RTI2 Series: Successfully Implement Common Core with RTI2

There’s a young man at our school – let’s call him Dedric (his name has been changed for issues of privacy) – who has always been a good student. He made good grades in elementary and was Proficient last year on the Reading/Language Arts portion of TCAP. But he’s struggling a little this year, earning a D first semester.

Dedric, you see, is having difficulty transitioning to Common Core. Language Arts is much more rigorous now, with a heavy emphasis on writing and defending claims. It’s no longer enough to get the correct answer, which in itself is now more of a challenge, but you also have to explain why your answer is correct and why other options are incorrect. Textual evidence is required for every assignment, and reading passages are utilized more and are more complex.

That’s a big leap from TCAP expectations, which involved more rote memorization and multiple choice options. And that’s why Dedric went from scoring Proficient to struggling to earn a D.

For every Dedric, there are many struggling even more. Most of our incoming 6th graders scored Basic or Below Basic and were even less prepared for the increased rigor of Common Core than Dedric.

This is a national trend. Kentucky was the first state to implement a Common Core-aligned test in 2012, and scores plummeted. New York experienced a similar drop in scores this past year with its first Common Core tests.

Critics like Diane Ravitch have used these results to argue against Common Core. And several states have responded by either rejecting or slowing the pace of their original adoption of Common Core.

Tennessee has a different plan. Anticipating a drop in scores under Common Core, our state is rolling out another initiative, Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI²), at the same time to ensure that all kids have the supports they need to successfully transition to Common Core.

Let’s look again at Dedric. At Grizzlies Prep, we already have a solid RTI² system in place. We take struggling scholars like Dedric and provide them with extra supports (interventions), in addition to the regular high-quality instruction in ELA.

What do these interventions look like?

At Grizzlies Prep, where the vast majority of our scholars enter multiple years behind grade-level, we use our extended day to the fullest. For reading (and we have a similar program for Math), we offer the following tiered interventions:

  • An extra block daily (alternating between Nonfiction and Fiction Studies) that focuses on reading and vocabulary, with our highest-level readers instead participate in an enriched seminar block daily;
  • A daily Guided Reading block that focuses on reading fluency and comprehension;
  • For our lowest-level readers (our non-readers), it means all of this, plus an intensive daily small group block of Wilson Reading with our literacy specialist that focuses on phonemic awareness, decoding skills, prosody, vocabulary, and comprehension;
  • And once our non-readers become confident readers, they transition into a seminar class that focuses on reading comprehension, with special attention to close readings of the text.

As a result of these tiered interventions, all of our scholars are on pace to read on grade-level by the time they enter high school. In order to be college-ready, our scholars must first be high school-ready, so we started with that goal and then developed a plan to ensure that all of our young men will get there.

Our average scholar enters on a 3rd grade level and achieves reading growth in excess of two grade levels per year (meaning they enter 7th grade on a 5th grade level, they enter 8th grade on a 7th grade level, and then enter 9th grade on a 9th grade level). Our non-readers come to us on a Kindergarten level and average three years of growth (so they enter 7th grade on a 3rd grade level, they enter 8th grade on a 6th grade level, and they enter 9th grade on a 9th grade level).

If we look at Dedric’s progress, he has grown from a late 2nd grade reading level when he entered Grizzlies Prep in August to an early 4th grade level as of December. And, even though it’s early in the new semester, Dedric now has a solid B average. Without the support offered by our RTI system, Dedric would be failing.

The drop in scores associated with Common Core could lead to a dramatic increase in special education referrals. Or it could lead to a hard choice of, either retaining an incredible number of students, or passing along students who have failed to master the standards.

Those are all legitimate concerns.

But those aren’t the only options. Just like we’ve done with Dedric, schools can and must provide the additional supports to ensure that all kids are able to meet the new, more rigorous expectations. In our state, these supports are being mandated.

Fortunately, the Tennessee Department of Education has done much of the work already with its RTI² initiative. I encourage you to check out the RTI² Manual, Implementation Guide, and professional development options from the state below. And feel free to contact me to learn more about Grizzlies Prep.

Find the RTI² Manual here.

Find the RTI² Implementation Guide here.

And find professional development modules and information here.

James Aycock is currently the Director of Scholar Support at Grizzlies Prep, an all-boys public charter middle school located in downtown Memphis. He previously served as the founding Special Education Coordinator with Tennessee’s Achievement School District, after several years as a special educator and baseball coach at Westside Middle School in the Frayser community of North Memphis. Contact him at jaycock@grizzliesprep.org with questions or to learn more about Grizzlies Prep’s RTI system.

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Categories: James Aycock, Special Education, Writers

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10 replies

  1. So you turned Dedric into a test taker. Instant that special. At what cost? What is his fluency rate? Can he wrote the basic instructions to a scientific experiment. What does she know about basic history? Rote facts or has he internalized information into understanding? You have turned Dedric into a data point. Aren’t you a great teacher. Just curious, if you are doing such a great job at differentiation, how do you expect students that learn at different rates and via different techniques or have different learning styles to all pass the same standardize tests that have been based on non-educators ideas of what the standards should be? What real critical thinking skills are you imparting to this student? When Common Core only has math standards up to algebra II, how do you expect this student to succeed in college? Do you have such little expectation of this student that he/she will only have a shot at community college and start at the remedial level?
    You are so very sadly mistaken if you believe that a student can be reduced down to a set of data points and declared as successful. How many special needs children are successful in your school? How many non-traditional students are in your program? How many of your graduates are not required to take remedial courses in college?
    Just curious, as a TFA grad, how much education psychology have you had to give you the confidence to make such authoritative remarks about the appropriateness of Common Core considering the only two professional educators on the design team refused to sign off on the standards? Why is it that most professional educators, especially those that teach the youngest of our students, have such issue with corporate based standards? Exactly what research do you have that validates your claims of effective instruction?

    I’ll leave you with these two recent comments:
    “There is, for example, no evidence that states within the U.S. score higher or lower on the NAEP based on the rigor of their state standards. [Whitehurst, G, (2009, October 14) and Bandeira de Mello, V. D., Blankenship, C., & McLaughlin D. (2009, October)] Similarly, international test data show no pronounced tests core advantage on the basis of the presence or absence of national standards. [Kohn, A. (2010, January 14) and McCluskey, N. (2010, February 17)] ”
    that would be real research and
    “Businesses are the primary consumers of the output of our schools, so it’s a natural alliance.”
    Allan C. Golston, president of the United States Program, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
    A obviously glaring and damming statement.

    • Thanks for the comment, here are a couple thoughts in response. First, I don’t think anyone was trying to claim that “Dedric” was turned into a test taker. From what I know of the school in question, the reading assessments referenced are fairly informal rather than standardized tests. Plus, if these tests are the thing that students like Dedric will be assessed on, don’t we have a responsibility to adequately prepare them for these assessments? Second, this is a middle school, so talk of high school standards in math isn’t really relevant. Looking back, I’m also not sure how to you pulled community college in there as nothing was mentioned about this. Third, the purpose of this piece is to offer advice on help students struggling with a new set of standards, not render a verdict on whether or not testing is good or bad or even the standards themselves. Whether we like it or not, the standards are here and as teachers we’re trying to offer advice from our experience on how best to implement these standards.

      It sounds like you have some strong feelings on this issue. If you’d be interested in authoring a piece to address some of the concerns you raised in your comment regarding testing we’re very willing to work with you to publish it here. Please check out our “how to contribute” page.

      • “Whether we like it or not, the standards are here”?

        I thought you were all about giving teachers a voice. If teachers find these standards to be counter-productive to the goal of providing students with a good education, don’t you want them to say so?

        I’m going to stop commenting on your page if you don’t publish this comment, by the way.

      • I don’t think anyone is saying we shouldn’t have a discussion on the quality of cc standards. If you notice i frequently make reference to the need to continually improve the standards. But since they are here its also important to discuss how to work with them. What’s counter productive is to fight them to the point of not preparing our students to meet them.

        And as always, if you feel there is a specific view not being represented I’m happy to work with you if you would like to write about that viewpoint

      • And if you ever have concerns about a comment not being published, you don’t need to threaten anything. just make sure to follow the comment guidelines on our “how to contribute page” and keep it respectful and constructive (and your comment was both, so no need to worry)

  2. Sure, I do have concerns about a comment not being published. You never published my comment where I offered to write a piece on how over-testing is affecting children. My article would offer solutions to this problem, so it would be constructive. Since you never published that comment, I took that for a “no.” That’s fine, of course; it’s your blog, and you can present any point of view you wish on it. But don’t claim my comment or proposed article would be disrespectful or not constructive.

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