Medford Elementary School officials find success in intervention approach, hope to expand in future - Owatonna MN: News

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Medford Elementary School officials find success in intervention approach, hope to expand in future

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Posted: Monday, November 4, 2013 4:45 pm | Updated: 7:35 pm, Mon Nov 4, 2013.

MEDFORD — For the last five years, Medford Elementary School teachers have been using the Response to Intervention approach to keep students in kindergarten through third grade on track academically.

And some school officials would like to see the approach, known as RTI, expand to fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students.

“We see the program works and there is the same need in grades four through six,” said Mark Ristau, Medford Elementary principal. “We don’t have a program like RTI there now, but there are kids that have the same needs.”

But for now it will remain a K-3 program.

“I was planting a seed at the school board meeting,” Ristau said. “It is my hope and my plan to have it in fourth through sixth grade in the future.”

Medford superintendent Rich Dahman said each principal provides an update to the school board each month.

“(Ristau) decided he wanted to give the school board an update on the RTI program, but no formal request was made,” he said. “His intent was to provide information and talk about long-term needs.”

Dahman said the school board weighs decisions like expanding a program or implementing a program on its benefit to the school district versus its cost, and then the board looks at other costs in the budget.

Five years ago, the Medford Elementary School decided to implement the three-tiered instructional approach after visiting an elementary school in Waseca.

“It’s a one-on-one, very intense, progress-monitoring program that involves time and repetition,” Ristau said.

Ristau said each student — kindergarten through third grade — will participate in the core curriculum and is placed in one of three tiers of interventions to provide additional support beyond the core curriculum.

Tier one, where the majority of students are, is considered “mainstream.” Ristau said tier two includes a smaller group of students who require work with a Title teacher and small group work to meet the students’ needs, and tier three students require support to meet grade-level standards and receive more intensive interventions.

Each week a volunteer committee, including teachers and staff, review the referrals and set up intervention plans.

“It’s very business-like, almost monotone. We take this very seriously,” Ristau said. “The whole idea is early intervention to get students back on track.”

Ristau said there are two paraprofessionals who work with each RTI students for about six weeks.

“After six weeks we see how it’s going and if it’s not working we find another method,” he said. “Sometimes the RTI-tier students have not seen gains, and we have to consider special education, but we aren’t quick to refer. We do what we can before then.”

Ristau said kindergarteners and first-graders are most frequently referred.

“We have different assessments and tools in place that specifically break down what the child is struggling with — not just reading but what under reading, like spelling, letter recognition,” he said.

Ristau said students gradually work their way off the program, and teachers have access to students’ RTI files from year-to-year.

“There’s no doubt about it. It works,” he said. “But it takes time and resources.”

Ristau attributes the success of the approach to the frequency of meeting, one-on-one interaction and focusing on the core concern.

He said after about two years, the school expanded the program to fourth grade but realized it was too much.

“We were spread thin with our staff, so we refocused our energies on the K-3 program,” Ristau said.

Ristau, who has been principal for 10 years, said he doesn’t see the approach leaving.

“Ultimately it will expand,” he said. “I wouldn’t envision it to go away.”

Reach reporter Ashley Stewart at 444-2378 or follow her on @OPPashley

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