Supports Tailored to
A tiered system of supports — with universal supports for all students and more targeted supports for specific students — allows schools to better meet the varying needs of their students and maximize staff and financial resources. A common approach to this tiered system is response to intervention (RTI), a method of academic intervention designed to provide early, effective assistance to children who are having difficulty learning. RTI relies heavily on effective data use to identify those students who are struggling.
Response to intervention model
The student support system at CAL Prep been developed over the course of several years. It is designed to meet the specific needs of the student population, while also working within the structure, budget, staff, and confined schedule of CAL Prep.
According to CAL Prep’s principal, “In our support system, we follow the RTI model, which offers a schema for tiered intervention. Tier one supports are offered to every student in the school and meet the needs of the broadest range of students. Our first tier one intervention is our advisory. Another tier one intervention is ‘eighth period,’ during which students either work quietly in a study hall or work with teachers in a shadow class.”
Other tier one supports include an escalating but redemptive discipline policy, meetings with the academic and college counselor several times a year, whole class workshops on college knowledge and study skills, and family conferences two times a year. The principal goes on to describe, “For our tier two and three interventions, students in need are assigned to meet one-on-one with an administrator several times a week to review grades, get inspiration, and review contracts that teachers sign. We also offer additional family meetings (with the student support team), an Individualized Education Program, and individual and group counseling to students in need.”
At CAL Prep, the principal describes the support system as not only tailored but evolving in response to student needs. She highlights the key role teachers play in differentiating their instruction to engage and support students:
All students benefit from differentiated instruction. Our teachers are asked to use different methodologies of teaching throughout the week and each instructional day to accommodate for all learning styles and engage students. Additionally, they are asked to provide differentiated processes within lessons to meet content standards. In order to ensure strong implementation of each of these items, we engage staff in a summer professional development retreat and training and follow with weekly staff professional development meetings.
While CAL Prep provides a good example of effective support principles in practice, each school must tailor its support system to the unique needs of its student population; the structure, culture, and budget of the school; and the capacity of the staff.
Understanding individual needs
East Palo Alto Academy High School has invested significantly in counseling and student support. The school ensures professional staff have sufficient time to understand individual student needs and develop appropriate support plans. When the school’s college counselor first started working, she explained,
It has been really great being here full-time. I think that’s made a huge difference to the experience for students, because they look at me and go, “You’re still here?!” I sit in their classes. I go to their advisories. I yell at them passing by [in between classes].
As a full-time staff member, the school’s counselor was able to develop personal relationships and well informed understandings of the schools’ students.
At the beginning of the year I went through all of their transcripts to see where they were, what the GPAs looked like, how many courses they completed… and how it differed from what the universities wanted. And then I met with almost every student individually and talked about what they were interested in, where they wanted to go, what they were going to need to resolve missing coursework, and what they needed from me. That created a personal relationship with each one. So they were comfortable coming to me and saying, “Can you help me with that?”(Frelow, 2007b, p. 5)
Personalized college counseling
Friendship Collegiate Academy (FCA) has established a very personalized approach to their college and financial aid counseling. The school emphasizes direct individual support. Counselors work with students to establish college planning schedules (which include tasks to complete by the next session) and offer extensive follow-up. The dean of Early College meets with students one-on-one, especially when a student appears to be reluctant or hesitant about applying to college (Vogt, 2007a, p. 2).
Because most FCA students will be the first in their families in college, the school provides intensive support for scholarship applications as well as college search and financial aid applications. Each year, several students are selected as Posse Foundation finalists, Gates Millenium Scholars, and DC Achievers. These scholarships not only provide financial assistance but help support students academically and personally in their transition to college.
Tools and resources
- CAL Prep’s Response to Intervention (RTI) pyramid lists the student supports at the school that are school-wide programs, strategic supports for groups of students, and individual interventions.
- Individual student needs are accounted for at East Palo Alto Academy High School in its approach to working with students as described in Building Student Efficacy Through Trust, High Expectations, and Extensive Support by Fred Frelow.
- Making the College Admissions and Financial Aid Process Transparent by Kristen Vogt describes how college counseling is tailored to Friendship Collegiate Academy’s students’ particular circumstances.
- To what extent are supports differentiated at your school? Is there a formal system for designating different types of supports for different types of students?
- How do staff assess the needs of students in order to effectively tailor supports? How often and how consistently are student needs assessed?
- Are there staff supports (training, data, school structure) that teachers and counselors need in order to better provide differentiated instruction and support to students?
Data indicate that schools need to intervene in targeted and more intensive ways “by differentiating instruction and providing health, mental health, special education, and other services in fluid ways that keep students on a college preparatory track” (Weinstein, 2011, p. 8).
Use of a tiered system — with less intense interventions for all students and more intense interventions for targeted students — was found to better meet diverse student needs and maximize staff availability and financial resources compared to a less stratified system of supports (Jaeger & Venezia, 2011). This sort of tailored support system draws on close relationships between teachers and students. Many early college schools have student support teams to target the needs of selected students — a model that can easily be adopted in any school. Approximately half of early college schools studied tailor their supports by grade level in order to address transitions (to 9th grade and to college) and use assessment data to inform the use and evaluation of supports (Jaeger & Venezia, 2011).
Some researchers argue for multi-level efforts to bring about success across reforms. For example, school-based centers could provide more comprehensive mental health and health education supports, which are often less available in low-income and underserved communities. In addition, students would benefit from high-quality, well-resourced after-school programs that reflect student diversity and that address academic skills, social-emotional needs, community involvement, and career development (Grubb & Anyon, 2011; Weinstein, 2011).Next Principle