By Jennifer Wohlleb
Renee Turner’s son started preschool with speech and language issues, which not only limited his communication skills but also negatively impacted his reading ability.
With the help of Boone County Schools’ specialists, he quickly made progress, meeting the goals his therapists set. But reading continued to be a problem until the district created its Response to Intervention program during the 2007-08 school year, aimed at addressing reading deficits.
“He received instruction early in his school career that helped prevent a large gap and that taught him the skills he needed,” Turner wrote about the program. “He is now a fifth-grade student who is just slightly below average in reading and he receives instruction and monitoring that I feel will bring him to grade level before he leaves elementary school.”
And the best part? “He was not made to be labeled ... ‘fail’ before he received help,” she said.
PHOTO: Students at Burlington Elementary School improve their reading skills through the Response to Intervention program. Provided by Boone County Schools.
For this success story and many others, Boone County Schools’ Response to Intervention program is the recipient of KSBA’s spring 2012 PEAK (Public Education Achieves in Kentucky) Award. The PEAK Award was established in 1997 to focus statewide attention on outstanding public school efforts aimed specifically at enhancing student learning skills and, in doing so, promoting the positive impact of public elementary and secondary education in Kentucky.
The focus of Boone County’s program is to keep students in regular instruction while addressing their reading, and now math, deficits with scientifically based instruction and interventions matched to students’ needs. Students are monitored weekly for progress using data to make instruction decisions.
“We felt like (before this program) we had some interventions in place but we weren’t being very strategic or very systemic in how we were having students go through interventions,” said Karen Cheser, assistant superintendent for Learning Support Services. “We weren’t sure that we were using the right intervention for the right student, we weren’t monitoring the results and we had too many students who were failing and being labeled special education when they didn’t have true disabilities. We felt like we should be able to meet their needs earlier so they wouldn’t have a lifelong label.”
That early intervention was what East Bernstadt Independent school board member and PEAK judge Gene Allen liked about the program.
“Intervention is very important as soon as a student’s needs are determined,” he said. “This helps at-risk children keep up in their studies, preventing them from being identified for special education services. This will save school systems a great deal of expense with their future education.”
The first year of the program was piloted at three elementary schools and aimed at K-2 students in the bottom 20 percent in reading skills. It has now grown to include all schools and all grade levels. There are three tiers of intervention: tier 1 – 15-20 minutes of intervention in reading class every day; tier 2 – 20-30 minutes in reading class daily; and tier 3 – 40-60 minutes of reading intervention outside of class, in addition to core instruction.
Every six weeks, the grade-level professional learning teams meet and look at student progress.
“If students continue to make progress, they continue with the same interventions,” Cheser said. “If they aren’t, the team does some data-driven decision making and says, ‘This student needs a different intervention or more time in intervention’ ... always thinking we want the least restrictive environment.”
The program has been so successful, Cheser said special education referrals are down 99 percent.
“There are students with disabilities who need extreme special education services and they will continue to get them,” she said, “but we found we had too many students who weren’t becoming more successful after being identified as special education.”
The key difference with this program is the constant monitoring, Cheser said.
“We’re keeping a really close eye on if the intervention is working,” she said. “We have a really tight list of research-based interventions so teachers aren’t doing just any activity. There has to be scientific evidence to support the use of that particular intervention with that particular type student.”
Boone County leaders also were able to use existing resources for the Response to Intervention program, rather than purchasing new ones.
“We didn’t have any new money to make this happen so we had to be smarter about our resources,” Cheser said. “We have a great superintendent who for years helped our schools choose some great products. So we had some things we probably weren’t using to the fullest that we had already paid for and had on hand. This helped teachers understand the menu of options that they had, which ones are best for which students ... so they really didn’t get a whole lot of new resources; they just had to use them more effectively."
— The deadline for entering the next PEAK Award is Oct. 5. For more information about the program, click here.