DES MOINES – The statewide push to get all Iowa children to read at, or above, grade level by the time they start third grade began in a convention hall meeting room Monday morning.
Officials from the Iowa Department of Education hosted more than 300 people at Veteran’s Memorial Hall in Des Moines for training in what’s called “Response to Intervention” techniques.
Sometimes shorthanded as RtI, Response to Intervention uses frequent assessments at least three times a year to identify students who are struggling academically. Struggling students get extra help – and additional assessments – to correct problems before they become more serious.
In addition, the assessment data is plugged into a statewide database that will track student scores across all school districts. Those districts, however, are not mandated to participate in the Response to Intervention program, although state officials want, and have encouraged them, to.
“In kindergarten there are four separate sub-tests and each one is only about a minute long, so you’re engaging with the kid for five minutes, so it’s a short amount of time,” said Michelle Hosp, director of the Iowa Reading Research Center, an office that was created in the 2013 education reform legislation to spearhead early-childhood literacy efforts in the state.
“What’s important is the data you’re getting is highly predictive of how those students are going to perform at the outcome assessment at the end of the year,” Hosp said. “So when they walk in, it becomes our warning system of who is most at risk of not becoming proficient.”
The 300 at Monday’s meeting are about half of the roughly 600 district school district staff expected to be trained in the method the next five days, who will then go back to train their school staff. They represent 82 schools from across the state.
Some districts sent representatives from one or two schools, some didn’t send any, some – like Sioux City Community School District – sent at least one person from every school in the district.
“I think when we get back next week, it will change the way we are doing things,” said Dawn Stansbury, principal at Washington Elementary in Sioux City, who made the trip to Des Moines. “We’re going to begin doing professional development when we get back Monday. I am sold. It’s a good way to use our data to better drive our instruction.”
Overall, the program cost the state about $3.2 million. That’s just over $920,000 for the assessments and $2.3 million to build the statewide database. Federal grant money covered about $1.1 million of the cost.