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KU-led program 'changing face of education' in California by implementing system to boost inclusion, performance

Monday, November 06, 2017

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas education technical assistance and research center is on the way to “changing the face of education” in California by implementing a framework of education that uses research-backed practices to support the academic, behavioral and social-emotional learning needs of every student throughout the state. SWIFT (Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation) Education Center is nearly a year into a project helping California educators to implement the system that boosts inclusion and student performance.

As part of a $30 million grant-funded project by the state of California, SWIFT is partnering with Orange County Department of Education and Butte County Office of Education to lead the way in implementing Multi-Tiered System of Support, or MTSS, in schools. Since the project was announced, partners established a state leadership team, then recruited and trained 11 regional network leaders supported by a team of SWIFT facilitators, advocates and trainers. They also identified 92 exemplar schools using MTSS in each of the state’s 11 regions with the help of 58 county offices of education. The schools are also part of the team that provides leadership to schools as they begin to use MTSS.

The partnership prepares district and school teams to implement MTSS in ways that are unique to each school, based on its resources, location, goals, students, community and other factors. The SWIFT framework was implemented and continues to be used in 64 schools in five states prior to coming to California. Those schools showed marked progress at improving student achievement and inclusion of students with diverse learning needs while also helping improve social and behavioral measures. The framework is a mix of new and existing strategies to identify students who need assistance, form a response plan, track progress and make improvements.

“We took that model and applied it to California, where we’re now preparing more than 1,000 districts to lead implementation in more than 10,000 schools,” said Amy McCart, co-director of SWIFT Education Center and leader of the California project. “Schools are now focused on equity and providing resources for all students. Instead of looking at education in a siloed fashion, with SWIFT we break down traditional ways of working in silos and provide teachers the resources they need to support all students.”

By implementing an MTSS that is uniquely designed to fit each school, schools can increase the number of meaningful learning opportunities for all students, including those who are often segregated from general education classes because of disability, language learning status, behavioral issues and other factors.

Research has shown achievement increases across all types of student groups under the approach. In California, SWIFT and their partners have expanded the MTSS framework to high schools as well, as it was previously a K-8 program. The expansion adds a college and career focus to cover the full range of a child’s life in school. Another California and SWIFT collaboration is now adding an alternate education piece to the framework, allowing educators to work with students in community or correctional education programs while applying the multi-tiered system of support framework.

SWIFT helps elevate equity and transform educational practices through five domains:

  • Administrative leadership
  • Multi-tiered system of support
  • Integrated educational framework
  • Family and community engagement
  • Inclusive policy structure and practice.

The system is adaptable so each school can address its local concerns such as attendance, climate, achievement or others.

As the partnership enters its second year, McCart said there will be increased focus on sharing measures of success with California’s governor and legislators and to seek funding for coming years. The leadership provided by Orange County Department of Education and Butte County Office of Education are responsible for the success thus far in California in schools, administrators and communities throughout the state, McCart said, as well as the support of KU’s Life Span Institute, the KU School of Education, including the nationally No. 1-rated Department of Special Education, where McCart is associate research professor and adjunct faculty member.

Published research has shown the success SWIFT schools have had in boosting academic achievement and improving social and behavioral measures. Percentages of students in grades three through 11 meeting or exceeding standards have increased, and students — including those with special needs — in urban districts reading at or above benchmark levels have increased by as much as 16 percent.

“We have a school reform model that has changed the way we educate,” McCart said. “We have the breadth and depth of evidence that allows us to say with confidence we know what we can do to make a difference for all students, particularly those with extensive needs.”

Photo: Amy McCart, left, co-director of SWIFT Education Center, works with Amy Carter, superintendent of public schools in Meridan, Mississippi. The SWIFT Center works with schools in numerous states to boost inclusive education and is in the process of implementing the center’s inclusive framework in thousands of schools throughout California. Credit: SWIFT Education Center.

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