By Carol Price & Stephanie Ver Helst
In the fall of 2012, two Heartland AEA Professional Learning & Leadership Consultants, Carol Price and Stephanie Ver Helst, embarked on a journey with high school building leadership teams from the Prairie City-Monroe (PCM) and Lynnville-Sully (L-S) school districts.
Both districts were deeply entrenched in using the IDM (Instructional Decision Making) model in their elementary grades, and both were making academic progress: PCM in grades K-5 and L-S in grades K-8. In fact, L-S fourth graders scored 100% proficiency on the Iowa Assessments last year.
Administrators in both districts wanted to develop a comprehensive, proactive and responsive multi-tiered system of academic and behavioral supports that identifies and provides assistance to students at risk for not having their needs met at the high school level.
Price and Ver Helst, who is now the Director of Continuous Improvement and Support Services for the PCM district, developed a year-long course of study that included full-day professional development classes about multi-tiered systems of support, half-day district-led work sessions involving implementation and roll out to school teams and full staff meetings where teacher-leaders shared their work with their peers.
Reflecting on the implications of a multi-tiered system of academic and behavioral supports to her district, Jane Babcock, PCM superintendent, said, “The system provides focus for our instructional programming. Not only does it provide focus for those students that struggle, it provides focus for students who we need to enrich. The ultimate goal was for PCM to address all students’ needs.”
One of the first tasks that proved critical was the alignment of the continuous improvement process to the systems work in the districts. As in the continuous improvement model where one assesses, plans, implements and evaluates, a multi-tiered system of supports must operate the same way. Outcomes of this alignment resulted in the development of a comprehensive assessment guide, implementation of universal screenings, application of an early warning system and a system-wide approach to behavioral competencies that are embedded in the employability standards of the 21st Century Learning Skills in the Iowa Core.
“We were able to quickly align our instruction to the Iowa Core,” said Scott Bridges, PCM High School Principal, who reports that implementing a multi-tiered system of supports has done much for his building. “The early warning system helps us to get a handle on kids who need assistance and get them specific guided instruction.”
The work begun at PCM and L-S is a long way from being finished. This year the universal screening process and the early warning system are being refined for reading. In the future, the intent is to include universal screening for mathematics and behavior, as well as to examine high school schedules to include the space and time necessary for interventions within the multi-tiered system of supports. This work also includes continued efforts for vertical alignment of data-based decision making around full implementation of the Iowa Core standards and continuous improvement from PK through 12th grade.
Professional learning communities (PLCs) will continue their work around curriculum alignment to the Iowa Core and using data to drive instruction and intervention for all students. District and building leadership teams will continue to plan and reflect around professional learning to ensure a positive impact on student achievement. Data will continue to be the driving force for all systems work and individual student success.