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Iowa Expert Shares Knowledge with New Hampshire RTI Task Force

CONCORD, NH: Shannon Harken of the Heartland (Iowa) Area Education Agency (AEA) spoke on "Lessons from the Implementation Trenches" before the New Hampshire Department of Education�s Response to Intervention (RTI) Task Force on April 7. The Task Force work is supported by staff members of the NECC as part of its New Hampshire initiative. Access the task force�s work through its wiki.

The Heartland AEA has been working with schools to use RTI as a school improvement strategy for a number of years, prompted by the recognition of systemic problems in student reading achievement. To date, leadership teams at 79 Iowa schools have been trained in using RTI�known in the state as Instructional Decision Making, or IDM�for school improvement.

The goal is for general education alone to meet the educational needs of 80% of students, within a larger continuum of opportunities that ensures no students are left out. "We were looking for a system for all kids, from the most severely disabled to gifted and talented students," Harken said.

Working from the Iowa Department of Education�s generic IDM model, Heartland AEA created a detailed model structured around several key principles:

  • Using data for decision making, ensuring that faculty and others understand the different types of assessment, their purposes, and how to use resulting data. Data days are held three times a year. Harken attends these meetings, during which participants analyze data at the district, school, classroom, and individual student levels. Heartland AEA has videotaped a data day for training. "Once teachers are trained, they are talking about assessments and instruction. Conversations are so much more focused on things teachers have control over," she said.
  • Scientific, research-based instruction is at the core of all curricula.
  • Coaching: external coaches work in each Heartland school once or twice a week, training and collaborating with a school�s internal coach, and accessing professional development as needed in order to develop a consistent school-based approach.
  • School leadership teams of six to ten people, including the principal, school psychology, and internal and external coaches, that meet monthly.

This process for school improvement proceeds in three phases: consensus building, infrastructure, and implementation, although Harken emphasized that process and content are tightly interwoven and skills in each are necessary. "Do not skip consensus building," she cautioned the audience, "I highly advocate for the creation of a vision and consensus building." Heartland AEA has produced a suite of tools that introduces school teams to the model and poses questions that "give schools the right conversations," in the course of building their infrastructure, Harken said. Many of these tools are available on the Heartland AEA website.

Harken also spoke on Response to Intervention at the annual New Hampshire Association of School Psychologists� spring conference, held in collaboration with the NHDOE Task Force on RTI. Some 140 New Hampshire educators, including administrators, teachers, and specialists, attended.

May 2009