Here are some of the major ideas I gained from the Mega Conference held in Mobile this past week. The major thrust of the Mega Conference each year centers around Federal Programs and Special Education, although the sessions do extend into all areas of school life.

Response to Intervention
This term “Response to Intervention” is one which is probably unfamiliar to the majority of teachers, yet it’s impact on general education is significant now and will continue to grow. “Federal law now prohibits labeling students as ‘LD’ unless the districts can prove that research-based instruction has been provided, for a lengthy period of time, in regular education classes, by highly-qualified teachers, using instructional programs ‘with fidelity.’ The process of gathering the required data is called ‘Response to Intervention,’ or ‘RTI.‘” This quote comes straight from Melinda Baird, a nationally-known attorney whose specialty is representing school systems in special education issues.

The good news for us is that the teacher who is using research-based reading and math materials, is implementing them “with fidelity” (That’s not a term we dreamed up locally; that’s the way the law reads.), and is progress monitoring students as prescribed in the program is going to be in good shape. As you read about RTI, you will see the terms “Tier 1,” “Tier 2,” and “Tier 3” As you review the reading programs up for adoption this year, you are going to see the same language. Easy translation:

  • Tier 1=”Benchmark” or that vast majority of students (hopefully 80% or more) who are experiencing success. “Tier One” materials are those one would use with the entire class.
  • Tier 2=”Strategic” or that group of students (probably around 15%) who need a “double dose.” “Tier Two” materials or instruction would be used to help accelerate these students.
  • Tier 3=”Intensive” or that very small percantage (5% or so) who are having severe difficulty and require intensive intervention. You will hear the terms “Tier Three” and “intervention program” used interchangeably.

To be honest, RTI is an area where there are more questions than answers. My suggestion is to keep “RTI” on your radar. When you see the term mentioned in a professional journal, read it. If you have an opportunity to attend a short workshop on it, go. In this last reauthorization of IDEA, Congress came very close to removing the discrepancy model (the way we currently determine eligibility for LD which measures the discrepancy between IQ and performance) and replacing it with RTI. Congress did not do that. They are allowing either method for now. With the the next reauthorization of IDEA, we may well see RTI become the sole way to determine LD.

Reading Adoption
The reading adoption is a huge topic and one that is sure to be the source of interest and controversy statewide. Earlier this summer, 11 textbook companies submitted their core reading programs to a large panel of reviewers. We will be receiving their report this fall. Each core reading program is rated in a variety of areas, much like one would see in the magazine Consumer Reports. In fact the instrument used to rate the programs is entitled A Consumer’s Guide to Evaluating a Core Reading Program Grades K-3.

We will begin receiving samples from the publishers in November. Dr. Morton’s recommendation is going to be that school systems narrow their focus to three or four core programs using the results of the report and then make their own selection from there. The rationale is that school systems will not have time to adequately evaluate all 11 programs submitted for review.

Web 2.0
This buzzword got it’s start in 2003 and has been gaining steam ever since, but most people still haven’t the foggiest notion of what it means. In a nutshell, Web 1.0 was about you and I being consumers. Information on the web was put there by people in far-away places who knew lots about programs such as Deamwaver or FrontPage and had access to servers where they could host their stuff.

Web 2.0 is about creation and participation. What you are reading right now is an example of Web 2.0. It’s about the average person being able to share knowledge with the whole word. It’s blogs and wikis. It’s MySpace and YouTube. It’s the ability for you and me to have space on the internet absolutely free where we can post our pictures, our thoughts, and our very best ideas. It’s the idea that we are givers as well as takers in a global exchange of ideas. It’s the absurd notion that an encyclopedia could be constructed by simply letting anybody who wanted to write whatever they liked, a notion so absurd it’s actually working.

To this point, our challenge has been to find what others have written. Our generation learned about the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature. This generation knows about Google. The challenge of Web 2.0 is not just in finding what others have created, but in making it easy for others to find what we have created. That, however, is another post for another time.

APTPlus and United Streaming
Many of our teachers are finding the value of the United Streaming videos. You can download short clips to play in class. You can store what you have downloaded in a folder on your computer so that you can find it the next time you teach that particular lesson. If you have not used this resource before, this blog post tells you what you need to know.

One of the points brought out was that rather than go directly to United Streaming, we should be encouraging you to go to APT Plus. At that site, you can search for resources available from United Streaming, but you will also be able to search other sources at the same time.

The final topic is the distance learning opportunities provided through ACCESS. This program is part of a dream to access to education a function of your aspirations rather than a function of where you happen to live. Extensive information is available at their website.