St. John Schools using ‘RtI’ teachers to improve student reading

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Visit any one of the seven K-8 campuses in the St. John the Baptist Parish Public School System, and you are likely to see a small group of students meeting with a specialized reading teacher during recess or part of the lunch period, or possibly meeting aside while other students are in small classroom study groups.

That’s because St. John the Baptist Parish School Superintendent Dr. Courtney P. Millet has mandated all K-8 campuses to have a Response to Intervention (RtI) teacher who provides additional instruction to students needing assistance with developing their reading skills.

Schools have always used different types of methods to assist struggling learners, but RtI requires that this is done in a more systematic way. It involves matching the needs of a student with high-quality instruction and research-based interventions, and measuring student progress and performance to make the best educational decisions for the student.

Giselle Juneau, pupil appraisal coordinator for St. John the Baptist Parish Schools, said the RtI model being implemented in the district is based on a three-tiered framework. Students who do not respond to the first tier of intervention, which includes traditional instruction and intervention, are those who are identified as needing the additional assistance. The framework is set up so that each successive tier increases the intensity of the intervention services a student receives when the student fails to respond to an intervention. A student who has received intervention at all three tiers but continues to show a lack of response to intervention is considered for referral for an individual educational evaluation to determine eligibility for special education programming and services, Juneau said.

The RtI teacher assigned to each campus meets 30 minutes per day for four days per week with students who are struggling with reading and are at Tier II. No more than six students are in a single group, and the students work on material that “parallels” the regular reading class material that is being studied by the other students.

For example, if the regular class is reading “Charlotte’s Web,” a popular story about a barnyard pig that makes friends with a spider, then those students who undergo additional instruction with the RtI teacher will also read “Charlotte’s Web,” but with an “easier to read” version of the same book.

Holly Moore, the RtI instructor of John L. Ory Magnet, said the program reinforces those skills taught in the regular reading classroom. “Much of the phonics and comprehension is the same, but the stories are written at a lower level, to encourage the student to read more,” Moore said.

“Students cannot learn if they cannot read. This program gives them an opportunity to overcome that barrier,” she said.

Janelle Williams, the RtI teacher at LaPlace Elementary, said the children improve because they gain confidence in themselves, and they are more willing to try to read and do the assignments.

“If the students are scared to read, then they’re not willing to try. But I’ve seen that as they gain more confidence, then they are willing to try new things,” Williams said. “Just to see many of these students try is a huge step in the right direction. We’re gradually eliminating the phrase, ‘I can’t’.”

Williams and Moore noted that all the campuses are utilizing the RtI teachers, and some campuses, like theirs, also are using other instructors, even some part-time teachers, to work extra with children who are “borderline.”

“These students may not be as challenged as some in our program, but they need some extra assistance to stay up with their peers. The extra assistance provided by these teachers is very helpful with that,” Moore said.

In the past, some campuses had designated instructors who provided similar instruction and support, but the programs and intervention varied and may not have been as structured or offered on a consistent basis. The new effort changes that, according to Moore and Williams.

The materials used by the RtI teachers are part of a learning enhancement series called, “My Sidewalks.” The reading materials and lesson parallel the regular education reading material.

At Tier III of the RtI model, the intervention services may include adding additional research based programs and increasing the time and frequency a student receives intervention.

“At this level of intervention, the district’s Pupil Appraisal staff is involved in monitoring the student’s progress and assisting school teams in making data-based decisions about the student’s educational needs,” Juneau said.

RtI is a best practice approach in providing assistance to our students who are experiencing academic difficulties.

“It gives them a chance to demonstrate that with appropriate, high quality instruction, they can make academic gains they might not otherwise make, and it helps to ensure that only appropriate referrals for special education evaluations are made,” Juneau said.