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2019-06-10

City Year AmeriCorps Member Kathleen McShane is smiling in her City Year red jacket. This is a head shot.At my City Year partner school, AmeriCorps members provide at-risk students with routine and personalized interventions throughout the year. Interventions are programs designed to provide extra academic and social-emotional support to students. They generally begin a month after classes have begun so teachers have time to assess which Response-to-Intervention (RTI) Tier groups their students match. This is important; tier groups ensure that students will receive the customized interventions that meet them where they are, and the data teachers collect in the first month of school—and use to group students—is the baseline from which benchmarks are set and progress is tracked as students learn and grow.

Students are not only assigned academic tiers, but sometimes social emotional tiers as well; as a City Year AmeriCorps member, I mentor and coach students in both capacities. However, for the purposes of this article, I will focus on the former. Academic interventions focus on math and English Language Arts (ELA). Math interventions allow students to develop or hone their critical thinking skills, and ELA interventions allow students to sharpen their basic grammar and phonics skills. Both are essential for success in school and life.

At my partner school I support 1st grade and teach ELA interventions during differentiated (DIFF) block. DIFF block is a pattern of teaching in which teachers attend to the different learning styles of all students instead of teaching the class as a whole. During this time, one group of students works with my lead teacher, another group is either doing packet work or a computer-based curriculum, and I pull a group to work on phonics and grammar. The lesson each group received depends on their Tier level.

The Three-Tier Model of School Supports

The Three-Tier Model of School Supports was designed to support the following distributions of any given student body, each with varying degrees of intensity:

  • Tier 1 is designed for about 80% of the student body. These students receive only core curriculum instruction. In other words, the daily lessons taught by their teachers.
  • About 15-20% of the student body is meant to receive Tier 2 interventions, which are supplemental lessons to the core curriculum. If the teacher’s lesson was on solving math word problems, the intervention may focus on breaking down word problems and developing a process to solve them.  An AmeriCorps member performs these interventions during the class’s independent work time, perhaps in the back of the room.
  • Tier 3 interventions are intended for less than 5% of the student body. These are comprehensive and intensive interventions—often individualized—that focus on a specific skill set (e.g. pronouncing certain word patterns or basic addition).

However, in the elementary school where I serve, the reality of the tier distribution looks very different than the design, where—for English Language Arts—20% of the student body is in tier 1 (intensive interventions), 33% is in tier 2 (supplemental interventions), and 46% is in tier 3 (universal instruction). The distribution is even more disproportionate for math, where 34% of the student body is in tier 1 (intensive interventions), 34% is in tier 2 (supplemental interventions), and only 30% is in tier 3 (universal instruction).

This is why a City Year team—comprised of AmeriCorps members committed to a year of service in their schools—can be game changers: there are more students in need of intensive or supplemental interventions than a teacher alone can provide. Add a trained and committed AmeriCorps member to a classroom, and suddenly Tiered Interventions are more effective for everyone.

City Year strives to support all students in reaching high school, college, and their goals beyond, and early academic interventions are a big part of ensuring that they have the skills to do so. Since City Year New Orleans began in 2006, math, reading fluency, and attendance has increased tremendously. Of all the students supported by City Year, 88% increased their math scores, 50% of students in grades 3 – 5 increased their raw literacy scores, and 68% of students increased their attendance by at least two days.

At my school, AmeriCorps members have provided math and ELA interventions to over 600 students for 7 years. Of these students, 85% improved their performance in math or ELA, as measured by the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment.

These data points are a testament to the importance of early interventions, but the work is not done. Throughout my year, I have seen considerable improvement in the first graders with whom I work. However, if these interventions do not continue through 2nd grade and into middle school, how can we say that we are giving all students the education they deserve? But there is one thing I do know: next year my students will have another City Year AmeriCorps member in their classroom to ensure they have the interventions they need. My students deserve the opportunity to compete equally with others their age, and by providing extra supports—like the Tiered Interventions discussed here--City Year AmeriCorps members are helping make that happen.

Written by Kathleen McShane.

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