George Lucas Educational Foundation

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Charles R. Drew Charter School

Grades PK-12 | Atlanta, GA

Response to Intervention: Safe Spaces for Math and Literacy

At Charles R. Drew Charter School, the Literacy Center and Math Lab provide fun, engaging, and enriching interventions to help support students most in need.
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Response to Intervention: Safe Spaces for Math and Literacy (Transcript)

Teacher: We're going to do some practice, okay? Did you hear "e" in "feet"? Thumbs up!

Dawn: Since we've implemented our current Response to Intervention structure, we are providing such intensive interventions that students are getting caught up and are not ending up in special education.

Teacher: Did we hear "e" in "fuss"? No. Good job.

Dawn: We all believe that kids can be a hundred percent successful if we give them what they need. The Response to Intervention Program is built to have all students meeting those standards.

Teacher: Is that what everybody got?

Class: Yeah!

Teacher: All right.

Nicole: So Tier 1 at Drew is just your typical instruction, what happens in every classroom, and all students get that. What we do for Tier 2 Interventions, in the morning, we have an hour-long intervention block. And we do this K-2, so that by the time they get to third grade we don't have such a large number of kids who need really intensive interventions. And then, of course, those kids that do are coming to the Literacy Center.

Barbara: Tier 3 is where the Literacy Center would come in. Not only the Literacy Center, but the Math Lab, too.

Teacher: Here you go.

Barbara: We have created a Literacy Center and a Math Lab. And we're taking those children that need that added assistance, and they're getting targeted interventions that are really specific to what their deficits are.

Nicole: So the first year of the Literacy Center, we realized what we were currently doing wasn't working. Kids were getting pulled out in large groups, out of grade level instruction, to try to catch them up, and the gap was just not closing. So at Drew, the kids go to two Enrichment Classes. So they'll go to PE, and Art. And we looked at how can we use that time to provide some of the interventions rather than pulling them out of their reading class?

Dawn: Our goal is to make it a different enrichment option for them, instead of going to Music, they get to come to the Literacy Center. Or instead of going to Robotics, they get to go to the Math Lab.

India: We see about 20 percent of the school population. These are the students with the greatest need. And we specialize in very intense modified instruction. And this is to pinpoint their exact areas of difficulty.

India: Can you write down your explanation?

Student: Okay.

India: Okay.

India: The kids are missing numeracy skills. If their framework in the numbers is very weak, we know that we need to target those students and start right away with them.

Marlowe: If it's something you don't understand, you just have to ask for help, and she'll break it down. But in the regular classroom, the teachers don't have enough time to do that.

Nicole: What we tried to do is keep the groups very small, so we're really able to create groups with kids that have a similar area of weakness, and really push them through.

Dawn: What they do in here is always built around learning to decode, and read fluently. But it's also built around having fun. And they do have to burn some energy, because it is their time away from the general classroom. So there has to be opportunities for them to talk, to move, to get up and down. They might write in shaving cream. They might write in sand. We let them write on the tables. Things that are fun for them. Opportunities to get lots and lots of praise.

Dawn: Shout! Awesome! You're definitely getting one of these awesome stickers.

Dawn: You know, that's their time to really feel safe, and to really feel secure, and to, you know, be the best and be in charge of something.

Melissa: And how many sounds was it, Thomas?

Thomas: Three!

Melissa: Three! I think you guys are ready to do this on your own. So we're going to get out the dot-to-dot sheet.

Nicole: Definitely something we had to look at over the years was the programs that we were using in order to provide the interventions. Now, we use a stand-alone phonics program K-2. So it's the same program that we're using in the Lit Center. So they get it from their teachers in the classroom, and then they get a double dose of it in the Literacy Center, and that has really impacted students meeting their goals here.

Nicole: Mr. Jocks, is this one of yours?

Jocks: Yes, that's one of my students.

Nicole: All right, let's see here.

Nicole: We do progress monitoring weekly. As a team, we look at that data and decide, "Is the intervention working for these kids?"

Nicole: She's right on that goal line. So let's just keep going with what we're currently doing with her.

India: We retest the children in December. Students who have made substantial gains, may exit the Math Lab or the Literacy Center if they reach their goals. Typically about 30 to 40 percent of the children exit out after the first year.

India: If you have any questions, let me know, okay? All right! Good job!

Dawn: Since the Literacy Center has come along, it's rare that you get kids in your classroom who can't decode the words. Which is obviously a great thing as a classroom teacher.

Melissa: The RTI has had some wonderful effects in my classroom. Sometimes it is hard to juggle everything, and to know that we have colleagues giving our students extra support in reading and math, it lessens the burden a little bit.

Nicole: Since we've implemented our current Response to Intervention structure, our percent of students who qualify for Special Ed has dropped from thirteen percent to eight percent. Almost all of our kids pass the State test every year. And we even have some exceed.

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Charles R. Drew Charter School uses Response to Intervention (RTI) to reach their goal of 100 percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards in all subject areas. Their achievements include:

  • Lowering the number of students in special education classes from 13 to 8 percent
  • Outperforming the state in reading, English language arts, math, and science for the past five years
  • A 2016 Title 1 Reward School designation

How do they do this? What makes them unique? Their intensive early-elementary RTI and Tier 3 instruction model makes them unique.

How It's Done

The Response to Intervention (RTI) model identifies every student's academic and behavioral needs and provides personalized support to meet those needs. It consists of tiered intervention support, benchmark assessments, and frequent progress monitoring. This three-tiered model was originally developed to properly diagnose students with learning disabilities, but RTI has become more widely used among educators to better differentiate across all learners.

How to Identify Which Students Need Tiered Instruction

Charles R. Drew Charter School uses a universal screener -- a schoolwide Aimsweb Screening -- three times a year: in the first week of school, in December, and at the end of the school year.

According to India Kaufman, Charles R. Drew's math support teacher for third, fourth, and fifth grade, the screening "allows us to have data on every student in the building. And with that data," she adds, "we're able to formulate groups and target the students that will be in need of those interventions."

Generally, those who perform in the bottom 10 percent in literacy and the bottom 20 percent in math are in Tier 3. Those who perform in the bottom 25 percent in literacy are in Tier 2. All students are in Tier 1 instruction. This system also incorporates teacher feedback: what they know about their students and what they've seen in class.

Tier 1

Every student gets Tier 1 instruction, which is universal instruction for all students in their regular classroom.

Tier 2

Charles R. Drew Charter School uses two, grade-level-based methods of giving Tier 2 instruction:

Tier 2 Instruction K-2

Grades K-2 receive an hour-long intervention block in the mornings. These one-hour blocks are fixed into the schedule for lower elementary students, instead of regular instruction. During this time, the regular instruction teachers become Tier 2 intervention teachers, and students move from their homeroom teacher to an intervention teacher. Within each grade level, instead of providing a variety of interventions to numerous small groups, each teacher focuses on one intervention, like fluency or phonemic awareness.

During this block, the enrichment teachers -- P.E, visual arts, and music -- and their paraprofessionals assist the intervention teachers. "The certified teacher will provide instruction, and then the students will rotate through specific activities guided by each educator," explains Nicole Tuttle, Charles R. Drew's director of literacy. This practice creates a teacher-student ratio of about 1:5.

Lower elementary students who don't need Tier 2 instruction are grouped into independent projects that need little teacher supervision. For example, a group of students excelling in literacy might be formed into a book study group for independent reading and discussion.

Tier 2 Instruction 3-5

Grades 3-5 integrate Tier 2 instruction into regular classroom instruction. Grade-level teachers divide their students into small groups. Those who need more support do guided group work with the teacher. Those who have met or exceeded standards work independently in small groups, and the teacher checks in with them throughout the class.

"We are providing such intensive interventions at that K-2 level that students are getting caught up, and are not ending up in special education," says Tuttle. "We feel like the more interventions we can give kids in those early years, when they’re learning to read and not reading to learn, then we’re going to catch them before they get to third grade."

Tier 3: Creating Safe Spaces for Math and Literacy

All students at Charles R. Drew have two daily enrichment classes, such as art, music, and robotics. The staff uses this time to provide intensive interventions two to three times a week, pulling students from their enrichment classes instead of from regular classroom instruction.

"We did pull students from their grade-level [classes], and we saw tremendous gains," recalls Tuttle. "Students were going from reading 15 words a minute to 45 words a minute. We saw these kids make huge progress, and then when it came time for the students to take our state test, the CRCT, they didn't do well. We were frustrated. So we looked at what could we do to make sure that the students are still being instructed on those grade-level standards, but getting the interventions that they need."

To fix this, they began using one period of students’ enrichment time for interventions. Students got the intervention support they needed and were able to stay in their regular instruction to meet their grade-level standards. Since that change, close to 100 percent of their students -- and sometimes 100 percent -- have been meeting or exceeding the state standards each year.

Treating Tier 3 Like an Enrichment Class

By creating the Literacy Center and the Math Lab, the school made Tier 3 instruction as fun and engaging as an enrichment class.

"Our goal is to make it a different enrichment option for them. We recognize that yes, it's serious work, and they need to learn to read [and to understand math], but it also has to be fun," emphasizes Dawn Stephen, Charles R. Drew's literacy teacher. "It has to be engaging, and they do have to burn some energy because it is their time away from the general classroom. So there have to be opportunities for them to talk, to move, to get up and down, and to touch materials that they wouldn't generally touch in the classroom."

Create Engaging Activities

Among the Tier 3 specialists' engagement strategies in the Literacy Center and Math Lab, they use a program called Phonics Splits, a quick-paced game where fourth- and fifth-grade students move colored tiles around the classroom, stretch, and do other kinesthetic activities. Kindergarten students sometimes write in shaving cream, in sand, and on tables.

Provide Positive Feedback

Small group work increases students' opportunities to receive positive feedback from teachers and peers. Charles R. Drew teachers make a point to support, encourage, and praise their students. They also set up achievable goals to boost student confidence.

Give Your Students Responsibility

The students are in charge of things like tiles and markers. "Everyone has a job in the group. The kids love that," says Stephen. "It's the small things that people don't think fifth graders would like, but they love that, especially if they have a hard time reading. That's their time to shine and be the best at something. That's their time to feel safe and in charge."

Reduce the Stigma of Tier 3

Sometimes it can feel stigmatizing when pulled out of class. How does Charles R. Drew address this issue?

Make It Fun for Lower Grades

"For the little kids, it's not stigmatizing at all," explains Stephen. "They see coming to the Literacy Center and [the Math Lab] as another enrichment period. They get free books and stickers. They love coming."

Be Direct With Upper Grades

For students old enough to understand why they need RTI, it can be an uneasy experience at first. To ease them into Tier 3, Charles R. Drew educators initiate one-on-one conversations to help them recognize their current skill level and emphasize how extra support will help them. For example, if a student is reading 50 words per minute but needs to be at 120 words, the teacher can explain this. Once a student understands that he or she needs more support, the teacher can say, "I'm here to help you, and this will be a safe experience for you."

The Math Lab and Literacy Center Structure

Create Small, Targeted Groups

Small groups can easily focus on improving specific weaknesses. The Literacy Center is staffed with one teacher for every five students, and the Math Lab with one teacher for every seven. If needed, those groups are broken down even further.

"I have groups within groups," says Kaufman. "Even though I may have seven children at one time, within that group I may break it down to two students or three students or four, depending on whatever skill they need to work on."


Working with paraprofessionals offsets the cost of a small student-teacher ratio. The Literacy Lab has a staff of four and the Math Lab has three -- one certified teacher for each, and the rest paraprofessionals.

Utilize the Same Programs Across Tiers

Charles R. Drew uses Really Great Reading's Phonics Boost and Phonics Blitz as their upper elementary literacy programs, and Kendore Learning for lower elementary. Because the Literacy Center uses the same program that is used in regular instruction, students learn one methodology and get a double dose of their content to strengthen their learning skills.

According to Tuttle, "One thing that was so important, and has made our paras so successful, is that we choose programs that are easy to follow. They have a structured scope and sequence: lesson one looks like this, lesson two looks like this. And then we can come in and troubleshoot as we need, but they know what they're doing, from point A in the program to point Z."

Monitor Your Students' Progress

Charles R. Drew uses the benchmark screening results to set goals for each student and monitor their progress weekly using both Aimsweb's and the University of Oregon's DIBELS Data System progress monitoring tools. "That's how we know what we're monitoring, what skills and what strengths and what standards they need to master," says Kaufman.

"In kindergarten, we might do progress monitoring just on sound fluency," explains Stephen. "We might have them reading sounds for one minute, and then we'll graph how many sounds they're reading correctly as they get older. Or we might start with just letter fluency. As they learn to read, we'll move into reading. The older kids will note their own progress and chart their reading per minute."

The counselor, teachers, and intervention analysts, known as the Student Support Team, meet weekly to evaluate methods and results. They lay out the data, interventions used, and student progress. If the students aren't making progress, the staff adjusts the interventions. And if the students are making progress, they'll soon exit Tier 3 instruction.

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rarredondo84's picture

I like what I saw on the video. You are doing a great job at this school. I am impressed that the team meets weekly to discuss learners progress. That is accountability and keeps it at the forefront of the teacher's mind. I am wondering if the learner sets any kind of short and long SMART goals and if the learners know exactly what they need to do to exit out of the RTI program.

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