Paula Defley, Education Strategist in Special Education for Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish Schools, will never forget when Hurricane Katrina destroyed six of their nine schools and every home.
Educational consultant Scott Johnson also witnessed the significant psychological, geographical, and emotional effects on nearly every district in Katrina’s path. But he points to a positive that emerged from the devastation.
“For the most part, all of the schools have increased their collective performance on accountability scales since the storm,” said Johnson, who aids Plaquemines Parish Schools and other districts with the application of data to response to intervention (RTI) efforts. “I attribute these growth factors to more money and better training plans, but most importantly, districts have learned the value in ‘knowing’ the facts—data.”
This data—and a systematic way of collecting, monitoring, and tracking it—is integral to RTI success, says Johnson. He sees technology as the most efficient, effective way to manage data, and says Renaissance tools, especially STAR Reading and STAR Math, afford schools a chance to easily visualize what is happening with regard to intervention. “STAR allows users the scope they do not have in paper and pencil assessment,” Johnson said. “In RTI, we can’t look at one two-minute probe as the end-all assessment, but at a series of these assessments. With STAR, teachers can assess the needs of students, track changes in performance, and discuss data in real time, not weeks after the instruction and assessment occurred.”
Because STAR plays a role in multiple stages of the RTI process, it’s a good fit for Johnson’s three basic tenets of RTI: screen, intervene, and reconvene. Screening is the identification phase, pinpointing the level at which students are performing relative to benchmarks and standards.
“We use all of the STAR assessments for universal screenings three times a year for grades K–10,” Defley said of Plaquemines Parish School district, a STAR user since 2005. “We also use them as weekly progress monitoring tools for students in Tiers 2 and 3. Having tools like those assessments has helped all levels of district personnel focus on the growth of students and use that data to drive instruction.”
Progress monitoring is a key aspect of the “intervene” tenet because it helps identify what is or isn’t working, and allows for timely adaptation and action.
“As interventionists, we need to be clear how long, and at what level, a child remains in intervention,” Johnson said. “In order to know these things, we must progress monitor on a regular, scheduled basis. Not many products online offer schools a chance to do this as easily as STAR.”
The third tenet, reconvene, requires sharing and reviewing the data. This means teachers either informally discussing classroom reports in the hallway, or meeting more formally in large groups. Either way, the key is to share results—only made possible with reliable data.
Johnson feels that STAR simplifies all three tenets of RTI, automating a portion of the work and increasing the integrity of the intervention plan—not to mention easing teachers’ growing workloads. Compiling data, creating graphs, applying decision rules, and storing data are just some examples of tasks made faster and easier for teachers using STAR.
“With correct application, STAR provides a very precise picture of current skill levels, and a picture is a great way to read data,” Johnson said. “STAR uses color-coded displays as well as at-risk criteria, which can be altered, to illustrate important data. In STAR, it’s easy to see those changes, monitor growth, and set criteria for making decisions.”
Such easy-display technology is what it takes to open up critical discussions as well as help classroom teachers drive the process of intervention, which Johnson feels will help RTI reach its pinnacle. Things are headed in the right direction, with school meetings no longer a depository of “what I think happened” reporting, but instead data-based discussion.
Defley says evidence of their RTI growth is their solid District RTI Team and monthly intervention meetings at each school where progress monitoring data are analyzed. Teachers are now aware of the importance of documenting any interventions within their differentiated instruction, as well as sharing that information at grade level and department meetings. Also, the district requires intervention and progress monitoring data for all students who are in evaluation for special education.
Defley added that their RTI progress meant that Plaquemines Parish School District was finally ready this year to give it a go on their own without Johnson, who’d been on board as a consultant since 2001. “We’ve grown so much as a district with RTI,” Defley said.