Students show improvement after learning interventions

Lori Starr, a teacher at Palisade High School, works with students in the Student Le



Interventions aren’t just about academics. Success in school is intertwined with how a child behaves in the classroom, according to Cathy Haller, District 51 prevention coordinator.

“A kid that’s already frustrated will remain frustrated and act out. But success changes behavior,” she said.

As interventions have become more successful, Haller said, behavioral incidents have declined.

At the middle school level, 6.4 percent of students were sent to a principal’s office in the first quarter of the 2008–09 school year. The first quarter of this school year, the percentage went down to 5.8 percent. Expulsions also are down.

The district expelled 51 kids in the 2008–09 school year before Feb. 28. This year, just 35 students were expelled before the end of February.How interventions work

Intervention programs vary in who teaches them — sometimes it’s a teacher, sometimes it’s an instructional aide — as well as how much time a student spends in intervention each day. A student who needs some basic form of intervention may start with 25 to 45 minutes five days a week for 18 weeks in a group of up to 12 students. For students who need more help, interventions can last up to six months and involve smaller group sizes.

In all cases, Bill Larsen and Andy Laase, District 51’s high school and elementary school directors, agreed schools try to schedule interventions in a way that keeps students from missing out on other subjects. In elementary school, a student may be in the classroom working with other students or pulled out for a one-on-one session. In middle school and high school, many schools have blocks of time set aside in the daily schedule for interventions. During these blocks, students work on catching up, enrichment or gifted and talented lessons.

Students can be tapped for interventions beginning on the first day of school. Teachers look at data from the student’s teachers from the previous year as well as assessment data to see where a student may struggle and where the student’s strengths lie. Teachers, parents and principals discuss the intervention process, and parents are kept aware of progress as the interventions proceed.

If a student isn’t catching up, that means it’s time for a different intervention, Laase said. That often means switching the intervention to match what a student is truly struggling with. A student may need help on vocabulary instead of phonics or reading comprehension. Some kids need help with one math concept, such as geometry, but may not need extra help with another, like algebra.

If interventions don’t work after several attempts to help a student, special education may be incorporated, District Prevention Coordinator Cathy Haller said.

School District 51 will spend more than $950,000 on academic interventions in various subjects this academic year.

The investment has given nearly 3,000 local students per month extra help when struggling with a subject. More than three-quarters of those students have bounced back to grade level in the subject for which they received an intervention.

Over the past five years, the district has beefed up the number of interventions it offers. But quantity isn’t everything for District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz.

“We’re continuing to monitor (interventions), so if they’re working, we continue them. If not, we change or consolidate them. We’re beginning to get good results,” Schultz said, adding, “I’m not going to pretend we’re finished.”

Intervention success rates aren’t at A-plus levels yet, but they’re earning a passing grade. In February, 78 percent of students in the Soar to Success reading intervention for third- through fifth-graders showed enough progress in literacy to catch up with classmates. The same month, 93 percent of third- through fifth-grade students in Do the Math interventions met proficiency benchmarks in whatever math concept they were working on by the end of the month. Success levels were similar at the middle school level.

The district has expanded its elementary intervention programs from a single reading program for first- and second-graders in the 1990s to five elementary reading programs and two elementary math programs this year that cover kindergarten through fifth grade. Administrators also have fine-tuned middle school interventions and graduated the district’s first class of high schoolers under the performance-based program last year. The program requires students meet minimum academic requirements before graduating.

In order to help more students meet those requirements, roughly 20 percent of all local high schoolers, or 1,300 students, have progress monitors who help counsel students at risk of dropping out or falling behind in class to improve grades. Monitors ask a student if they need help on any subjects, and, if necessary, help suggest which of several alternative routes to graduation may work best for the student. Students get assigned to one of two monitors at each high school if years of previous standardized-testing data, grade-point averages and report-card scores show a student may have trouble keeping up in high school.

“It’s not that we’re expecting them to fail,” Bill Larsen, District 51’s executive director of high schools, said of students with progress monitors. “It’s just we’re going to support them so that they don’t.”

All District 51 ninth-graders get intervention or enrichment in a 25-minute class before lunch. If students need additional help, they can stay in the class as upperclassmen.

Sending kids to interventions before or during the school day isn’t about punishment, it’s about adjusting the school day to fit different learning styles, Larsen said. The days of giving students a week or so to learn a math concept or a set of vocabulary words in class and saying “too bad” if they don’t catch on are over, he said.

“Everyone learns differently. Our job is to fit them into the best way to get that diploma,” Larsen said.

The district does not track group improvement in high school interventions because it’s a mandate for all ninth-graders, which would somewhat skew the data. Improving graduation rates and credit recovery are evidence to Ron Roybal, the district’s alternative education director, that the extra help is achieving the intended goal of keeping kids in school.

“It’s not as much quantitative evidence, it’s the little victories,” Roybal said.

It’s easier to quantify success for kindergarten through eighth-grade students who attend specific out-of-class interventions (all students get some form of in-class intervention through differentiated teaching).

Geniel Huntington, teacher leader for the district’s Reading Recovery program, said 75 percent of the first-graders in the program end up reading at the same level as most of their peers. The 12- to 20-week program matches students one-on-one with a teacher who works four hours a day with Reading Recovery students at their school.

“The program operates under the concept that it’s easier to prevent than cure literacy issues,” Huntington said.

Schultz said a nationwide emphasis on helping children before they fall too far behind their peers began with the No Child Left Behind Act and amped up in Colorado in recent years with model content standards revisions by the Colorado Department of Education. The revisions show new expectations for what students should know at each grade level and task Colorado school districts with getting students not only out of high school, but prepared for work and higher education the second their caps and gowns have been tucked away.

Schultz said it’s hard to keep interventions going amid current budget struggles, especially with at least a couple more years of funding trouble ahead. But he said he wants to spend any money available keeping intact programs that help students on all levels of the learning continuum catch up, stay on course, or stay ahead.


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