Friday, January 25, 2008


In a recent post, I wrote about the need for interventions for students who are not working at grade level.

From my perspective, the District should have a system to assure early and effective intervention for individual students not meeting standards. There are, of course, other perspectives. Some may think that each school should develop their own interventions and apply them as they see fit. I suspect that there are others who see no need for such interventions and find the whole idea of "working at grade level" or "meeting Standards" as artificial and industrial rather than natural and humanistic.

In addition to the question of whether there should be interventions, and the question of what authority should direct them, there is the additional question of what form they should take. The range could run from teachers taking additional time to provide students with remedial instruction on an ad hoc basis within the regular class time, to Individual Learning Plans, to additional instruction provided during an extended school day or week, to pull-out programs, to separate programs. There is no reason that we could not have multiple programs depending on the severity of the case or at the option of the student's family.

I think there is - or should be - a lot more interest in this topic and a lot more discussion of it than we generally see within Seattle Public Schools. For all of the high-minded statements about "Every Student Meeting Standards" the fact is that we have a lot of students who are not meeting standards. Despite the high priority we claim for this crisis, I don't see a commensurate amount of effort spent addressing it. Most of the work done to close the academic achievement gap - as far as I can see - is applied across the board for all students (such as literacy training) or in areas other than instruction (such as home visits). Personally, I would like to see a more targeted effort focused specifically on providing direct instruction to those individual students who are working below Standards.

Perhaps I am naive, but it has a sort of "apply directly to forehead" simplicity to it. The problem is that there are specific students who need specific instruction. So why not identify those students and give them the instruction? What am I missing here? How does it serve those students to take no action or to continue what we have been doing? Do you think what we have been doing is working?

Have the District's current efforts been successful? What results have we seen from culturally relevant curriculum? from home visits? from literacy training? from instructional coaches? Is there data that shows these District-driven efforts have been effective? What efforts tried by schools have proven effective? What does Maple do? or Van Asselt? Can we determine what works and what doesn't, and can we expand and duplicate the effective strategies?

Please don't jump to any conclusions about boot camps, or WASL-driven curricula. If that's not what is best for the students, then why in the world would we do such a thing? If, however, you think that IS what is best for the students, then please speak up in favor of it.

Honestly, I can't think of any more important topic for discussion. We can go on about the District's failure or refusal to engage the community on any number of topics. We can host a religious war over math curricula or gifted ed. But this issue speaks directly to the purpose of public education, and it is a deep concern for me and a great number of other people. I have been frustrated to the point of madness by the District's inability to make progress on this matter - particularly with all of the highly charged talk about it. The talk just doesn't match the action. That has to end. What can we do?


Anonymous said...

I have a kid who didn't pass the reading WASL one year and was theoretically supposed to get extra tutoring or something. Nothing happened. May have been because the score was only just short of the cutoff, but still, someone should have contacted us parents and said so. I didn't take any action because I thought the score was a load of hooey and would go up the next year (which it did -- next year was a four).

Charlie Mas said...

anonymous at 8:50,

Where was the extra tutoring supposed to come from? Was it from the school or the District? Who told you about it?

What form was the tutoring supposed to take? Was it supposed to be extended learning, a pull-out, or a voucher for Kumon?

Anonymous said...

NCLB pays for tutoring for Tier 2 (3 years of not making AYP):
Under the federal law, a district that does not meet adequate yearly progress for two years in a row is identified for improvement.
When a district is identified for improvement, it is required to revise its comprehensive district improvement plan. The purpose of the plan is to improve student achievement throughout the district. Therefore, the plan overall must identify actions that have the greatest likelihood of accomplishing this goal. The plan must include strategies to promote effective parental involvement in the schools served by the district.
Tutoring and academic intervention outside the
regular school day.
Provider must be approved by state.
District may become provider.

Anonymous said...

"The OSEP-funded National Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavior and Intervention Supports was established to address the behavioral and discipline systems needed for successful learning and social development of students. The Center provides capacity-building information and technical support about behavioral systems to assist states and districts in the design of effective schools."

Read Sugai and Horner's paper on the PBIS website for more details.
This is a powerful and positive way to change the culture of a school. If parents would make requests to the supt. and Board, you might find there are people willing to listen.

Charlie Mas said...

Seattle Public Schools, as a District, has been identified for improvement. The District has an Improvement Plan. In fact, they recently revised it. You can read it here.

Charlie Mas said...

Here is a link to the
PBIS website.

Anonymous said...

If your child doesn't pass the WASL then under NCLB you may enroll your child with an approved center for extra instruction. The school will be charged for a portion of the tutoring - its dependent on your ability to pay. Go to Sylvan and they'll fill out the paperwork. If conservatives want to pass laws that destroy public education, then lets hurry up the process. Kids aren't being taught in school anyway.

Anonymous said...

Apparently my kid was supposed to have a Student Learning Plan.

"What happens if my child does not pass the WASL?
All school districts must make a “student learning plan” for every student, or group of students with similar academic needs, failing one or all of the content areas of the WASL. Student learning plans must be followed until the student meets standards on the WASL. Parents must be notified about the plan, preferably through a parent conference. Parents must be kept informed of student progress."


Anonymous said...

anon at 8:50, I am curious to know what you think might have happened if you had pursued it. Obviously you were right in your case that the score was hooey and it was fine that there was no follow up...I think I am following Charlie's line of thinking here, which is--what should have happened? Why didn't it? At the school where your child is, do you think the administration/teachers (or whoever you would approach about it--I don't even know that!) would have been receptive and tried to help you out? Someone *should* have contacted you about that extra tutoring--who is that? Why didn't they? I am very curious about this.

Anonymous said...

The tutoring is only for low income families. You must be eligible for free/reduced rate lunch to receive the "free" tutoring or tutoring "assistance". Otherwise you are on your own

Charlie Mas said...

Yes, curious only is right. I was asking after the reliability of the intervention and for accountability for the person - or group of people - who were supposed to provide it.

Interventions have to be implemented if they are going to work. Consequently, implementation has to be reliable.

Anonymous said...

"The tutoring is only for low income families. You must be eligible for free/reduced rate lunch to receive the "free" tutoring or tutoring "assistance". Otherwise you are on your own"

This is not true. It is the lack of progress of the school/district. This is coming from federal legislation and any student is eligible.

Anonymous said...

Families who want help with this sort of issue may want to contact P.A.V.E. Parents Are Vital to Education, a parent advocacy group. They have a website and 800 number: 800-5- PARENT.

Anonymous said...

Interventions require planning and staff. SPS is short on both of these attributes.

Staff begins their year overloaded, can never catch up, and then are supposed to orchestrate interventions as needed once the year has started, without being given extra time or staff to do so.

Interventions can occur when staff have time to talk to each other, collaborate, make plans, and implement the plans.

Is the term, "student learning plan" used without reference to who will carry it out and how it will be funded? Somebody who is making a lot more money than I am should be figuring that one out.

-Frustrated Teacher

Anonymous said...

1. Do NOT hire anyone who can model the costs of their great ideas, costs being the time and the money needed to pay for the time.

2. Send teachers to 1 or 2 day Professional Development trainings conducted by consultants - consultants who are friends or friends of friends from the in bred admin old boy / gal networks - then you blame teachers for everything.

3. make sure all the policy people have lots of big degrees and have lots of mastery of edu-speak. It intimidates lots of other people, so, now you've beaten the intimidated!

anon along

dan dempsey said...

Think of class size as an intervention.

Watch starting at minute five of this Senate video on class size.

Class size video at 5:00 minutes

Charlie Mas said...

So how should we target class size for students who are struggling without putting them all in the same class?

Anonymous said...

"So how should we target class size for students who are struggling without putting them all in the same class?"

Educators know how to solve these problems. Every struggling child struggles for a different reason. It may be handwriting (sensorimotor), expressive language, receptive language, ELL (many of our classrooms have as many as two-thirds of their students coming from a home where English is not spoken), or because the teacher is following a central office mandate to use trendy curriculum. There are endless reasons for challenges, all of which can be addressed.

Since this blog seems to be a parent-heavy readership, what parents can do is demand a sensible parent-friendly educational system, one that does not require homework to be the path for students to practice their way to mastery (or reaching standards). Extra untrained volunteer tutors are not the solution. (Let's train volunteers in tried and true methods) Principals who visit every classroom and report to the next layer of administration would be something families could request. The principal could share monthly progress reports on how interventions are working. Parents could request that our supt and the rest of the central office staff take over a challenging classroom to demonstrate how to create a functional, enthusiastic class. Educators are trained to do this work. It is not as mysterious as the public is led to believe.

Teachers need support with hallway monitoring, high expectations for classroom management, and unconditional words of support now and then. Kind words and compliments for doing the right thing would go a long way.

Stop blaming the kids for holding back others and certainly don't try to lump those not reaching standards into one group.

Anonymous said...

so anon at 1:49 p.m.

if educators know how to solve these problems, where are the concrete ideas to solve them?

how many kids per class / per teacher / per which professionals?

and, about your homework idea - do you or have you ever worked in very competitive private sector environments?

whether that is your taste or not, for people without money 1 of the best things people without money can acquire are skills, and most people don't get skills without homework.

(I'm assuming that you might not care if our kids can have a chance to work for the boeings or the microsofts - then where are they going to work? if you don't care if kids can work for those kinds of companies because you don't like those kinds of companies, how are you going to change the world without the skills to make better airplanes or software or any widget? )

sunday anon

Charlie Mas said...

anonymous at 1:49

1) It would appear that you are not a Seattle Public School parent. Family members cannot demand a parent-friendly educational system (whatever that is). Parents cannot demand anything. There is no one in the District who is accountable to parents, and damn few who are responsive to parents. Just whom should we demand this change from? And just why do you think they will comply with such a demand? I admire your idealism, but it isn't well-connected with what actually happens in Seattle.

2) If homework is not going to lead to mastery, then why have any homework at all?

3) Principals are already supposed to visit classrooms. Principals already report to Education Directors. I would presume that their reports to their supervisors include progress and measures of effectiveness for all programs within the school - surely that would be the primary content of their report. I don't know if these reports are formal or even in writing, let alone whether they are public documents, but you have offered a good idea here. We should ask for that report, and if there is no such report we should ask why not. We should also ask for such a report to the PTA. Principals typically make a report at PTA meetings - it would be better to have data than stories.

4) I don't think anyone is interested in having the superintendent or any of the central administrative staff take over any classes. They already have full-time jobs. The teachers don't need these people to model for them.

5) If schools want hallway monitors, they only need to ask for volunteers for that work. I'm not sure who is supposed to set the expectations for classroom management, but I don't think it's student families.

6) Please stop saying that people are blaming kids for holding back others. No one is blaming anyone. The only reason to bring kids not meeting standards together into a group would be to give them the support they need to meet standards.

I can understand if you don't like a programmatic solution as an intervention, but what is your better solution? Surely not principal reports and hallway monitors.

Anonymous said...

Good in principle and worked with the voters, class-size reduction was tried in California and didn't work as planned. There weren't enough certified teachers or classrooms. It proved too expensive to implement and affluent schools who didn't need the extra staff benefited.

Affluent schools don't follow academic reforms. They don't have to, since they already get results. But they should not be used as models for what works in urban schools. They will create mayhem.

If you had an effective academic curriculum, you wouldn't be having these problems.

Adopting three math textbooks, a recommendation initiated by your education leaders is a foolhardy plan. Giving them more money to spend is even more foolish. Stop hiring the consultants who write the curriculum which Seattle has so foolishly adopted.

Beth Bakeman said...


1) Just because parents making demands on Seattle Public Schools in the past hasn't worked, doesn't mean we shouldn't try. We should demand this change from the new superintendent by sending e-mal to superintendent@seattleschools.org.

2) The answer to your homework question is that we shouldn't have any homework in grades K-3, and then only minimal project-connected homework for grades 4-5. Homework in middle school and high school should be designed to allow students to a)explore topics of personal interest or b)go in-depth into a topic that was only covered at a surface level at school. Homework for mastery of skills is a myth.

3) Mostly agree. Although I think a combination of data and stories is far superior to data alone.

4) I personally would love to see the Superintendent and Carla teach some classes, not necessarily to model what should happen, but more to highlight symbolically how important that work is. (Some of the rest of the central office staff I wouldn't want anywhere near a classroom.) And I'd encourage you, Charlie, and others who read this blog to write and send Valentines to the teachers this month, and find ways every month to say "thank you." The work the teachers do with our kids is amazing, and they deserve our regular thanks and help.

5) Classroom management, school discipline, and behavioral expectations are difficult issues. I'd recommend Alfie Kohn's book Beyond Discipline, From Compliance to Community for all parents and staff in the district.

6) Ability grouping has destructive side effects, whether you are aware of them or not. Differentiated instruction needs to be central to the instructional approach. Ability grouping should only be used in small doses, for short time periods, when absolutely necessary.

Anonymous said...

1. Every single time I have written to the school boardsupe/ or staff with a concern or even a compliment, I have gotten NO response. In the 5 years my kids have been in SPS, I have probably averaged one letter/email a year. I once got a response from one board member, and it was negative to me. With that track record, the chance of me trying to "demand" anything is getting pretty slim....They have mastered the technique of, "if we ignore them, they will go away..."

2. I know SO many parents who think homework at the elementary level is pointless and time consuming. When I mentioned to my child's (then)third grade teacher that it was hard to keep up with sometimes, she suggested that we drop some after school activities!! IMO, since music and PE is so limited in school, it is up to parents to supplement with physical activity (childhood obesity epidemic, anyone?) and music lessons. When is there time for homework?

3. I think that there are principals out there that spend time in classrooms, and ones who do not. I have no idea what the job requires, so will refrain commenting.

4. As far as the supe and staff taking over a classroom, I think it would be a fantastic experience for THEM, but do I want my kid as the guinea pig? Probably not. I have the highest respect for teachers, and think it is insulting to them to suggest these administrators could come in and show them how to do their jobs. I know I will get many people disagreeing with me, but that is how I feel. I love teachers.

5. Hallway monitoring? No thank you, but you go ahead. Some of us were not cut out for that, and that is why I am not a teacher!

6. I think Charlie has been pretty clear in the past, and I agree, that ability grouping should be short term. Get the kids working up to standard, in intense small classes, and then re-integrate. Whether this is after school tutoring, pull out program, I do not know which is preferable, but I would think that something is preferable to nothing!!

I would never blame kids for holding other kids back, but I would blame a system where a kid working above standard gets no extra help in a class where kids working below standard get all the attention to help them catch up. This works for no one.

Anonymous said...

Don't confuse teaching kids how to think (methodology) and teaching a standard which is only a disconnected fact. The emphasis in textbooks, traditional versus standardized is different. The methodologies are different - it does not mean children think less. However, I'm sure this has been said - thinking without learning is dangerous, and learning without thinking is pointless. Parents and students want instruction in algebra. The idea that children can achieve mastery by discovery first is a dangerous misconception. There is nothing in research that will support those. Its wacked out nonsense - Core plus was originally intended for an 11th grader who was not interested in taking more math, not an eighth grader still struggling to learn basic algebraic concepts. You can't do intervention if you don't have a quality math program. Students working above Washington standards does not say much for the quality of its academic programs.

Anonymous said...

If you go to the link Dan suggested (in his 7:48 post), you will hear what happens when an intense intervention for a kindergarten student does not follow with functionally useful instruction.

Interventions are not like blood transfusions. Once a student is caught up, good quality curriculum must continue to be administered . We have really bad math instruction and more on its way. Protest this.

I encourage people to send emails to the supt and the Bd. Keep them short. If you have time, go speak before the Bd. Keep trying.

Why have administrators demonstrate how to manage a class filled with a range of students from those who struggle to the high- achieving students? Because they were all teachers and should be experts at running a multi-level classroom - if they can't do it, why count on it happening everywhere else?

Teachers can teach homeworking skills that are put to work in the classroom. What does that look like? It means a student works independently on something taught previously; the "homework" is practice and occurs under the watchful eye of the teacher. Once students can work independently, the teacher can teach small group instruction as needed. I agree with Beth's ideas as well.

If readers here want to know why kids struggle, I am sure there are many who can share the specifics. Likewise, I am sure others can share interventions.

Anonymous said...

If there was good quality curriculum, would there be a need for deep intervention strategies?

Before you invest in additional programs that pull out kids, consider similiar programs that already do this. How much class time is actually missed? And how many of these students actually go on to graduate?

You will have to stabilize the population first before you begin changing the academic program.

You can't implement change until the parents and students are on your side.

Anonymous said...

"2) The answer to your homework question is that we shouldn't have any homework in grades K-3, and then only minimal project-connected homework for grades 4-5. Homework in middle school and high school should be designed to allow students to a)explore topics of personal interest or b)go in-depth into a topic that was only covered at a surface level at school. Homework for mastery of skills is a myth."

Well, that's not the explicit policy of the district. And there is not agreement among stakeholders either. It doesn't answer Charlie's question. If homework doesn't help achieve mastery, then why should Any Student have homework? Not just elementary students. Most projects in elementary school are a waste of time.

Neither of your reasons for HW at MS or HS level make sense to me either. What are the goals? How can you mandate homework to "explore topics of personal interest?" I don't see how that can be administered or effective and certainly doesn't make sense in any class where specific skill building to fluency is needed (most of mathematics and science, spelling, vocabulary, grammar...). And what does "going in-depth on a topic" look like if not working towards mastery?

Seems to me that all three of your examples are the sorts of homework that require parental support, at the very least to provide poster board and glue sticks. These are the very types of homework tasks that increase rather than decrease the achievement gap.

If homework cannot help achieve mastery then no one ought to have homework. I, however, doubt that assertion. I'd love to see the studies that conclude that. What sorts of homework? what subject areas considered? what curriculum, what ages, etc. How is 'mastery' defined in the studies?

As a former high school and college math teacher, a parent of a high schooler, classroom volunteer and a math tutor for MS and HS students, I disagree. I have never seen students who are in an appropriately challenging math class who did not find homework useful, essential, for mastery of the material.

As for the topic of the post: Interventions. Seems to me that all the stories of schools that are breaking the achievement gap stereotype have one thing in common. Lots and lots of classroom based assessments, lots of short and to the point diagnostics. Then instruction is tailored directly to the result of the diagnostics. Is that even considered intervention? Or is that simply teaching the child (with high expectations) instead of teaching the curriculum?

Charlie Mas said...


I would say that the assessments are not an intervention but that using the results of the assessments to alter the instruction to address areas of weakness are an intervention - and usually an effective one.

We do plenty of assessment, but we are weak in the area of "then what". This is true not only in regards to academic interventions, but pretty much every contingency throughout the District across all departments. The District simply isn't prepared to change what they are doing in response to the data.

Anonymous said...

Frequent progress monitoring is an academic intervention. You may want to read up on the new designation called RTI, Response to Intervention.
"Response to Intervention (RTI) is a newly identified process described in IDEA 2004 that allows school districts to provide scientific research-based interventions to struggling students as soon as they need it and use this data to identify students with learning disabilities". Read about it on the OSPI site or more parent-friendly. go to the Jim Wright site. Also see his link to Intervention Central where you can read about Curriculum-Based Measurement. Perhaps foreign to Seattle, these are common terms around our nation.

Beth Bakeman said...


You are right that some of my logic and vocabulary was sloppy in my homework argument. Charlie just pushed a bunch of my buttons so I did a quick, reflexive response. :-)

And I definitely was talking about what I think should happen with homework, not what district policy is.

I believe that eliminating homework completely in most classes for most grades would be an improvement over the current situation.

But to do this topic justice, I need to start a separate thread.

There is research about how ineffective homework is in most situations as it is currently being implemented. I'll dig around and try to find time to share.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, what I meant was: if you administer diagnostics often, always know exactly what the child has and has not mastered, then teach to exactly the child's needs, is that "intervention" or is that actually simply "education?" Remember this article from the PI? I wonder if the principal and teachers at Graham Hill would make a distinction between education and intervention.

Beth. We probably agree more than we disagree on homework and have seen the same studies. However, you mentioned Projects and Project based homework is one of my biggest hot buttons. Your oldest is only in 4th grade? Maybe your school is truly unique and can make projects that really help the kids with learning goals and not waste tons of time coloring, gluing and pasting. Maybe not. Maybe one out of the many projects my son has been assigned had a good ratio of learning to manual labor involved.

So yes, homework as currently implemented is not just ineffective, but potentially damaging. Much of homework as currently implemented relies on educated parents and sure is aided by affluence (internet, digital camera, printer, etc).


In some classes, I would assert that homework is essential. Quality homework. Math, foreign language, probably others as well, for the necessary repetition and practice needed for skill building and fluency. Unfortunately, too much math homework in reform-math-land is the sort the Charlie has described. Instead of practicing skills learned in class, the kids need educated and math-literate parents to provide instruction.

Beth Bakeman said...


Sounds like we do have a lot of areas of agreement around homework.

My oldest two are in the 3rd grade, so I know my feelings about a lot of school-related things will change as time goes on.

But the project-based homework I was referring to was not creating posters or dioramas or anything like that. Instead, my favorite examples of homework have been when my girls are assigned work (often research) to do which they bring back to class and use together in a class project they are working on.

For example, the expedition (theme-based/project-based hands-on learning unit that stretches across a couple of months and all disciplines) that Emma and Claire are working on right now at Pathfinder is "Storytelling around the world." Recent homework was to practice telling a native American story and making it their own (with gestures, and changes of words)in preparation for sharing with others in their class, and eventually doing some school-wide presentation of what they have learned about storytelling in different cultures. They did research about important events in each year of their lives, which they are using to create a classroom "counting" (a type of Native American storytelling vehicle).

My youngest(Audrey) in Kindergarten spent several months on an expedition called "Marketplaces around the World." Her homework was often a "mystery bag" with an attached worksheet. She found something (in the house or the yard)to put in a brown paper bag and then wrote(with help earlier this year, but on her own now) answers to "clues" like "Would you find this object in a market in other places in the world, or just in our country?" "What does it look like?" "What does it feel like?"

Anonymous said...

I agree with Beth on the homework issue. I think homework is ridiculous. I don't think either of my sons (one in an alternative school and one in a traditional school) has ever benefited from it. It is busy work most of the time. Sometimes it's math. When it's math it's more challenging, because this curriculum moves so fast, that I don't feel like my (bright) kids ever really get it. We have to go over it at home, and I wind up teaching them "my way" or traditional math. Then they tend to get it, but it confuses them. It also causes frustration and tension in the house. My oldest is now in middle school. I still think homework is busy work. I like to see what he's doing and homework gives me this opportunity, but otherwise it is completely ineffective. It's boring and rote, with the exception of the projects which he enjoys.

Unless homework becomes much more engaging and meaningful, I would forego it. It doesn't accomplish anything, really, except resentment, and frustration between parents and kids IMO.

When I was in elementary and MS I didn't have any homework except for the occasional science fair or big project. And even in HS it was nowhere near the amount my middle school son gets now.

My kids like sports. In a couple of years I expect them to get a job. How can a kid fit in a sport, a job and two hours of homework a night. No wonder kids are stressed out, some to the point of destructive behaviors up to and including suicide. We put a whole lot of pressure on our kids nowadays.