Dr. Julia Espe
Editor’s Note: This essay was written by Julia Espe, Ed.D., who served as Superintendent of Princeton Public Schools from 2013 to her retirement in 2016. She currently works as a consultant for ServeMinnesota, the organization that oversees AmeriCorps programs for the state of Minnesota.
Reading Corps and Math Corps Are Vital Parts of Multi Tiered Systems
It is important for communities around the state to know that teaching and learning are seriously rocket science. That is, it is a complex system of creating the right environment of student engagement and challenging targets, knowing exactly what students need to learn to meet or exceed the targets, providing that teaching and learning experience for the student, assessing whether the student is making progress and starting the cycle again.
In the case of students who have difficulty learning, a whole new layer of rocket science is needed. Trained professionals need to identify the gaps or needs, provide a targeted intervention to relearn those, decide the approach that will help the learning to “stick,” make a determination how long and intensive the intervention needs to be given to the student and ascertain when the student is indeed meeting the target. Each child is different and has different needs, and teaching and learning has to adjust to provide those needs.
The Princeton School District has a system of Multi Tiered Systems of Supports, and Reading and Math Corps are vital parts of the interventions mentioned above. Title Programs provide additional supports for students in need of interventions. A program called ADSIS (Alternative Delivery of Specialized Instructional Services) delivers even more interventions for additional students. Students with the greatest needs receive special education services, which are the most expensive of all interventions.
Finally, teachers differentiate instruction for students as they provide instruction in the core curriculum. It is difficult for lay people to realize the science of teaching — in other words, rocket science — that helps students to learn. To the public, all of this may be invisible in a classroom. In order to put this system together, we need support from the state and federal funding that we currently receive.
Decrease in Specific Learning Disabilities
Princeton is a small school district with about 3,200 students PreK through grade 12. Like many districts in Minnesota, it does not have a data and research department. We took a simple approach to measuring cost savings of Reading and Math Corps to the district by looking at a three-year period (2005-2006 through 2007-2008) prior to implementing Reading and Math Corps.
During that time Princeton Public Schools averaged about 14 students with a Specific Learning Disability. Over the past nine years since we implemented Reading and Math Corps, the average number of students identified with a Specific Learning Disability has decreased to seven students — a decrease of 50 percent.
Reading Corps and Math Corps Save You Time
Special education in Minnesota follows a predictable process. Each school district is responsible for identifying children who are suspected of having a disability, beginning at birth, who attend public or nonpublic school and school age children who are not attending school. This system is commonly referred to as “child find.” The child find system should include the process for receiving referrals from parents, physicians, private and public programs, and health and human services agencies.
Before a school district refers a student for a special education evaluation, the district must conduct at least two research-based pre-referral interventions. A pre-referral intervention is a scientific research-based instructional strategy, alternative or intervention designed to address a student’s academic or behavioral needs in the general education classroom. The classroom teacher is responsible for implementing the first tier of interventions.
Tiered interventions outside of the general education classroom offer more intensive instruction to students who have not demonstrated marked improvement with general classroom supports. Reading Corps and Math Corps are just two of the many supports available to students in the Princeton district.
When a student is evaluated for special education services in the area of specific learning disabilities, multiple staff are required to participate in the evaluation process. For an initial evaluation, a special education teacher will spend roughly 15 hours gathering and reviewing data, evaluating the student, meeting with school staff and parents to review the results and generating a summary report of the information.
In addition, a school psychologist will contribute an additional five hours to the evaluation process. A general education teacher and school administrator will also contribute an additional hour as part of the evaluation. For every initial evaluation, licensed school staff are contributing a total of up to 20 hours to each individual evaluation. If the student qualifies for special education services, up to five more hours will be contributed before services can begin.
The most significant benefit of tiered interventions to the student is time. Research-based interventions such as those offered through Reading Corps and Math Corps do not require the time-intensive evaluations mandated by federal and state special education regulations and statutes. A data-driven analysis of formative assessment data allows general education teachers and interventionists to implement intensive instruction almost immediately.
When Reading Corps and Math Corps Increased, Fewer Special Ed Services Were Needed
Reading Corps and Math Corps services have been available to Princeton students for five years. Over the same period of time, the number of students requiring special education services has been declining — 23 fewer students over the same time period. This is a great cost savings. Here is a breakdown of the numbers:
- Each student costs roughly $13,000 per year for specialized instruction.
- This totals approximately $300,000 per year.
- This equals approximately $1,500,000 in savings over five years.
In short, Reading Corps and Math Corps have not only helped our students to learn how to read and perform better in math, these programs have also saved our district in costs. Occasionally we hear that these programs may be reduced in support. They are supported through AmeriCorps funding. Our state legislators recently increased funding for the programs, and we thank them. Congress has supported our programming ever since its inception. As the federal government works on budget, we will continue to advocate for financing.
Not only do these programs work for our students. They also are cost-effective. And it’s very difficult to not to advocate for that.