Billed as an exciting embarking into a new era of Payson education reform, the Payson Unified School District Board Monday night took the first steps in starting a new system that officials say will help more students leave elementary school on grade level.
Called Response to Intervention, the program involves collecting data, analyzing it, and developing protocols so that students falling behind catch up before the problems turn severe.
“We are about to embark on a journey in the district,” said Superintendent Casey O’Brien.
Three intervention specialists will begin working at all three elementary schools next year, and one coordinator will work at the district level with Director of Special Services Barbara Fitzgerald.
The four positions will be funded through stimulus money, and the individuals will be culled from existing staff.
Payson Elementary School and the middle school will serve as pilots for the computer-driven data collection, which is integral to the program. The district is concentrating its efforts at the beginning because it wants to start slowly to ensure quality, officials said.
The length of the pilot is unknown. It could be a year, but if all goes well, the process could quicken, officials said.
Essentially, the program allows educators to determine if a student is failing because of a learning disability or inadequate instruction.
Payson intervention specialists will work to develop protocols — specific ways of responding to problems.
“If an FES (Frontier Elementary School) student is failing, they’ll also be failing at PES (Payson Elementary School),” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not just because a teacher doesn’t like them.
“Kids are very different than they were 25 years ago, 50 years ago, 100 years ago,” she continued. “But the school system is not much different.”
Traditionally, educators have compared a student’s IQ to his level of achievement. A large discrepancy would alert teachers to a problem, but the method often delays intervention, according to information from the Council for Exceptional Children, and provided by the district.
In the late 1970s, researchers developed developed the response model after investigating how to avoid this problem of waiting for children to fail before schools intervene.
Federal mandates, which are building to require all students to meet standards in about five years, are impossible to meet, Fitzgerald said.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t continue to work.”
Fitzgerald gave the example of Jerry, who is falling far behind his classmates. Educators would examine the data. Is he absent a lot? Is he disabled? Can he see and hear?
Through examining the data, educators could determine that Jerry can hear, but doesn’t learn well through auditory learning. Jerry can work on that.
“We have to change a mindset here,” Fitzgerald said. “We have to look and say what is our system doing to support Jerry.”
Although 80 percent of students generally succeed without intervention, Fitzgerald said the question is how do educators help the remaining 20 percent.
Continued development of the professional learning community is expected to help. Through the community teachers meet with one another to discuss curriculum and what has worked for their students.
Ingraining these professional learning communities into the district’s culture is part of the intervention plan, along with building a “data warehouse,” and standardizing the interventions. One measure of success is if most students leave elementary school on grade level.
The stimulus money lasts for the next two years. O’Brien has listed this program as one of the meaningful ways of using the federal dollars.