Feb 20, 2020

K-6 Literacy Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) Pilot Supports Student Success at
Clear Creek Amana

Clear Creek Amana_.jpg

(left to right) Morgan Kruse, special education teacher; Emily Frett, instructional coach;  Kinzlee Franck, special education teacher; and Susan O'Dell, GWAEA special education literacy coach meet to plan and discuss.


Every student belongs to every teacher at Clear Creek Amana.

Four years ago, the Clear Creek Amana School District was invited by Maria Cashman, associate chief administrator/executive director of Special Education at Grant Wood AEA, to participate in a K-6 Literacy Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) pilot program.

As Barb Hunt, director of Student Services at Clear Creek Amana, explained, “From our Formative Assessment System for Teachers (FAST™) performance indicators, it was apparent that a gap in student achievement existed between our general and special education students.”

The Iowa Department of Education defines Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) for a learner eligible for special education services at no cost to the family, to meet his/her unique needs as a learner with a disability. This includes adapting as appropriate to the needs of the individual learner, the content, methodology or delivery of instruction to address his/her unique needs that result from a disability and to ensure access to the general curriculum, so that he/she can meet the educational standards that apply to all children (IAC 41.39). All of this is to prepare the student for further education, employment and independent living.

“Through the course of the last four years, our district has received great support from the Grant Wood AEA Special Education Literacy Team (SPEL), the Iowa Department of Education’s SDI Team, and from Grant Wood AEA’s Susan O’Dell and Ronda Hilbert,” Hunt continued.

“We have seen a significant increase in our students’ scores,” she continued. “The bigger piece is that our special education and general education teachers are collaborating. They are improving working together. SDI can’t just happen during pull-out time, it needs to be all day. It needs to be a collaborative effort between general and special education teachers, and this is happening,” she continued.

District teachers are asking special education teachers to come and support their work. Special education teachers are now part of the general education Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). 

Support for data collection with 95% Group, student rotations and teacher data talks

“As a district, we always use data to drive our decisions,” shared Matt Leeman, principal at Clear Creek Elementary. “SDI falls into that philosophy. As a district, we use the professional learning about data offered by the 95% Group to ensure that students are reading at grade level and their literacy needs are supported.”


“The data helps us to make our decisions, which as a district, is what we do anyway,” Matt continued. “Our instruction is designed by literacy blocks. The students receive a minimum of 90-120 minutes of literacy instruction; 30 minutes of that time is blocked off every day for an ‘all hands on deck’ approach or what the  95% Group would call a ‘walk to intervention’.” 

In addition to this time, classroom teachers and special education teachers also provide additional small group instruction for students, so they are essentially receiving a 'double dip' of very focused instruction.

“We are able to see our student reading scores increase,” he continued. “The students receive their literacy instruction on a 12-day rotation. Even within the 12 days, they are able to meet their goals and move to the next group.”

Leeman shared that Clear Creek Amana teachers meet weekly to discuss the data, then the teachers review the student groupings. Instruction is designed by reviewing the data gathered using the 95% Group and the student literacy blocks.

“Our expectation and schedule for literacy instruction is how we respond to the children’s needs,” he said. “It’s not your kids or my kids, it’s our kids. As a district, we are ensuring that everyone has what they need to succeed and receive the same opportunities.”

“It really becomes an our kids’ model,” Leeman concluded. “Everyone is responsible. The process is our norm, and collecting and reviewing our data is just good teaching and good instruction.”

Data drives instruction

“Expanding knowledge, using data to change instruction, and collaborating with special education teachers are the dynamics that we’ve experienced in our district,” explained Lisa Olson, instructional coach. 

“Increasing our knowledge about diagnostics has allowed us to dive deep into research about how students learn,” she continued. “As teachers, we are increasing our knowledge. Student learning impacts teacher professional learning.”

Olson explained that data is used to drive instruction. Teachers meet weekly or bi-weekly to review student data, and change instruction based on the data. “We are constantly making changes,” she added. “If something is not working for a student, we meet as a team to determine what do we need to do differently. Our focus is on using data to drive instruction.”

“Collaboration among general and special education teachers is the driving force,” she continued. “Collaboration reinforces what teachers need to work on to empower students. What foundational skills and instructional routines do we need to use to support instruction?”

“As we look at data over all, we are starting to see that while we may not make grade-level growth in one year, over multiple years, we are able to phase more students out of special education,” she continued. “It is a progression providing long-term, sustainable growth.”

“It is interesting to see the dynamics between the general and special education teachers,” Olson continued. “Shared knowledge has increased all of our learning allowing teachers to move forward and take ownership.”

“Teachers are talking instructional practices, test scores, and discussing students who are in need of additional support,” Hunt said. “They are asking the questions about how to help all students, not just students on IEPs.”

“It is about using great instructional strategies in teaching,” she concluded, “Teaching can’t be yours and mine, it has to be ours. The biggest learning for our staff is that we’re all here to support each other. Tapping into others to share strategies and ideas has been our greatest learning, and impact for our students.”

As the SDI pilot work continues, future plans for the district include the addition of two LEAP (Learning Experiences: an Alternative Program for Preschoolers) classrooms. LEAP classrooms focus on engaging children who are developing typically and those on IEPs (especially those who are at risk of being on the autism spectrum) in social relationships.