A Bit of Change Since the 1980s

Friday our Harold Martin Staff met for our second day of workshops before students come back to the building on Monday. Our focus was a review of “RTI” or Response to Intervention, a nationally established protocol that is designed to ensure that students receive specific, appropriate instruction before a referral to special education occurs.

I actually began by tracing my instructional roots back to the 1980s. Of course, I had to bring the staff back to that time with this montage of bands and singers:


My point was to illustrate how things have changed in American culture and how the trends in education have varied as well. I couldn’t resist showing this 1989 Radio Shack advertisement for cell phones, or what we used to call “bag phones”:


When I began teaching in 1984, the world of education looked very different. My first curriculum committee was charged with building the school’s social studies curriculum. We had no state standards and not much in the way of national ones either. We utilized some information from the National Council for the Social Studies and various textbooks, as well as curriculum opinions from various professional organizations. Our instruction in the 80s was well intentioned, but since we had no particular standards we often “practiced and prayed”, hoping that students would learn. And this led to the way we assessed students. We engaged almost entirely in summative evaluation, not the formative assessment that helps drive instruction.

This worked for most. But not all.

But we know how the story went from there. Pressure within the United States changed the story, from A Nation At Risk in 1983 to No Child Left Behind legislation. Accountability came in both positive and negative forms. A component of this change was within the special education community and with the release of IDEA, the special education law ensuring services to those students who need them, school districts were held accountable for not over-identifying students with disabilities.

This led to the concept of RTI or Responsive to Intervention. Once an academic concern has been observed, a teacher should:

  • teach specifically to the area of weakness or concern,
  • use specific probes (short, quick assessments) to measure progress in that concern area for the purpose of…
  • determining if the student is responding to the intervention. (RTI)

On Friday the staff learned a new “probe”,  an assessment tool called “Easy CBM”, similar to AIMSweb, a paid program. A CBM (curriculum based measure) is a very brief assessment that can be done often for a child to determine if they are growing in the specific instructional intervention.

I have read much recently about how American schools haven’t changed much in the last 100 years. Unfortunately, there are many areas in which this is true. But, public schools assess student learning much more efficiently in the last 10 years, and for all of the ills of NCLB, it has helped push schools to look at the disaggregated groups that struggle the most.

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