“All rightee, sir, what story are you doing?” asks Roxanne Savage the Title I and Response to Intervention (RTI) teacher at Julia Randall Elementary (JRE) as she sits down next to Juancarlos Amaya. Their interaction represents a crucial link in a chain that will ultimately determine the success of the whole school.
“Siberian Tiger,” he says.
“OK. Let’s see what’s going on,” says the teacher charged with making sure children don’t fall through the jagged crack of failing to master reading in the early grades.
Savage looks at Juancarlos’ answers to questions that test his ability to comprehend the story he just read. She stops as she goes through the answers. She’s found an error.
“Do you know what lunge is?” Savage asks. Juancarlos looks confused.
“You said growls at...” she says, as she studies the sentence that confused Juancarlos. “Oh, I see why you got confused, the two words are next to each other.”
All day long Savage works with children like Juancarlos, checking answers and moving them along in their work. Increasingly, the ratings and independence of the whole school hinge on the results of her efforts under new state assessment systems.
Finishing up with Juancarlos, she has him work at the Siberian Tiger story again. He happily goes back to reading and answering questions.
Savage looks across the room and spots a child waiting to get her attention.
“Are you ready for me?” she asks as she walks over to Faith Hopson, “Got your questions done?”
Faith sits with Savage answering all her questions correctly and reading perfectly in the set amount of time.
“Congratulations! You’re about ready to go bye-bye soon,” said Savage.
“Nooo! I don’t want to go!” said Faith.
Savage’s students come to her classroom beaten down and insecure. She gives students roots to feel secure and wings to fly off into the mainstream classroom. By the end of their time with her, as in Faith’s case, they don’t want to leave.
Savage runs the Title I and Response to Intervention (RTI) classroom at Julia Randall Elementary (JRE).
“Over 70 kids walk through my door every day,” said Savage.
Teachers who see students slipping in their grades recommend them to Savage’s class for intensive help to get on track. Savage and her aide, Debbie Waterman, work side by side to prop up, improve and track students’ progress.
The Title I program started when the government initiated No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001. Realizing education had to change to help those students who constantly failed, Congress created a program to keep children from falling through the cracks.
Title I provides additional resources to school districts with a financial need. Title I classrooms offer more teachers and assistants, stress student responsibility in academics, testing and record keeping of progress, extra time for instruction, a variety of teaching methods and materials, smaller classes and one-on-one time with teachers.
These programs are the hope of schools since the Arizona Legislature mandated children read at grade level or the state will take over the school. Moreover, studies show that students who can’t read at grade level by third grade face far higher odds of dropping out or suffering other consequences.
For their child to participate in the program, parents sign a compact with the school recognizing the shared responsibilities between the school, parent and child.
Parents have the right to see progress reports on their child and the school, information about the qualifications of the teacher, participate in the decision if Title I meets their child’s needs, suggest improvements, and see a copy of the Title I Parent Involvement Policy. A parent also has the right to refuse Title I services.
At the end of their child’s stay in the program, parents have a say in the next step.
But it all starts in the classroom.
As soon as their scant half-hour for lunch is over (during most of that time they frantically catch up on paperwork), Savage and Waterman prepare for the onslaught of children.
“It gets pretty crazy in here,” said Savage.
Promptly at noon, students begin to file into Savage’s classroom to work.
Faith, a fifth-grader, explains the process she follows to learn to read at grade level. First, she grabs her folder that has her lesson. Then she listens to the story she’s studying on the CD player. After she finishes, she reviews the key words and prepares to read the story on paper. The last step for her is to answer the questions on comprehension. Then she calls on Savage to test her.
Savage repeats this process over and over never losing her cool and always supportive.
“I like her (Savage),” said Faith.
America Benitez likes the recognition she receives for a job well done.
“Last month, if you did everything right, Mrs. Savage gave us a coupon for an ice cream,” she said with a smile, “I got one.”
Savage has found she doesn’t need ice cream all the time; just a simple gold star motivates students to do their best. She also gives them a chance to redo their work. She says if teachers don’t allow students to redo their work, the message received is: this assignment has no legitimate educational value.
While Savage works the room, Waterman sits at the progress-monitoring desk waiting to test the students’ progress.
Based on a scientifically based practice, progress monitoring assesses a student’s academic progress in addition to evaluating the teacher’s success. The process is designed to go quick and easy said Savage.
Hannah Tomerlin sits in front of Waterman reading a passage with a timer clicking off the seconds next to her. Waterman follows along to make sure there are no mistakes. As the beeper goes off, Hannah looks up at Waterman expectantly.
“All right, no errors today,” said Waterman, “You’re at 123 words.”
She puts a dot on a graph that shows Hannah’s reading progress.
Waterman explains that she’s looking for a skipped word as the students read. Mostly the children miss the little words such as ‘is,’ ‘and’ or ‘the.’
Hannah beams at her progress. She’ll be out of the program soon.
Watching the students improve makes it all worthwhile for Savage.
“Once I see the graph line going up, I know I’ve done my job,” said Savage, “It’s incredibly satisfying.”