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[Educator Testimonial] What does intervention REALLY look like at every grade level?

[Educator Testimonial] What does intervention REALLY look like at every grade level?

We know that all educators and school systems are focused on supporting the unique needs of their students. Enter RTI, MTSS, and any other specific intervention structure that you might use. But, the reality is that intervention is hard to do.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Courtney Holley, the district MTSS director and school psychologist at Cook County Schools based in Adel, Georgia, and she described how she and her team implemented their award-winning intervention program. Just this year, the district was named a winner of the SSTAGE Award for Promising Practices in recognition of its K–12 continuum and flexibility in providing remediation support and research-based interventions. At Edmentum, we are proud that Exact Path, our K–12 assessment-driven, individualized learning program, was part of the success—but that’s just it, we’re only part of a much larger strategy that is gaining Cook County Schools well-earned attention. Let’s take a closer look at how the district has effectively designed and implemented an intervention program at all school levels.

Creating an intervention program isn’t easy. Where did you start?

Dr. Holley: We had to put procedures in place, and we had to do a manual. We had to come up with policies and procedures and decide: what does tier 1 look like? What does tier 2 look like? What does tier 3 look like? What are specific interventions? How are we collecting data? So, we had to revamp the way we were doing things systemwide.

You saw this opportunity as a great time to take a hard look at your technology partners at all grade levels. Why was this important for your intervention program?

Dr. Holley: I wanted to make sure we were monitoring these kids all the way through graduation and we were providing intervention if the intervention was needed. [In 2017], we got Exact Path. So, we had something on the continuum for tier 2, tier 3 students with a diagnostic and individual learning paths [for] K–12, and that was awesome because it's really hard to find things [for] 11th and 12th [grade students]. Secondary gets pushed to the wayside a lot of times.

Flash forward to the 2019–20 school year, and the program has expanded to all students. Why did you make this change?

Dr. Holley: We have loved it, and we're excited about using it. I like that we're using the diagnostic tier 1 [this year], so we have a continuum of growth and data from kindergarten up.

Intervention comes in different shapes and sizes depending on the age and grade level you’re serving. Describe how your intervention programs work within each building.

Primary School (Grades K–3)

Dr. Holley: If you’re tier 2 and tier 3 at primary, you get pulled out for 45 minutes, five days a week. The intervention changes [for each tier]. And, those groups get smaller. So, you go from being in a group of 8 to 10 to a group of 4 to 5. [In the earliest grades], they do a lot more direct instruction and hands-on [learning], but they’re using the data that they’re getting from the diagnostic and the learning paths. They’re learning so that when they get older, they can do it more independently.

Elementary School (Grades 4–5)

Dr. Holley: Tier 2 students are pulled out three days a week for 45 minutes; tier 3 students are pulled out five days a week for 45 minutes. We do blended learning, and [the interventionist] has a paraprofessional, so they’re able to do small groups, and then the independent group is where they’re able to work on their learning paths [in Exact Path]. And then, in the other two groups, they’re getting direct instruction.

Our interventionist started utilizing the [mastery] Trophies [in Exact Path], and if students get 10 Trophies in the area that they are working on, they get a pizza party. She said they are making leaps and bounds and really growing through the program, and they’re wanting to do it because they’re wanting to earn trophies. So, that’s been really successful for her.

Middle School (Grades 6–8)

Dr. Holley: We have a really cool setup because our students have two connections classes. Some schools call them specials (PE, art, computer). [Our students] get two, 45 minutes each. So, our tier 2 students go to reading or math connections three times a week for 45 minutes. And then, the next 45 minutes connections class, they get a “special” so they’re not missing [out on the] “fun.” They still get the best of both worlds, but they’re getting their intervention. Some students are working on just reading, some just math, some reading and math. And then, tier 3, that’s the same thing, except they do it five days a week.

What Exact Path has helped us do is to be able to serve the students in the same class period. So, our teacher has Chromebooks set up, and he goes by each station, but he also takes those standards [where students are struggling], and he works with students in groups. He also talks with the classroom teacher to ask, “What are they missing in the classroom? What prerequisite skills are you seeing they don’t have to be successful in their grade?” And, he uses resources from Exact Path.

He does a racetrack in his room, and each kid has a car. And, as they grow on their learning paths and their diagnostics, their car moves closer and closer, so they know where their goal is. So, if you're tier 3, you know how close you're getting to your goal, so you can go to gym two days a week. If you're tier 2, you know how close you're getting to your goal, so you can have another connections class. He's turned it into a very visual thing for them. And, that's been successful.

High School (Grades 9–12)

Dr. Holley: At this age, it’s about building relationships. You have to earn the child's trust. They've been told their whole lives that they can't do it. They're not successful academically. They don't want to come to school. You've got to have somebody that can build relationships with them.

Beyond that, for 9th and 10th grade, they’re doing a “skinny” [class period]. So, instead of 90 minutes for ELA, 90 minutes for math, they're getting 45/45 all year. So, they do the diagnostics, and [the teacher] creates groups for kids based on how they did with the diagnostic. They can celebrate out [based on performance]. She does this big celebration if they've made gains and they're still in the course but they're no longer having to be on their individualized learning path, or they can become a peer leader at that point.

Then, she structures her class around different strategies she uses for these students because she's having to go back and teach them components of reading, and it's that [learning] path. It's helping her because, as a high school English teacher, she doesn't teach reading. And so, they'll go on their individualized learning paths. And then, she'll take–say in the classroom, everybody's missing a certain domain. She'll take that as a whole group, and she has different strategies and different activities they're going to do revolving around that standard that everybody's struggling in based off of their diagnostic. She does a phenomenal job of doing that for those students, and they're engaged. They like it—you know, it's not a chore—trying to get them on Exact Path. They like doing it.

What advice would you give to others who are looking to create a more successful intervention program?

Dr. Holley: The first thing you need to do is go through and make sure there's a clear process and procedures that you're following for intervention. The next thing you need to do is find something that's going to work at each of your levels because then you're comparing apples to apples instead of comparing apples to oranges. Because, if you don't have something that's consistent, then you're not going to get consistent growth in data because they're not measured off the same thing. And then, definitely finding something that you can use in a blended learning style that's not a 100 percent computer-based or not 100 percent direct learning that you can use. Small group, whole group, individualized—something that meets all of those needs, which Exact Path does if used correctly.

Want to learn more about the success that Cook County Schools has seen or see the growth gains the district has to show for its hard work? Check out the complete success story.

madison.michell's picture

Madison Michell has been a member of the Edmentum team since 2014 and currently serves as a Marketing Manager. As a former Kindergarten and 3rd grade teacher during her time as a Teach For America corps member, she believes education truly has the power to transform lives. She is passionate about connecting educators with online programs, best practices, and research that improve teaching and learning for today's students.

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