The DC Special Education Cooperative (Co-op) is a nonprofit founded in 1998 by charter schools in Washington, DC.
Supporting students who are significantly behind grade level expectations is not new to special educators. The pandemic has certainly expanded the number of students who are behind and thrown into sharp relief systemic inequities that have disadvantaged certain students. Good news is that a small part of the solution remains the same. Students who have gaps in learning must have access to high quality, evidence-based interventions delivered with fidelity. However, due to their smaller size, which limits funding and staffing, many charters find implementing highly successful, evidence-based intervention programs challenging. The Co-op’s solution? An “Intervention District ” piloted pre pandemic and launched this school year, that maximizes access to costly programming by bringing multiple small charters together.
One of our partners, Thurgood Marshall PCS (TMA) recognized the need to mitigate learning loss for their most vulnerable students in early 2020. TMA is a single-site charter located in Washington, DC’s Ward 8; serving 367 students in grades 9-12 where 18% are students with disabilities (SWD) and 62% are at-risk and 100% of SWD are African American. According to Executive Director, Raymond Weeden, “for years, schools in the District have grappled with how to serve students with disabilities. Often, the strategies were the ‘popular’ tool of the day but did not necessarily support students’ growth. TMA wanted to step back and address needs head-on. Working with the Co-op, we could align our current needs with an evidence-based tool that would support growth. We prioritize evidence-based interventions because our students do not have time to wait for us to guess and hope something will work. Each [student] needs positive outcomes right now.”
With the combination of school level commitment and Co-op support, even when presented with the challenges of virtual and hybrid learning during the pandemic and the return to in-person learning while managing the uncertainties of the Omicron variant, TMA students who have participated in the math and reading intervention program have demonstrated significant growth. Mid-year progress monitoring in January of SY21-22 showed that students who participated in the Math 180 intervention averaged 1 year’s growth with 50% of students having already met their expected growth targets. Students who participated in Read 180 also demonstrated significant gains by the mid-year assessment. Students averaged an increase of 89 lexiles in 4 months, which is indicative of 7 months growth. Just as with the math intervention, 50% of participating students had already met or exceeded their expected annual growth targets by January. A preliminary look at end of year data shows that 90% of students have demonstrated growth in their reading skills since beginning the intervention. This is very promising and encouraging data as we await the results for the final end of year assessments.
Keys to Success
Whether it’s students with disabilities, or those who have significant learning loss, the Co-op recommends that leadership teams consider the following factors as they embark on the process of integrating evidence-based interventions. Many of these may seem obvious, but more often than not, schools are missing one of more of them, jeopardizing successful implementation.
- Make a commitment to devoting time and space for implementation.
- Establish a team to review benchmark and progress monitoring academic data to place students appropriately and monitor intervention efficacy.
- Designate a point person to coordinate with adequate time to oversee the entry and review of data, coordinate data review meetings and coaching supports, meet with teachers who are implementing, and connect with experts to enhance/improve implementation.
- Select an evidence-based intervention that addresses students’ specific learning needs. (TMA chose Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt’s Read 180/System 44 and Math 180, widely known, evidence-based intervention programs that can be delivered in-person or virtually and have high efficacy rates for students with disabilities.)
- Formalize systems for inputting and visualizing data on student academic performance.
- Create a master schedule that has classes built-in at least 30-45 min/5x week or block schedule equivalent for students who require intensive intervention.
- Allot time for initial training and ongoing, expert-level coaching.
- Establish a multi-year budget for training, program licenses, consumables, and technology.
There is no quick fix to address achievement gaps for students with or without disabilities and at a time when teacher morale is at a low point, and there’s little bandwidth for new adult learning, it’s risky to implement new systems and curricula. However, the Co-op has found that if schools address the challenges around capacity and infrastructure, teachers have welcomed this new tool.