Initiatives come and go in education. We, as teachers, know this well. How many times have we finally ‘gotten’ the newest program, actually become pretty good at implementing it, when someone comes along with an even newer panacea? We’re all but forced to abandon ‘that’ for ‘this.’ No wonder we feel overwhelmed!
Response to Intervention seemed like just such an initiative. Although it was tied to the No Child Left Behind Act, it still seemed, at first blush, like something that would get left on a shelf somewhere, evidence of the last Presidential administration’s well-intentioned, but unfunded, federal mandate. I remember sitting at my first large-scale conference on Response to Intervention. I fidgeted in my seat, trying to make sense of a program that seemed to do the impossible: put the responsibility of many levels of intervention on the classroom teacher before a making a referral to Special Education. But how? And how could I write professional development to help teachers with just such an initiative. In 2004, it seemed like no one knew.
A lot has changed in the past 7 years. Language surrounding RtI has become part of the regular education teacher’s working vocabulary. Words like ‘tiers’ and ‘interventions’ and concepts like ‘progress monitoring’ come into sharp focus as we see just how Response to Intervention is to be implemented. And, in the schools and districts where it is widely used, it appears to be working: ‘typical’ students are on the receiving end of these interventions so that they don’t fall through the academic cracks, as well as students who have a specific learning disability, are being served appropriately.
There are so many reasons other than a specific learning disability that students may appear to have problems: trauma can be mistaken for a receptive language disability; a language other than English can appear to be language delay or a cognitive processing problem; and a refugee student suffering from culture shock can appear to have a behavior disorder to the untrained eye.
Enter the Response to Intervention process. All students are screened (or their data is reviewed) and receive Tier 1, or Universal Interventions. In short, teachers are asked to use research-validated curricula and methods to deliver their curriculum, with fidelity checked by a peer or administrator. In Tier 2 Interventions, teachers or trained designees give extra help to students who need it, but in a different way, and in addition to, the Tier 1 Interventions. Fidelity is checked, and progress is monitored, as it is with students who initially were identified with a screener. Finally, in Tier 3, students who are not responding to Tier 1 and 2 Interventions will receive individualized and intensive intervention in the hopes that they may show progress. If progress is not shown, a student study team is requested, and the process for referral to Special Education begins. While this is simplified, and may vary slightly or somewhat from how your district or school has interpreted RtI, the idea is still the same.
We at Educational Training Specialists get so excited when we have the opportunity to share our information and flexible, effective interventions pertaining to Response to Intervention. Our teacher professional development has gone a long way toward helping teachers to understand what is required of them, just how much of this they’re already doing, and how, by making some small but realistic changes, they can implement tiered interventions and progress monitoring to truly assess and assist their struggling students.
So, what’s so great about RtI? Finally, the correct students will be identified with a learning disability. It’s not that students with a specific learning disability weren’t identified in the past – most were; however, other students who may not have been truly learning disabled sometimes found their way into Special Education. Now English Learners and those with educational deprivation (and others who, at first blush, appear to have a learning disability) will have a chance to catch up and get focused instruction that they can understand. And classroom teachers will create authentic opportunities to vary their instruction in the form of interventions to meet the needs of all students.
I’d love to hear how your district is doing with its RtI implementation. Feel free to make comments, ask questions, or start a discussion pertaining to this timely topic!