborative meetings.

A district superintendent reported, "We are excited that we are able to have a systemic change using the county model of RtI2 that can better serve the students in our district." Another district assistant superintendent stated, "We have made much progress in implementation of RtI2 due to the support of Ventura County. We have developed our own programs, and many of our principals and teachers have attended the symposiums and brought back ideas to their sites that have been the impetus for RtI2 planning."

What advice would you give others?

Focus on learning. As educators it is our responsibility to focus not only on what we have taught, but on measuring what our students have learned. We have a collaborative problem-solving model that includes data collection and analysis, progress monitoring, implementation and evaluation. This process is supported by staff development and family involvement. The result is increased student learning.

The secret to successful implementation of an RTI model is building a culture of collaboration and a strong shared belief in a tiered system to support all children learning. Key to this is a strong instructional leader. The superintendent is important to support this framework, and the strong passionate principals who lead with a committed staff are the daily driving force. The principal is the first learner who looks at the recent data, attends meetings, builds the infrastructure and shows support of the model's implementation. Some of the principals from model school sites are surprised when others view them as exceptional. They are exemplars of continuous improvement as they evaluate and refine their models. They don't see themselves as extraordinary but as leaders who do what is right for students.

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