BETHANY, W.Va. – The Bethany College Department of Education will share in a $200,000 joint Professional Development Schools (PDS) grant with Hancock County Schools over the next five years. Bethany is one of only three West Virginia institutions of higher education selected to work with a local school district in implementing the federally-mandated Response to Intervention (RTI) model of reading and math instruction and assessment.

“The collaborative PDS-RTI grant between Bethany College and Hancock County Schools is a very exciting win-win endeavor for both educational institutions,” said Hancock County Schools Superintendent Suzan Smith. “The professional development and training that will result from the partnership between our county and Bethany College will give our staff members the tools they need to assess students for specific targeted interventions using proven instructional techniques. We are pleased to have the opportunity to share five years of collaboration with Bethany College and to have been provided the funding through the West Virginia Department of Education.”

Frequent assessment and individualized research-validated instruction typify the RTI approach. Just as early detection of cancer is the key to enabling physicians to provide better outcomes for their patients, early detection of reading problems allow educators the opportunity to address those problems immediately with specifically-targeted teaching techniques.

Dr. Keely Camden, Bethany College Department of Education Chair, said RTI provides a tiered approach that combines progress monitoring of student performance with rapid detection and support for students. “Under the old model, general education teachers had to wait until a student actually fell behind academically or behaviorally before making a referral for additional services,” Camden said. “If we can detect those problems early, we can prevent reading failure.” 

The RTI reading model provides all students with instruction in a strong core reading program with frequent progress monitoring (Tier One). Students not meeting benchmark progress are provided with supplemental small group targeted reading instruction for an additional 30 minutes each day (Tier Two). After additional monitoring and testing, students who continue to struggle move to the highest level of intervention (Tier Three) for more intensive and targeted instruction. 

Working with Hancock County, Bethany College’s Education program will provide joint professional development, particularly in the area of reading assessment and instruction, which will provide benefit to in-service teachers, pre-service teachers, and Bethany faculty. Grant monies will be used to provide for professional development and specialized training in research-validated reading programs and targeted instructional strategies, diagnostic testing, and appropriate software and equipment. 

A committee composed of Bethany College Education faculty, Hancock County teachers and administrators and parent volunteers are leading the project. The committee will be focusing its attention on Weir Middle School this year with workshops slated to start in 2009 at Weir High School. Camden said the RTI concepts are already in use at Weirton Heights Elementary School, which served as one of the state’s pilot programs. 

The PDS-RTI grant also gives Hancock County Schools a head start on the rest of the state. West Virginia mandates that the RTI system be in place at elementary schools by 2009, middle schools by 2010 and high schools by 2011. That makes it a valuable learning experience for Bethany’s Education majors; they will have hands-on experience with the RTI model and training in the assessments, targeted interventions, and research-validated programs that make the model successful. 

“Our Education students will have meaningful field experiences in schools implementing RTI in Hancock County. It is a tremendous opportunity for our pre-service teachers to apply lessons from the college classroom directly to the public school classroom,” Camden said. “We are thrilled to be a part of this grant; it is truly a mutually beneficial project for all involved.”