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September 01, 2009


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Dr. Howard McMackin

Thank you Evelyn!

I really appreciate hearing about secondary models. Our experience was that high school people were going to RTI workshops and coming back angry that the elementary models did not apply to them. When we at Empowered High Schools started presenting, it was amazing how much pent-up demand there was for a secondary model. It is reassuring to see some of our same elements in Evelyn Johnson’s wonderful post.

For those of you who may be interested, I want to offer a short outline of some of the features in our system. For more, visit http://www.empoweredhighschools.com/

There you can see many graphics on what I mention below as well as a blog and forum.

Here are some quickly described features of our secondary RTI model:
• We believe in a systems approach to program improvement and RTI. Each of our processes supports the other process making a complex yet doable system. It is very hard work, but it is exciting and politically safe (unlike some reconstructed models that have been attempted in the past.)
• Secondary schools must prepare students in many skills, processes and concepts. Therefore, there must be a data-driven system sufficiently adaptable to apply to any subject discipline—not just reading and math. We argue that a school be standards-based. In the Midwest, we tend to adopt ACT-CRSS standards and then fill-in with content standards. ACT has a huge research base behind its standards. Other examples are ACCESS ELL standards or national discipline standards for foreign language. However, any standards can be used.
• We use a unique developmental benchmarking system that can describe student progress on each standard step by step. This is the heart of all our systems and processes within the school.
• Summative assessments are designed to measure the level of student mastery on each separate course or program standard. Grades are too imprecise. This includes an inter-rater reliability process for teams using performance assessments.
• A formative process is required to prepare each student to demonstrate mastery on the summative assessments.
• We use course Professional Learning Teams and interdisciplinary Professional Learning Communities. The purpose of a PLT is to assure Tier One learning. This critical!
• Teams develop performance sophistication on Nine Levels of Capacity. (Also, the levels explain what staff development a team needs to improve.) We do not expect that a school can develop all teams in lock-step. We have powerful teams that have been working for years that produce 95% mastery including all sub-groups, and teams which are just starting.
• PLTs must have internal data to explain student achievement and predict external test data. Our teams get reports that display each student’s developmental progress towards mastery and a performance report by demographic group. This data will drive program improvement and RTI interventions.
• Formative assessments include progress monitors, true formative assessments, and research-based strategies.
• All teams use a formal, uniform Problem Solving Model for all decision-making to make program improvement and RTI decisions.
• The RTI process follows the performance reports. Our teams must produce 80% mastery from all course-alike students to be considered a viable and effective course or program. If this is not done, the number of needy students overwhelms the school-wide interventions.
• To improve student performance, PLTs must consider program improvements first. Simply put, these include improving curriculum and assessment alignment, more revealing summative assessments, and always, more effective, better scaffolded and engaging instruction.
• To achieve 80% mastery or better, the PLT must design Tier Two interventions. Each team may have different protocols to assure that certain groups of students are accommodated. This similar to a medical model. These usually include mandatory assignment completion interventions and team managed Academic Support Centers.
• School-wide interventions are designed by an Early Interventions Team. Groups of students are referred directly by viable teams and from other teams via a supervisor. These interventions usually can be classified within a behavioral system, a Social Emotional Learning system, and academic support centers for Tier Two and Tier Three with exit strategies.
• At the building level, administration uses a value-added system which measures how demographic groups have improved year to year. Department performance goals are also set for each demographic group. We argue that demographic groups be based on entry performance related to the external measure (i.e. ACT Explore ) rather than subgroup (which can also be measured). Benchmarks tell us our progress. Benchmark are validated by their predictability on external tests.

Besides causing increased student performance, the use of protocols creates highly professional, proud confident teachers. The above model cannot be managed by a traditional administrative leadership. It requires a new professional ladder. We have PLT Leaders, PLC Leaders, a Leaders Team with teacher Head of Leaders Team, EIT Leader, and teacher strategy coaches. Teachers become powerful advocates for improvement when empowered by a data-driven system, such as ours. It is most satisfying to see a school transformed from the bottom-up by empowered teachers. For more on leadership, see Comments: http://www.hepg.org/blog.

Thanks so much for reading!

Feel free to contact me.
[email protected]

Evelyn Johnson

Thanks for sharing this with CEC readers, Howard!

Gary Baird

We did exactly what you described in the article; we jumped in head first with interventions at the Tier 2 level while at the same time trying to introduce differentiated instruction as a way to shore up Tier 1. The connection was lost on most of the teachers, and we are struggling now as a result. The teachers did not receive sufficient training in what RTI is or what it means to them in their classrooms. We will make it, but the process could have been much smoother had we waded in first.


The RTI process in the middle school I work at is functioning smoothly and efficiently. Students are moved into Tier 2 programs based on test scores and grades in their Tier 1 class. This has proven to be a great motivator, as many students do not want to be moved to Tier 2 programs. The Tier 2 program teachers are able to exit students when their test scores and grades reach indicate they are proficient. Tier 3 is also in place at my school, however it is for special education services. The success with the Tier programs is due in part to my principal who sent the Tier 2 teachers to trainings this past summer. They all know exactly which skills they are reteaching and encourage the students to move into Tier 1 instruction. Our Tier 1 teachers are exceptionally qualified and able to instruct students in a broad variety of areas. The Tier 3 programs greatly assist special education students and have helped to raise our reading test scores. It is a positive environment for all teachers involved.

Maria Tsampis

Response to Intervention can be assumed to be a difficult task to implement within the high school setting, due to scheduling of students, credits that they earned, lack of knowledge in conducting data driven practices, and in-sufficient expertise in using evidence based practices.
Over the past three years I have been grateful to be a part of an innovative new high school in the city of Chicago. Administration at our high school has implemented data teams, leadership teams, course teams, department teams, and inter-disciplinary teams (social worker, psychologist, and speech therapist, learning behavior specialist) in order to support practices that are responsive to the need of the students. In addition they have implemented and funded after school tutoring to assist with students that are not accomplishing curricular goals.
Progress monitoring is conducted every two weeks, curriculum based assessments are done every five weeks, and an analysis of students performance is conducted three times a quarter. Student protocol is discussed within departments, and content that is standard based as well as relevant to our student’s culture is being implemented (depending on the class). Special education students are included within the least restrictive setting that marginal benefits can occur and learning behavior specialist not only collaborate within their department and interdisciplinary teams, but also with their course teams. Administrations has provided us with the luxury in having joint planning periods, and in providing consultative services to the teachers who do not have direct support.
The above practices took time to implement, diligence, self reflection on our practices, as well as each others.
In order to be remotely successful in implementing practices that are effective one must look at the data very carefully, provide immediate feedback to their students, and adjust their lesson plans to modify or differentiate some instruction to meet the needs of the students. This takes a lot of energy and time, but we are in the business of education. This entails that we must exhaust all avenues to ensure that our students can become productive adults, and contributing members of a democratic society. Therefore when you feel that you are tired, and you are on the bridge of a tears, and feel that you can’t do this no more look at your students one by one and I ensure you that you have made a difference


Sincere question ahead: Could you please explain why all these changes and programs are being put into place? I agree that schools should constantly improve meeting students where they are, we need to use the best practices available, we need to monitor progress to know where to go next. There just seems to be a wave of new programs and mandates, but I don't understand how they all connect to each other. NCLB, the addition of standards-based instruction, even increased standardized testing, made some degree of sense to me. My district keeps training us (very briefly) in new things. They ask us if we understand. They tell us to nod. We nod. When we ask more detailed questions about what we need to do from day to day, we get answers like, "Well, we don't know quite yet," or "We should know more from the State soon." What guidance would you give a veteran teacher who is feeling completely lost?


In the school I work at we have the RTI process but it is certainly unclear to many staff what is it, what their job is in the process, how long they are to do the intervention, when to move to the next level etc. Does anyone have ideas on how to get all staff to agree to the process? Our school feels we struggle with only having a few tier 2 interventions, does anyone have any great ideas for this level to use with kids before referring them for a special education referral? I think the ideas mentioned in the article are great resources for both middle and high school teachers to use, thanks!

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