Does CPS Have Enough Staffing for Response to Intervention (RTI)?

Emily Dexter

RTI (Response to Intervention) is a structured approach for providing supplementary instruction and intensive tutoring to students working below grade level.  It isn’t anything exotic, but is a way to systematize good practice so that students don’t fall through the cracks.  There are tons of research studies showing that intensive intervention works, particularly one-to-one tutoring. (See links below.) If the School Committee wants to have an impact on achievement and opportunity gaps, ensuring that CPS has enough intervention and tutoring staff is key.  (As a structured system, RTI itself could be beneficial or hopelessly bureaucratic, depending on how it’s implemented.)

Given the potential benefits of RTI, it was encouraging that the SC curriculum subcommittee recently had a 2-hour meeting with the administration to learn about our RTI  program.  (See link to audio of meeting below.  I didn’t attend the meeting in person.) It was discouraging, however, that the question of whether we have enough staff to implement RTI was never explicitly addressed. It was also concerning that the district’s RTI consultant, Dr. Christopher Parker (founder of Ideal Consulting Services in Westwood, MA), is providing advice on our early reading program but does not seem to have substantial training in language, reading, or literacy. (Link to Dr. Parker’s c.v. below.)  Reading is complex and the most well-researched topic in education.  There are a lot of subtleties and no one-size-fits-all approaches.  Therefore it requires an expert with deep knowledge of research and practice to competently advise on reading pedagogy, particularly for diverse learners. As they say in the reading world, “Teaching reading IS rocket science.” The good news, however, is that Cambridge-Boston is probably the national epicenter of reading research, including for ELL students, students who speak a non-mainstream dialect, students with disabilities, students learning two languages, and students who live in poverty.  We have more national reading experts per capita here than probably anywhere else in the world.

In terms of staffing, CPS teachers made urgent pleas for more intervention staff when they spoke at the budget hearing in December (link to transcript below):

What I do want to say, also similar across the district, is that we need more intervention support. That is the resounding message I got from staff over and over.  Over and over.”  (Tobin teacher)

“While we endorse the RTI model and work hard to meet these requirements, we need some help. Which means we need staff to implement it properly, which means the addition of interventionists. We ask that you provide specific funding for interventionists district-wide, not just at Graham and Parks, but across the city.”  (Graham & Parks teacher)

“We really hope to see more staffing for intervening at the higher grade levels, 2nd-5th. Because of RTI and Tier 2 interventions, and trying to run differentiated teaching groups in all of the subjects, we just need more trained staff to do this.”  (Peabody teacher)

Since their testimony was so recent, it was surprising that the administration did not directly address, in their hour and a half presentation, whether or not we need more staff.  If I were a CPS teacher, I might conclude that even when teachers do speak out, the decision-makers either do not listen or choose not to engage directly with what teachers say.

The RTI presentation was made by the Asst. Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction (C&I), the Asst. Superintendent for Elementary Education, RTI consultant Dr. Parker, and principals, literacy coaches, and reading specialists from two JK-5 schools. The primary audience for the presentation was the SC curriculum subcommittee: Fran Cronin (chair), Fred Fantini, and Patty Nolan.

The presenters did not describe actual interventions in detail, but did describe the ongoing assessments, the data they generate, and the way the data are interpreted.  They also described the tiered system of instruction underlying RTI. Roughly, Tier 1 refers to regular classroom instruction, Tier 2 to small group interventions that meet roughly three times per week, and Tier 3 to intensive one-to-one or small group interventions that meet every day of the week.  In terms of who is providing the interventions at these two schools, here’s where there seemed to be an intentional indirect response  to teacher requests for more staff.  One principal explained that in addition to the school’s intervention teachers, they had arranged for interns to provide interventions to students struggling with reading. (The principal didn’t say how the parents feel about interns teaching their struggling readers.) The other principal explained that they were able to free up staff by reorganizing schedules.  I.e. both principals indicated that they were able to implement RTI without hiring additional staff. The message felt indirect but deliberate: “CPS teachers are wrong, we do not need more staff.”  (Implied.)

This message, however, was contradicted by the Asst. Superintendent for C&I, who, when discussing next steps, noted that they need to be able to provide Tier 3 interventions “at greater intensity and frequency.”  I interpret that to mean that some students in these two schools are still not getting the intervention services they need.  The solution offered was vague: “That’s just working with scheduling and having the personnel to provide Tier 2 and 3 interventions to ensure fluidity of scheduling.”  But if they’ve already maximized the schedule at these two schools, does that mean it is now a problem of not having enough staff?

In addition to vague references to “having the personnel,” the equally vague term “all hands on deck” gets tossed around, as if the problem isn’t lack of staff but rather an unwillingness on the part of teachers to pitch in for the good of the students. “It takes a really strong team” is another phrase, implying that teachers who ask for more intervention staff in their schools are not working together as a strong team.  I wouldn’t mind so much if the administration stated explicitly that teamwork was a problem, gave examples, and directly addressed the question of whether we have adequate RTI staffing.  But again, it felt like they were responding to teachers via insinuation:  “If you need more staff, it is because you do not have an all-hands-on-deck attitude and do not work effectively as a team.” (Not stated directly.)

The presentation team offered two anecdotes to show how much the students were enjoying the ongoing RTI assessments: a boy who announced how many more consonant-vowel-consonant nonsense words he intended to be able to read at his next assessment (e.g. sut, pib, bup), and a girl who boasted about the number of words per minute she could read during a “cold read” assessment. (Reading a text without any introduction.)  These could be the innocuous comments of children excited about a challenge, or they could indicate that these frequent quantitative assessments encourage students to view reading as an arcade game rather than a way to access the meaning offered by print.  But as one person at the meeting said, “This is the future of our district, this is where we are going.”

Comments welcome.  

Feel free to forward link or text.  (But please don’t forward text to CPSparents@yahoogroups.com because I posted the link there already.)

An audio of the SC curriculum sub committee meeting discussed above is at:  

https://archive.org/details/Curr.SubComm.12115

A transcript of CPS teacher testimony at the December teacher budget meeting is at:

https://publicschoolnotes.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/transcript-of-cps-teacher-budget-requests-and-priorities-at-cps-budget-hearing/

RTI Consultant Dr. Parker C.V.  RTI Consultant Dr. Parker c.v.

Website for Ideal Consulting Services, Inc.:   http://idealconsultingservices.com/

Articles on effective tutoring programs can be found at:  

http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/747888?sid=21105770268883&uid=4&uid=3739256&uid=2&uid=3739696

http://www.wilder.org/Wilder-Research/Publications/Studies/East%20Side%20Learning%20Center%20Tutoring%20Program/Effective%20Approaches%20to%20Tutoring%20Young%20Readers%20-%20A%20Preliminary%20Look%20at%20Factors%20Affecting%20Tutoring%20Success.pdf

https://childandfamilypolicy.duke.edu/pdfs/pubpres/One_to_one_Tutoring.pdf

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