All education is special education

by Dr. Karen Gazith and Dr. Carly Rosenzweig
Bronfman Jewish Education Centre

The Special Education department at the Bronfman Jewish Education Centre (BJEC) was established 15 years ago and since its inception, the goal has been to ensure that children who have special needs remain in our Jewish school system and experience success.

What does it mean to have a special need? We can say that every student has special needs, developing at his own rate, with his own learning style. In order to address the diversity of students in our classrooms, teachers need to be armed and ready with strategies that meet the needs of students at risk for academic difficulty, those working at grade level, as well as those in need of enrichment. Basically, there is no “typical learner.” It is no longer special education; it is about good education for all.

With Federation CJA funding, BJEC has been providing many schools with an allocation to support their resource room programs. While this model has been and continues to be successful in remediating students in need of additional support, we have begun to move to a new model that we believe will be more efficient. We are most concerned with ensuring the resource room teachers and classroom teachers communicate regularly about individual student cases, thus facilitating the success of all students.

Response to Intervention

This new model of support for students in the Jewish day school system is called Response to Intervention (RTI). This model has been in use in the United States for the past six years and is showing great promise. RTI focuses on three aspects of education: the identification of students at-risk for learning difficulties, the remediation of these students and the prevention of academic failure among all students. Inherent in this model is improving instructional techniques in the classroom to ensure that all students have access to high-quality instruction.

The Three Tiers

RTI is a three-tiered model that integrates general and special education. The tiers are designed to improve instruction for all students in the classroom and provide interventions and supports to students who are struggling in school. This model requires educators to stop looking at students in terms of levels (low-achieving or high-achieving) and start considering where each student currently is and deciding what needs to be done to progress.

Tier 1 includes universal screening and progress monitoring of all students and ensures that teachers are using best practices in their classrooms. Students who are not making adequate progress are typically referred to Tier 2. In this tier, resource room teachers come into the classroom and provide support to the teachers on strategies and assistance in the form of small group instruction. In Tier 3, students who require more intensive and individualized support may receive services in the resource rooms. However, the goal remains to bring as much of the resources to students in their classrooms, rather than pulling them out.

Universal Screening

Universal screening of every student in the classroom is an integral part of the RTI model. The information gathered through universal screening is used to guide the teachers’ instruction, to help them know their students and how best to advance their learning. The screening results are not used for grades or for streaming purposes. Screening is done so that teachers can get a baseline measure of student performance and then monitor progress throughout the year.

Implementing RTI

BJEC is currently working with several schools to implement the model and hope to offer it to all schools in the near future.  Right now, the focus is on training teachers and arming them with the skills, strategies and resources necessary to meet the diverse needs of their students. Workshops in both English and French are offered to all schools wishing to attend and learn more about the many components of the RTI model. BJEC is currently focused on building a solid foundation in Tier 1 before moving on to the other tiers.

Response to Intervention is a forward-thinking model that makes teachers the experts and gives them the tools necessary to teach their students effectively.

Federation CJA allocated $401,708 to programs supporting people with special needs, of which $123,000 is allocated through the Bronfman Jewish Education Centre to support innovative approaches to special education in the Jewish day school system.

Visit the Bronfman Jewish Education Centre’s website at bjec.org.

  • Robert says:

    Great initiative. It needs to be implemented ASAP as the current model does not support all learning styles.

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