Dissertation Questions Of Rti

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What is RTI?

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Can you describe the relationship between RTI and NCLB?

Response from Laura Kaloi, Public Policy Director, National Center for Learning Disabilities: IDEA 2004 encourages schools to begin using a process that determines if a student responds to a "scientific, research-based intervention" as a part of the evaluation procedures to determine which students may have a specific learning disability (SLD) and need special education. Response to Intervention (RTI) is the most commonly used method among the many multi-tiered intervention systems/methods being used by schools, districts and states. Currently, there is no specific language in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or No Child Left Behind (NCLB) that explicitly allows or requires funds to be used for the same purpose. Making this more explicit is important because it is NCLB, not IDEA that is the authorizing law for Title I services in schools targeting low-income schools. Title I provides funds to ensure there are extra funds for staff, training and resources for students struggling in reading and math – impacting the majority of our schools nationwide (e.g. the state of NY receives over $1 billion in Title I funding annually). In order to make NCLB and IDEA more congruent and ensure that funding can flow from both IDEA and NCLB to help struggling learners, it is important that NCLB include explicit language that allows the use of Title I funds for RTI.

Is RTI mandated by federal law?

Response from Alexa Posny, Ph.D., Kansas Commissioner of Education: Response to intervention (RTI) is not mandated by federal law or federal regulation. In fact, the phrase "response to intervention" never appears in either federal law or regulation. What is included in the IDEA regulations (Sec. 300.307) in the determination whether a child has a specific learning disability, is that the use of a severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement is no longer required (however it can be still be used) and that it is permissible to "use a process based on the child’s response to scientific, research-based intervention…" What causes confusion for some is that RTI is being shared by many practitioners and researchers as a systematic process of screening all students for academic difficulty, implementing instructional/interventions that have evidence to support their efficacy, monitoring student progress in these interventions, and applying more intense levels or "tiers" of interventions as needed. The use of RTI as a systematic process for screening, intervening and monitoring—while not mandated by federal law—is what was intended under IDEA to determine a child’s response to scientific, research-based intervention.   Additionally, another initiative that is often confused with RTI is Early Intervening Services (EIS). EIS is sometimes viewed as an individual student problem solving approach or a standard protocol approach to interventions. Under IDEA, a local education agency may use up to 15 percent of its IDEA Part B funds to develop and implement the provision of early intervening services for students who have not yet been identified as needing special education but who need additional academic and behavioral support to succeed in general education.   In Kansas, to assist the field in implementing a prevention and/or intervention system of support for any child, we have referred to it as a Multi-Tier System of Supports or MTSS. MTSS encompasses both RTI and EIS and more. Simply put, MTSS is a continuum of increasingly intense research-based interventions provided to students that respond to their academic and/or behavioral needs. It includes ongoing monitoring of the effectiveness of the interventions provided. The outcome is to ensure that each Kansas student achieves to high standards.

Who founded RTI?

Response from W. David Tilly, Ph.D.: Response to Intervention (RtI) is most accurately described as a movement rather than a thing. For the past 30 years or so, a fairly tight knit group of people across the country have been quietly working on ways to bring evidence-based practice into schools. There have been a number of iterations in that direction. Some of the earliest roots of what is now known as RtI can be found in practices such as precision teaching (Ogden Lindsley), direct instruction (Zig Engelmann and Wes Becker), behavioral consultation (John Bergan), and curriculum-based measurement (Stan Deno). All of these approaches and initiatives have concerned themselves with improving instruction for students in measurable ways, using objective growth of student skills as the criterion of effectiveness. Many different implementations of evidence-based practice have been tried in many parts of the country, with varying degrees of success—and many important lessons were learned. The people involved with these implementations were both researchers and practitioners, but they shared one characteristic. They were intensely interested in not only figuring out "what works" but also "how to make it work" in the real world of schools. As time went by, we got better and better at improving results for students until something of a perfect storm occurred:  

  • We had data showing that despite our best efforts, many students still were not benefiting sufficiently from their school experience.
  • The world became globalized and if the United States is to remain competitive, nearly all of our students are going to have to achieve at much higher levels.
  • The accountability movement in the United States (led primarily by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002) was forcing schools to pay much more attention to the achievement of all of their students. At the same time, funding for education was at best flat.
  •   So there was this huge quest to figure out how to become both more efficient and more effective across the board in schools. Into this vacuum entered what is now called RtI. Stated plainly, RtI results from the marriage of a long history of evidence-based practices (and the lessons learned there from) with a new and more efficient resource-deployment system (the Three-Tier Approach) that better allows schools to match instructional resources directly to the nature and intensity of student learning needs. Fancy sounding words that basically mean that RtI lets schools look at kids' needs and use their resources most efficiently to provide effective instruction for all of them.   In short, schools that are effective do three things well:  
  • They figure out what they want kids to know and be able to do.
  • They align their curriculum and instruction to teach those things.
  • They keep score.
  •   RtI provides the evidence-based tools to help schools do these things efficiently. So where does RtI come from? It comes from the confluence of a long history of applied research and practice coupled with improved engineering for delivering instruction in the real world, all wrapped up in the perfect storm of political and social policy imperatives demanding better outcomes for all of our children. Put that all together with a big dose of common sense and you get RtI.

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    Research Support for RTI

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    We have been told that all the interventions we use must be scientifically based. Why shouldn’t we use other interventions that we have found to be effective in our classrooms?

    Response from Bob Heimbaugh: RtI is based on sound research based principals that have a demonstrated track record of success. While the interventions that you have used in your classroom have shown success, one has to question whether the interventions align to the systematic implementation of the RtI process in a school. What we know about research based interventions is that they greatly increase the academic success of children in our classrooms. Here are some components associated with scientifically based instruction:

    • Fidelity: Fidelity means that an instructional practice is delivered exactly as designed. Fidelity ensures that instruction is constant and provides the foundation for determining whether or not an instructional strategy is impacting student learning
    • Explicit: Explicit instruction is really direct instruction that focuses on an instructional sequence that builds on skills. Explicit instruction allows for teachers to measure growth more accurately over time and allows for the scaffolding of skills that build on previous learning.
    • Systematic: Systematic instruction deals with helping students how to learn. A research based instructional methodology has aligned tools and techniques to the content that have been proven to be effective.
    • Replication: Research based instructional strategies can be replicated. In essence, all teachers using a scientifically based instructional practice in a school are teaching the same concepts and skills in the same manner. This replication provides feedback to the instructional and learning experience, and allows teachers to track instructional impact and student learning.
    • Collaboration: One of the most powerful components of RtI is that teachers come together to address instructional practice that focuses on student learning. Research based instructional practice establishes the foundation, vocabulary, and focus for a school as the school addresses student learning needs.

    In conclusion, scientifically based instruction brings the entire school together to address the learning needs of students based on sound instructional practice that have been proven to work. Using scientifically based instructional practice greatly increases the chance for student success. This practice is also measurable, scaffolds skills across grade levels, and can be taught by everyone in the building the same way. Because of this consistency, a collaborative, systematic instructional approach is developed in a school that has a proven track record of success.

    Why are you supporting RTI at the high school level when the research base for high school efficacy is not particularly strong?

    Response from Barbara J. Ehren, Ed.D.: In general RTI at the secondary level does not have the track record that it has at the elementary level. In the scheme of things, we haven't been at this process for very long. When addressing RTI efficacy it is important to ask "efficacy for what purpose?" In looking at the twofold purpose of RTI, we could address efficacy in preventing school failure and efficacy in identifying students with learning disabilities. I would like to address the first purpose. When we talk about prevention in high school, we are addressing the prevention of further failure and the often dire consequences of school failure (e.g. alienation, dropping out, anti-social behavior). It would be hard to argue that a high school shouldn't address the needs of struggling learners by having intervention options that increase with intensity (aka RTI). The alternative is to allow students to fail unless they can qualify for special education (and not all of them should or would qualify). Moral reasons aside, in this age of accountability high schools cannot afford to ignore struggling learners. It is a myth that adolescence is too late for intervention. We do have a substantial body of research that has demonstrated that intervention with high school students can improve academic performance, including literacy. However, until we have more experience with RTI in high school we will not know how effective a systematic approach to varying levels of intervention intensity can be in preventing school failure. But can we live with the alternative in today's schools?

    Is there any known relationship between RTI and retention of students?

    Response from Scott Baker Ph.D., University of Oregon: It's important to note that Response to Intervention (RTI) is still in its earliest stages and definitive statements about its outcomes are very hard to make right now. That being said, RTI does have the potential to shine the spotlight onto a range of important instructional variables that will help all kids learn important knowledge, skills, and behaviors in school.   Students with and without disabilities will benefit from more effective classroom instruction. One result of better instruction should be a reduction in the number of students who are being retained because their schools feel they have not learned enough to move to the next grade. Some of those kids, as you know, have not learned enough for the schools to conclude they should be retained because the instruction they have received has not been of sufficient quality or carefully planned and delivered to support the instructional needs these students have. RTI is supposed to give educators a way to deliver instruction that is better able to support the full range of students in schools.   Without improving instruction, whether it’s in behavior or academics, reductions in grade retention will not really mean anything in terms of student learning and development. It will just mean that they are still not learning enough in a grade that is one grade higher than the one they were in the year before.

    I am looking for any sources, research on the financial impact of RTI either because of reduced special education numbers or the impact on general education in any way.

    Response from Anna Munson, MBA, St. Louis Public Schools: It is often stated that RTI would represent a cost savings to districts/LEAs based on several assumptions:

    • Reductions in referral and identification of LD
    • Focused comprehensive evaluations requiring less testing
    • Fewer students needing special education services, causing a decrease in the number of special education teachers, aides, etc.
    • Incidental savings such as an increase in attendance, which many states use to calculate funding for districts

    The assumptions are reasonable based on what we know about RTI, however, there is little quantifiable data to use as support for the claim that it will actually save dollars. Since there is no official RTI program or model, it would certainly be difficult to conduct a true cost analysis that accounts for and/or eliminates variables such as program design and integrity. A cost savings could likely be projected for a well designed program, but those savings wouldn’t be realized if the program was poorly implemented.

    There are reports published by individual intervention programs capturing potential cost savings for implementation of the program, using assumptions similar to those listed above. One of these is Reading Recovery.

    You can also review an Early Learning Foundation report that offers cost savings after having implemented an early intervention program. The savings are calculated as a reduction in referrals, and a corresponding reduction in the number of special education staff in later years.

    It’s a logical conclusion that these reports of cost savings could be representative of those a district could achieve with any legitimate RTI program, as they are based on the same core list of assumptions. There is just not a lot out there for RTI cost/savings analysis. This may be an area where some money could be available for research.

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    Behavior Supports

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    I am looking for behavior interventions for older middle school students with serious and chronic discipline issues. We have used point sheets, mentoring and counseling with some success with younger students, but this older group has not been affected by

    ...any of these efforts.

    Response from Hank Bohanon Ph.D.:

    A useful tool for secondary students is the Behavior Education Program because it provides supports for both attention and escape related behaviors connected to academic skill deficits.

    Two very good resources for the Behavior Education Program are:

    Crone, D. A., Hawken, L. S., & Horner, R. H. (2010). Responding to problem behaviors in schools: The behavior Education Program (2nd Ed). The Guilford Press.

    The Behavior Education Program: A Check-n, Check-Out Intervention for Students at Risk [DVD] by Leanne S. Hawken and Hollie Pettersson.

    While Amy Campbell’s presentation on the Behavior Education Program is more high school focused, I think it provides valuable information that can work well for the middle school level.

    Michigan’s Integrated Behavior and Learning Support Initiative’s website also provides useful resources on Tier 2.  

    A more tertiary related intervention program is Futures Planning as developed by Dr. JoAnne Malloy at the University of New Hampshire.

    It is very important to make sure the interventions that are selected are based on the purpose of the behavior (e.g., function, escape, avoid). The resources I have started using for understanding the function of behavior are:
    Chandler, L. K., & Dahlquist, C. M. (2010). Functional assessment: Strategies to prevent and remediate challenging behavior in school settings (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

    Dunlap, G., Iovannone, R., Kincaid, D., Wilson, K., Christiansen, K., Strain, P., & English, C. (2010). Prevent-teach-reinforce: The School-based model of individualized positive behavior support. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes
    I have found these resources to include very practical functional assessment tools and research based interventions. These interventions are linked to the functions of behavior as identified in the book.

    Can parents object to the recommendation for behavioral screenings and have their children excluded from such screening assessments? Can a parent refuse RtI services for behavior support?

    Responses from Steve Goodman, Ph.D., Co-Director, Michigan's Integrated Behavior and Learning Support Initiative:

    These are excellent questions, however, I would like to preface my answer by saying I am not an expert in school law or regulations. Given my lack of knowledge in these issues, I would not be able to say legally the answers to both questions below. However, from a programming issue, there are several thoughts that I might provide.

    In Michigan, we have looked at behavioral screener(s) as a way to match student supports to student needs. This is different from using the screener for identification around Special Education eligibility. The use of behavioral screener to adjust the educational program to better meet the student needs is similar to the use of classroom or district academic assessments, when teachers use this information to adjust the academic curriculum.

    I would want to understand why a parent would want to refuse RtI services for behavior support. Our approach to behavior support is that all students should be provided with educational/social behavior program that enables the student to be successful within the school setting with preparation for career or college readiness. If the parent is concerned about identifying students for exclusion from general education curriculum or from social interaction with peers, then addressing this issue is differentce from a concern that the student does not need behavior support.

    I would try to make sure that the behavior RtI focuses on the following main points:

    • All students can benefit from schoolwide positive behavior support that promotes a culture of competence by shared expectations, experiences and language
    • There is an emphasis on successful student outcomes with monitoring of progress and responsive supports based on amount of progress
    • Intensity of interventions areon based on student need, the greater the need, the more intense the intervention

    I would also hope that parents are viewed as partners within the school's RtI program rather than excluded in the collaboration process.

    It is important to better understand the reason why there is parental concern around the use of the behavioral screener. Once this concern is identified, a response should be provided that addresses the specific concern.

    For the purposes of determining data decision rules for individualized positive behavior support, how are "chronic" and "intense" behaviors defined? Under what circumstances, if any, would a student with "chronic" behavior qualify for individualized...

    ...support without first receiving Tier 2 intervention and therefore the data decision rules would apply for advancing a tier?

    Response from Steve Goodman, Co-Director, Michigan’s Behavior and Learning Support Initiative: I consider chronic behavior problems as those that have a defining feature of being repeated or reoccurring over a period time. In other words, the behavior has persisted for a while.

    The difference I see with intensive behavior is that it is identified along two features- Frequency and/or Severity.  A high frequency problem behavior may certainly be considered intensive when it significantly impacts the individual's quality of life or learning environment. Additionally, a low frequency problem behavior may also be considered intensive when the behavior is severe enough to be illegal, or has the potential to cause significant harm to self or others or produce significant property damage.

    When providing programming for students, I believe we need to gather enough information to be confident that we can create effective and appropriate interventions to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our students.  Given this consideration, I believe that there are situations where the behavior places a student at risk to self or others that expedite movement to a Tier 3   intervention. Even though we may consider intensive interventions without testing to see if a Tier  2 program might work, we still need to gather specific information on the variables that contribute to the occurrence of problem behavior (e.g., functional assessment). This is done to develop an intervention with higher probability of being successful.

    What are the guidelines for parent permission on behavioral screenings. I am aware that permission is needed for mental health screenings and for screenings given directly to children, but what about screening measures that ask teachers to report...

    ...briefly on individual student behavior?

    Response from Hank Bohanon: When office discipline referrals (ORDs) are used for screening, they are typically a part of the normal routine of the school. Sometimes, other data are used in conjunction with ORDs to "screen" for problem behavior (e.g., attendance, tardy, suspensions). I have not seen schools ask for permission when using data that are typically a part of the functioning of the school for screening purposes. In other cases when a risk/protective factors survey is used, school boards have needed to provide approval before the assessment was conducted. In this way, representatives of the school community have input into the process.  In best practice, parents are notified about the process for tiers of assessment and intervention and are allowed to provide input at local school council meetings, etc. I would suggest always working with the school administrators who should be aware of the policies of the district.

    Response from Robert Volpe, Ph.D, Professor of Psychology, Northeastern University: It is important to differentiate pre-referral assessments from assessments for eligibility determination. In regard to the latter, the law and ethical guidelines are clear that one should seek parental consent, although IDEA does identify some cases where parental consent is not needed. With regard to behavioral screenings, this falls into the realm of pre-referral assessment. Here the Child Find component of IDEA must be considered. According to Part C of IDEA states are required to identify students with disabilities. Since the screening you are asking about is pre-referral and not used for eligibility determination, I don't believe that informed consent is necessary. That said, it is important to note that screening measures should never be used for diagnosis because they were not designed for that purpose. In fact, I would say that any decisions about the child that might be made based on screening results are best done in collaboration with parents.

    National drop-out rates are outrageous throughout the nation. What programs actually work and can be replicated and implemented for under-served students, especially in impoverished urban and rural areas?

    Response from Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: There are no programs per se that work at reducing the drop-out rate but there are several strategies that are showing results.  The first question we should ask is "Why is it that there are several secondary schools across the country that serve "high need" students but have low dropout rates?" Invariably what we find when we look at these schools are:  
    • early intervention strategies for kids in trouble
    • pro-active mentoring programs so that at risk students are connected to caring adults who provide guidance and advice
    • academic support strategies that help students who come to high school with low skills and/or over-age
    • community partnerships to connect kids to jobs, internships and opportunities that help them to set clear future goals
      Following are two references for additional reading on this topic:   Barth, P., Haycock, K., Jackson, H., Mora, K., Ruiz, P., Robinson, S., & Wilkins, A. (Eds). (1999). Dispelling the myth: High poverty schools exceeding expectations. Washington, DC: Education Trust.   Bryk, A. & Schneider, B.  (2002). Trust in schools: A core resource for improvement. New York: Russell Sage.

    What are the legal issues we should consider, including parental consent, when exploring options for universal screenings for behavior/emotional problems?

    Response from Mary Beth Klotz, Ph.D.: IDEA 2004 states that the screening of a student by a teacher or specialist to determine appropriate instructional strategies for curriculum implementation shall not be considered to be an evaluation for eligibility for special education and related services (Sec.614(a)(1)(E)). Universal screening of all students for the purpose of planning behavioral strategies therefore would not require parent consent. It is always best practice, however, to keep parents informed and involved with important school initiatives, programs, and assessments. Parental involvement is considered an essential component to successful RTI implementation. It is critical that parents are provided with information about universal screenings, the instruction and interventions used, the staff members delivering the instruction, the academic or behavioral goals for their child, and their child’s progress. It is also important to keep in mind that some school districts have policies requiring parental notice and informed consent for screenings. Similarly, some commercial screening tools recommend parental notice and informed consent as well. In both these instances, parental notice and informed consent should be obtained.   Also of consideration for the team to discuss before selecting options for universal screeners for behavior/emotional problems is how intrusive the tool may be in terms of requiring personal information. There are sources of data that are routinely collected that are less intrusive and do not require parental consent such as attendance records, discipline referrals, and suspensions. It is also recommended that parents are included on the decision-making team that selects universal screening tools.

    If a student is exhibiting behavior problems in school such as losing assignments, trouble staying on task, disruptive behavior, etc. how should I approach this problem using the RTI framework?

    Response from George Sugai, Ph.D.: First, remember that RtI is not itself an intervention. RtI is a problem solving framework that emphasizes the use of current student data to guide selection of an evidence-based practice that can be implemented with high fidelity or accuracy. Regular evaluation of student responsiveness to an intervention is conducted to determine if an intervention should be continued, adapted, or replaced.

    Second, RtI relies on the careful use of DATA to narrow what a student needs to learn/do (OUTCOME). After an outcome is delineated, a tested intervention (PRACTICES) that has been shown to be effective in producing the desired outcome should be selected. Most importantly, implementers must have the SUPPORTS to be fluent and accurate implementers of the intervention. Even the best intervention will not be effective if not implemented with fidelity or not aligned with what the student needs to learn.

    Third, whether we are looking at whole school, entire classrooms, or individual students, the above RtI considerations must be in place so that we (a) understand what the student is doing and why, (b) match the best evidence-based intervention to what we learn from this assessment, and (c) arrange the implementation environment and prepare the intervention implementers so that intervention will be implemented with accuracy, durability, relevance, and efficiency. This last consideration may be one of the most important.

    Finally, the above can not be done by an individual, but should be done by a team that has family participation, behavioral expertise, and good implementers. So, it is difficult to suggest specific interventions or practices for any one student by only looking at the student's label or diagnosis, or behavior types in isolation of the context or environments in which those behaviors are observed and not observed. From an RtI perspective, it is important to remember that the more non-responsive a student's behavior is, the more intensive and adult supervised the intervention must be. Thus, peer-based and self-management strategies would generally be expected to be less effective, unless adult supports are continued.

    Are there lists of research-based interventions for secondary and tertiary levels of both Response to Intervention (RTI) and Positive Behavior Support (PBS)?

    Response from George Sugai, Ph.D.: RTI is a larger problem solving framework for improving decision making based on student responsiveness to intervention for both academic and social behavior. On the behavior side of RTI, positive behavior support provides an organizational structure for establishing a continuum of behavioral interventions for all students. Before discussing secondary/tertiary tier interventions, evidence-based school-wide and classroom-wide primary interventions must be implemented with fidelity and for all students. Thus, if we have not implemented primary tier interventions with accuracy and consistency, discussing secondary/tertiary tier interventions is difficult.   If we can confirm that primary tier interventions are in place, the research-based secondary/tertiary interventions are considered based on (a) data on the student's non-responsiveness (i.e., problem behavior and context) and (b) type of interventions. With regard to the latter, two general types of interventions are considered. First, are published/manualized school-based interventions (e.g., First Step to Success, Steps to Respect, Skillstreaming, Think Time, Good Behavior Game, Behavior Education Program, Check and Connect, Check In-Check Out). Second, are behaviorally based practices (e.g., functional behavioral interventions and behavior support planning, behavioral contracting, targeted social skills instruction, positive reinforcement, differential reinforcement, cognitive behavioral counseling, self-management training, peer-based behavior management).   In PBS, the impact of the above practices are only as good as the systems supports, for example, (a) match between student need and the intervention, (b) fidelity of implementation, (c) intervention fluency of the implementers, (d) consistency and comprehensiveness of the implementation across settings and implementers, and (e) timeliness of data-based decision making.   For additional information, see my article, School-Wide Positive Behavior Support and Response to Intervention and visit the National Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavior Interventions and Support Web site.

    How do I get unmotivated students to perform? I work with grades 4-6 on reading fluency/comprehension interventions and I truly believe that they are so worried about their peer impression of them that they resist any help. They want to talk and play...

    ...around and waste so much time. I can get them to work but they don't progress significantly when I progress monitor them. We use repeated readings and short passages to practice comprehension skills. The do ok, however test horribly. They do not do well independently. Could you offer me some suggestions?

    Response from Hank Bohanon, Ph.D.: One option would be to reward their behavior extrinsically. Also, sometimes you can use behavioral momentum. You have them start by talking about topic of high interest and then move into your request for a less preferred activity (get them to say “yes” to something several times before you give the reading request). Also, I would try to have your flexible group meet where other students cannot observe their reading. When given the choice between looking "bad" or "dumb" most people choose the latter — I can do something about being bad, but it is not cool to be perceived as unintelligent. Another suggestion would be to see what they are doing when they are off task—if you find they are talking about cars, sports, etc., find content that is preferred and incorporate this into your lesson (make sure it is on their level). You can do a quick readability scan in Microsoft Word when you check options under grammar and spelling. You also can see about functional outcomes for these students. What is something they would like to do that could be produced by improved reading—perhaps it is creating a project, building a model, or talking with the group about a personal hobby? They might need to gain more facts or would want to share a story they have written. The point is to have a functional outcome for the reading. Finally, offer a choice (within an approved range of not more than two or three) regarding the location of the reading, and/or the content. Sometimes the ability to make a choice will increase active participation.

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    Diversity and Disproportionality

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    How does Response to Intervention (RTI) affect English language learner (ELL) students who are already receiving ELL pull-out supports? Are we still providing Tier 2 interventions in addition to the ELL class?

    Response from Claudia Rinaldi, Ph.D., Assistant Director of the Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative, Education Development Center:

    RTI, when implemented with high fidelity, has the potential to positively impact the outcomes for ELLs with and without disabilities. However, in a recent study conducted for the state of Massachusetts, ELL administrators and special education administrators reported that ESL teachers and administrators were rarely included in the RTI teams or in common planning time in their schools. They additionally reported that there is much confusion about which services should be provided to an ELL with disabilities, where those services should be provided, and how to capture this in the individualized education program (IEP). ESL supports are part of the core Tier 1 curriculum, so one important consideration is to include the ESL teacher in core Tier 1 curriculum planning, screening, data-driven intervention planning and delivery, and progress monitoring.

    Another critical consideration for serving ELLs with and without disabilities in schools implementing RTI is how the school’s RTI teams can be leveraged to increase collaboration and data-driven instructional planning and progress monitoring for all students, including ELLs with disabilities. The following recommendations can help teachers working with ELLs with disabilities in schools implementing an RTI model:

  • Ensure that school- and grade-level (and cross grade-level) RTI teams meet weekly and that they have representation from regular education, special education, and ESL teachers and para professionals as feasible.  

  • Ensure that RTI teams discuss Tier 1 core instruction and adaptations and strategies that differentiate instruction appropriately for ELLs with and without disabilities. It is recommended at this stage that teams adopt a fidelity checklist for core Tier 1 instruction.

  • Once Tier 1 core curriculum planning is happening within collaborative structures and with fidelity, options for tiered interventions should be outlined and discussed. Have the discussions emphasize some key aspect, such as matching the intervention to a progress-monitoring tool; identifying screening and progress monitoring options for grade level and instructional level; planning the frequency, duration, and intensity options; determining how to ensure delivery by the most qualified professional; and evaluating feasibility.

  • Develop and implement an efficient meeting protocol so that the teams can discuss various students who are in need of tiered interventions.

  • When discussing an ELL with disabilities, ensure that the student’s teachers bring Tier 1/grade level progress-monitoring data, that the special education teacher bring instructional level progress-monitoring data, and that the ESL teacher bring progress-monitoring data on English language proficiency (data would have been predetermined in the initial universal screening and data-driven process for this student).

  • Think out of the box on how to capitalize on staff with training in at least two of the areas (regular and special education, special education and ESL, or regular education and ESL). Reorganization of these professionals is critical in an RTI model in order to capitalize on services and expertise for addressing the instruction and intervention for these students.

  • Create schedules that support staff (i.e., staff who can push in and out and have multiple areas of expertise). For example, a school can adopt a staggered literacy block or ESL block where support personnel can move from hour to hour, or the school can adopt an enrichment and intervention block where you can provide the ESL teacher with the time for intervention.

  • Implement a data calendar schoolwide to support discussion on screenings and progress-monitoring cycles.

  • Adopt a data-driven problem solving cycle.

  • Organize a schoolwide data work meeting where the school can set unique goals for the entire community of students as well as specific goals for groups or subgroups of students who may be doing poorly (i.e., ELLs at Tiers 1 and 2 with identified disabilities).

  • Work with agencies across the nation specializing in providing training and technical assistance to develop professional development sessions that address how to support ELLs specifically at each tier.

  • There are various challenges still ahead on the actual progress monitoring of English language development levels for these students, but many school districts are developing informal tools that follow their standards-based assessments. The key is to closely monitor gains in each English language development level by using task analysis of the expected skills in each level of proficiency. Task analysis is a typical practice used in special education that identifies the outcomes skills and then breaks down the skills a student must complete in order to identify where the breakdown in learning is occurring. Collaboration between special education and ESL teachers will be critical in developing a checklist that may serve as a tool in the process of developing a monthly or weekly progress-monitoring schedule.

    The goal should be to ensure that the team’s level of collaboration is high so that students can get Tier 1, 2, and 3 supports as needed by the most trained professional and that the entire team feels a responsibility for the outcome of all students and, in particular, for ELLs with disabilities.

    How does the RTI model support students in a Dual Immersion Program? In which language should students be receiving support? Should interventions be provided is their native language if the subject is only being taught in that student’s second language?

    Response from Amy Galicia, Ph.D. Candidate, School of Education, University of Colorado at Boulder: Dual Language programs actually have an advantage over traditional English schools because they can and do provide support in students’ primary language (L1). Tier 1 Universal Instruction is a key component in a Dual Language Program, not only because it is in the students' first language for part of the time, but also because instruction must meet the needs of all students regardless of their levels of language proficiency. The universal instruction in Dual Language is/should be delivered in such a way to allow for growth in content and language - no matter the language of instruction. Tier 1 instruction should be the very first thing that is addressed in the RTI model, and often it is overlooked in many schools and programs. All too often we move to interventions without first examining what we can do at Tier 1.

    Nevertheless, the RTI model of support suggests that there will be students who will need targeted and intense levels of support even with solid Tier 1 instruction. If that is the case, then this is where the advantage of Dual Language shines even more.

    In true Dual Language programs, students are learning literacy in primary language (L1)and secondary language (L2) in the form of English as a Second Language and the target language – most often Spanish as a Second Language  (SSL). In addition, content in math, science and social studies are taught in both languages – the delivery varies among models – meaning one week in English, the next in Spanish for example. Regardless if the model is 90-10 or 50-50, support for literacy or math can be provided in the child's L1 and/or L2. When extra support is needed, the tough question is "In which language should the intervention be provided?" 

    The best piece of advice that I can offer in deciding how best to meet a student’s needs is to first answer this critical question: What about the curriculum, instruction, interaction between students, and the learning environment can we alter so that the child will learn better? Many struggles that students have can be addressed by simply starting with this question.

    When it comes to interventions for emerging bilingual students in a Dual Language program, I try not to make general statements about emerging bilingual students because this is a very diverse group of students. What one student needs usually is very different from what another student needs. However, generally speaking, if a student is struggling and needs a targeted or intense level of support in literacy or numeracy, often it is a benefit to the student to have the intervention in the students' first language. That is - if that is what the student needs.

    How do we determine what the student needs? It is critical to study deeply the linguistic history of the individual student and make decisions from there. How old is the student? What grade? What is the root cause of the issue? What does literacy instruction look like for the student?  How long has the student been learning literacy in L1? L2? How many siblings? Older? Younger? What does language look like in the home? Is it a bilingual home? What did language look like in the home from birth to Kindergarten? Etc. The linguistic history and language proficiency data can help us determine the answer to the following question: How do we know that the issue stems from the first language and is not about English Language Acquisition? Addressing this question will help in the creation of the intervention.

    It is important to gather data on both languages to help determine the root cause of the issue being seen. Examining the progress of acquiring English over time and comparing it to literacy in L1 (and numeracy data if the concern is mathematical) helps in this analysis. Once an analysis of the linguistic history has been done, the problem solving team - which includes parents - can determine what the intervention looks like - including what is the language of the intervention. More often than not, in Dual Language programs, these teams are able to provide support in the child's L1, whereas in traditional settings, this is not a possibility.

    So to answer this question, "In which language should students be receiving support?" The answer is "It depends..." but generally, if there is a concern, Dual Language programs can decipher between language acquisition and struggles in L1. I would venture to say, if the struggle is in acquiring English (L2), much could be done at Tier 1 within the regular classroom.  If the struggle stems from L1 - then what is the cause? Be specific and targeted in the plan. For example, in reading - is the issue comprehension? phonics? In math, is it number sense? patterns? problem solving? Determining the cause helps determine the goals for the plan and the details which include the frequency, intensity and duration of the intervention.

    "Should that support be taught in their native language if the subject is only being taught in that student’s second language?" This question strikes me as a curious one if it is about Dual Language. Dual Language means that all subjects are taught at some point in the child's first language and in the target language, so I'm not sure I understand how this could happen in Dual Language. The only thing I can think of is in a 90-10 model and the student is a native English speaker immersed in the target language in Kindergarten or First grade. If that is the case, I recommend determining the root cause in the area of concern. If the struggles stem from the student’s L1, provide the intervention in the L1. If the root cause is language acquisition - look at Tier 1 instruction. 

    One other important aspect of RTI and Dual Language is the unique characteristic of extended/expanded learning opportunities for students who are talented and gifted. Dual Language can challenge students in their L1 and L2. RTI is not just for students who struggle in the traditional sense, but who also need a push to go further. Problem solving teams can make advanced learning plans too.

    Can you provide examples or research on implementing RtI in Dual Language Immersion Schools?

    Response from Claudia Rinaldi, Ph.D., Senior Associate, Education Development Center: Boston Public Schools (BPS) is starting to implement RTI and PBIS in their schools, including their schools with two-way Dual Language Spanish English Programs. Since there is very limited research on RTI and dual language programs, BPS is using what we know works and applying best research RTI practices to the dual language schools.

    One of the dual language schools where RTI and PBIS are being implemented is a K-8 urban school with 325 students. While the student population is overwhelmingly Hispanic (making up 66.5% of the student body), it also includes African American (17.5%), Caucasian (12.6%), Asian American (1.2%) students. 16.9% of the students are also in special education.

    Below is a description of how we are implementing RTI and PBIS at this particular school:

    • Phase 1– We have begun by providing professional development on Response to Intervention and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support. The school has selected to focus on reading as part of the initiative.
    • Phase 2– The school has conducted universal screening of reading skills for all K-2 grades students using DIBELS and TRC in Spanish and English.
    • Phase 3– Follow-up professional development has focused on understanding the data by looking at class level tiered breakdown in the dominant language and in the non dominant language for each group and are beginning to have conversations about what is CORE reading instruction in both English and Spanish and discussing their similarities and differences. For example, the data in this particular school showed that 90% of English dominant students in Kindergarten scored at benchmark on letter naming fluency and about 72% of these students scored at benchmark on phoneme segmentation. 67% of the Spanish dominant students, however, scored at benchmark in Spanish letter naming and 85% of these students scored at benchmark on Spanish phoneme segmentation. These results have triggered a conversation about teaching reading in each language and the skills we expect the students to have in each language by the end of the year. These results have also guided, instruction planning and intervention to address language skills appropriately. The case was different for other grades, like in 1st grade where there was a clear observation from data (DIBELS and TRC) that the difficulties of students are more specific in comprehension and vocabulary. In fact one of the teachers said “It’s like they got all the rules but the connected text has no meaning— they have no prior knowledge... We need to work on building background knowledge through vocabulary- we need to emphasize this in CORE”
    • Phase 4– This step is happening the week of October 18, 2010 and will engage teachers in deciding what assessment system they will use and what cut scores or tiering system they will use. In other words, teachers feel they would like to use DIBELS but also TRC before making a decision on who needs tiered intervention and in what kind of combination: phonemic awareness, decoding, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary. The administration in the school is mobilizing resources, personnel and other, to maximize support as the teachers address each student’s need.
    • Phase 5– This step will help the school organize common planning time by grade level to develop data-driven problem solving protocols to plan for students needing tier 2 and tier 3 interventions and support. Teachers will assist in developing a list of students that need tier 2 and tier 3 intervention and will create a 4-6 week cycle of progress monitoring with key details on language of instruction, intervention, service delivery, integrity/fidelity check and assessment. Lastly, teachers will begin capturing the fidelity of the CORE and coordinating and collaborating while beginning the implementation of tiered interventions in the next few weeks.
    • Phase 6– This step will develop appropriate research-based interventions and professional development for teachers to begin implementation of tiered instruction in small groups for students needing tier 2 interventions and one-to-one for students needing tiered 3 interventions.

    What happens to non-struggling students during an intervention block?

    Response from Thomas P. Komp: If you are fortunate enough to have an intervention block within your master schedule, then you also have the opportunity to service all students using this RTI model. Here is an example of how we use the intervention block for all students.

    During our Intervention Block (30 minutes 5x per week, per grade level) our struggling students are taken out of each classroom by our Reading Specialists and regrouped to meet their educational needs. Our Strategic and On-Track students remain with their classroom teacher. The Strategic students, those who are not quite in need of intervention, are provided re-teaching opportunities based on the Core program. The On-Track students, those who are doing well academically, are provided extension opportunities and enrichment.

    In the past we have accomplished this re-teaching/enrichment model for Strategic/On-Track students different ways:

    Because we have common intervention time for the grade level, we have the opportunity to switch students to different classrooms with each classroom teacher providing either the re-teaching or the extension activities. We utilize the expertise of our classroom teachers to form these groups.

    If you choose to keep all students within their own classroom during this time period, an alternating model also works. For example, some years we have used a 3/2 model. 3X a week the strategic students will receive direct re-teaching by the classroom teacher while the On-Track student are doing independent enrichment activities. The other 2X a week the On-Track students receive direct enrichment instruction while the Strategic students utilize independent activities/practice.

    Does the RTI framework address students who are considered gifted?

    Response from Sheldon Horowitz, Ed.D.: RTI is not just about looking for kids who are struggling. RTI is about ALL kids and helping educators understand and address their learning and behavioral needs in an effective, time sensitive and standards-appropriate manner. An initial screening could reveal to a classroom teacher that a group of students was ready to be accelerated in the presentation of academic content and/or it was appropriate to offer enrichment opportunities that would enable them to deepen proficiencies and expand skills and content knowledge. This is RTI at its best! The same goes for students who were at expected entry levels of content mastery and those for whom prior skill development and ‘readiness’ might pose obstacles to instruction and learning.

    As we begin to implement the RTI framework, we are wondering how or if the Student Services Team (SST) or Child Support Team (CST) paperwork that already exists should come into play...

    ...Should Student Support/Child Study teams be suspended entirely in light of this new model or is there an effective way to integrate the two?

    Response from Matthew Burns, Ph.D.: This is a great question. Student Support Teams (SST) and Child Study Teams (CST) are commonly used in schools today. They both were developed from the problem-solving team (PST) framework in which educational professionals conduct in-depth problem analysis for a student’s difficulty and develop individualized interventions. However, very few SST/CSTs actually function as a PST. Most do not solve problems. Most SST/CSTs function more like a pre-referral team than a PST. Here are a few behaviors that indicate your team is a pre-referral team rather than a PST: if you require 30 minutes per student, but 25 of those minutes are spent discussing the problem and 5 are spent brainstorming solutions, if the referring teacher spends the entire time making his or her case that the student should be "tested," or if the primary question that the team answers is whether or not the student should be referred for a special education eligibility evaluation rather than how to help the student. If the SST/CST functions as a pre-referral team, then my experience suggests that you fold the team, wait a short period of time, and reconvene a PST with new forms and additional training. I have a chapter in Best Practices for School Psychology [(5th Edition.), Eds. Thomas, A. & Grimes, J.] that could be used for study groups on the issue. If the SST/CST does function as a PST, then by all means fold the paperwork etc. into the RTI model by convening about students for whom the Tier 2 intervention was not successful. Thus, PSTs should help develop the Tier 3 interventions and decisions about referring students to the PST should be made with Tier 2 progress monitoring data.   There is one more factor to consider. Some SST/CSTs are actually pre-referral teams by design. In other words, it could be that the designated function of the SST/CST is to determine if a student should be evaluated for special education eligibility. This team could also play a role in the RTI framework. Students for whom a Tier 3 intervention was not successful, or for whom the intervention was successful but too intense to be delivered without the support of special education, could be referred by the grade-level team to the SST/CST and that group could decide if and what additional data are needed. In this case, then integrating the SST/CST model and paperwork would be fairly straightforward, except you likely would have to add an "If" option to the types of data needed. However, a PST is still needed within Tier 3 to develop interventions and the progress monitoring plan.

    What should we do if we feel that the fidelity of instruction was compromised in one of the tiers of intervention?

    Response from George Noell, Ph.D.: Develop a plan to directly assess implementation. Carry out that plan with observations or physical products (e.g., self-monitoring cards, fact practice sheets, etc.) and share the objective data with the provider.  Discuss problems and provide feedback. Until implementation is at a high level there is no purpose in proceeding. Without solid implementation, RTI is a process lacking in substance.   For a model of how to measure implementation and provide feedback you might consult:   Noell, G. H., Witt, J. C., Slider, N. J., Connell, J. E., Gatti, S. L., Williams, K. L., Koenig, J. L., Resetar, J. L., & Duhon, G. J. (2005).  Treatment implementation following behavioral consultation in schools:  A comparison of three follow-up strategies.  School Psychology Review, 34, 87-106.   For some thoughts on the fundamental ethical and moral role of plan implementation to RTI you might look at:   Noell, G. H., & Gansle, K. A. (2006).  Assuring the form has substance:  Treatment plan implementation as the foundation of assessing response to intervention.  Assessment for Effective Intervention, 32, 32-39.

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    Tiered Instruction and Intervention - General Questions

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    Our middle school is in its first year of implementation. There is a daily period built into the schedule for students to receive needed interventions. Students not needing interventions are assigned to an enrichment group. To begin the school year our...

    ...team developed novel study activities for these groups. We have been receiving some push back from students, parents and teachers as to why the students have to do the activities and why should they do them if it doesn't count for a grade. We would like the grade level teams to take ownership of the types of activities the enrichment groups do during this time. We want the students and teachers to find the activities interesting and applicable to real world situations. Can you provide some suggestions as to what types of activities school provide for the enrichment students? Also, if there is information as to whether these activities should be counted for a grade.

    Response from Susan K. Johnsen, Ph.D., Baylor University:
    The teachers in your school appear to be attempting to think of ways of providing for individual differences in reading. However, I can understand why they are receiving push back from students, parents, and teachers. They perceive the “enrichment groups” as additional work and not related to students’ interests or even grades.

    I would suggest that the grade level teams consider differentiating the core content (Tier I activities) for their students during the normal English language arts periods and then use the enrichment times for extensions of interest-related projects. To accomplish this task, teachers may need some professional development in how to identify students’ interests, find books that will challenge students’ current reading levels, integrate technology into classroom reading activities, and provide opportunities for creativity.

    For example, students that have already mastered basic skills in spelling or writing might substitute books of interest to them that offer depth and complexity. These books could relate to similar themes as books being read by other students in the class who are below grade level to facilitate the opportunity for whole-class discussion of similar themes across books.

    They might use technology to access Web sites of authors, to read challenging books online, and to interact with advanced readers from other schools using literature circle discussion strategies.

    Individual students or students with similar knowledge and interests might work together in pairs or in small groups and be engaged in critical reading and analysis, advanced vocabulary development, and comparison of themes across fiction and nonfiction.

    Independent studies of sufficient depth and challenge might also be used to encourage students to work in areas of personal interest and challenge.

    They might complete different creative products and participate in alternative writing assignments. Technology might be used to create concept maps, technological products, stories and even books.

    The enrichment time might then be used as extensions of the core content—particularly as students find their interests and are eager to develop more complex products.

    Grades should be used to determine whether or not the students have met the standards for their grade level. Grades should not be used to evaluate above-level content or students’ interests. Using grades in this way can discourage students from pursuing more complex work or work related to interests.

    My school is planning a 30-minute “RTI TIME” this fall with ALL children receiving “RTI TIME”/Interventions in small groups during this block. The information I have on the subject say the 30 minute block is not what we are to do and that RTI is truly...

    ...for those who are not proficient or learning at the desired rate. While Talented and Gifted (TAG) kids can also benefit from challenge/enrichment interventions, 80% of the students in my classroom really don't NEED any interventions. What are your thoughts on this specific subject?

    Response from Mary Ruth Coleman, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: You are correct that 30 minutes of “RtI” is not the optimal way to approach the needs of students, be the needs for more support to reach learning goals, or for more enrichment to extend learning goals. RtI, or Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), should be systemic approaches to the school’s ability to respond to the dynamic strengths and needs of students. The best models are in operation through-out the school day, across all the school’s services, and take place in all school settings as needed. This may sound impossible, but what it really means is that RtI is a mindset about how we work with students, not just a way of organizing services. RtI is not a “30 minute a day fix”; it is a process of continuously monitoring, with data, how students are progressing so that we, as a team, can work together to make school optimal.

    Having said all of that, let’s also get real! A school can choose to implement some Tier 2 and 3 interventions for targeted groups of learners during a specific period of the day, which may be a “30 minute Intervention Block.” During that time the school would focus on matching supports and enhancements with specific student strengths and needs. The benefits of setting a time of day for this include: (1) faculty and staff can be assigned to work in their area of strengths (e.g., some may offer targeted support for reading while others may offer enrichment for students with an interest and strength in history); (2) Resources can be combined for greater efficiency (e.g. books and materials can be assigned to the appropriate groups of students for intervention); and (3) The size of the student group can vary depending on the instructional needs of the students. To do this well, student groups must be formed based on data showing strengths, needs, and interests; teachers must collaborate on designing and delivering the interventions (both supports and enhancements); and the process must be both flexible and dynamic. Flexible in that specific interventions will change as the strengths and needs of the students change. Dynamic in that supports and enhancements are driven by data.

    The 80% of students who do not “need” intervention could always use some extra enrichment, interest-based projects, time to read books of choice, or opportunities to explore career seminars, etc.

    So, if we are looking at high-quality teaching and learning with differentiated instruction as a Tier 1 foundation, then we can look at a dynamic and flexible delivery of Tier 2 and 3 supports and enhancements that include – but are not limited to – a 30 minute a day period where teachers and students are re-grouped around strengths and needs. To keep this working the “interventions” would need to be reassessed periodically (maybe every 3 weeks) and the student assignments to interventions would need to be very dynamic (changing as their strengths, needs, and interests change). Without these features, a “30 minute a day fix” could easily become static. It could also become an excuse for not addressing strengths and needs throughout the school day, “Oh, we take care of that from 10:30-11:00!”

    Bottom-line: it is not the 30 minutes at day that is the problem, it is how they will be used and what will be happen the rest of the day!

    I have been teaching for 16 years and have been moved to the position as the Instructional Support Teacher in two elementary buildings. We are slowly implementing RTI as best we can in all of our schools. There has been some controversy as to whether...

    ... Reading Recovery would be considered a Tier 2 or Tier 3 intervention for first grade students. There are some that say it should be a Tier 2 intervention because children that are chosen may not necessarily have gotten any other interventions first. In other words these children have gone from the core Curriculum (Tier 1) and been chosen using the specific assessment data associated with Reading Recovery. Others say that since it is the most intense Reading intervention we have for a child - they have the child 1 on 1 for a set amount of time daily - and the child is progressed monitored often throughout the time the child is in the program, that Reading Recovery should be considered a Tier 3 intervention. What do you think?  

    Response from Carol Connor, Professor, Department of Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences, Florida State University:

    Dr. Stephanie Al Otaiba and I have just completed a randomized control study that shows that we get stronger student outcomes when children are assigned immediately to the tiered intervention that their scores would suggest is appropriate — that is, children with the greatest difficulties go immediately to Tier 3 and we don't waste time with Tier 2 — compared to traditional RTI. Because of its intensity, I would consider Reading Recovery a Tier 3 and would not worry whether children had received Tier 2 or not — if Reading Recovery is what they need, then I would enroll them.

    I am a kindergarten teacher in St. Lucie County, Florida. This will be the third year using RTI with our students. How long should an RTI lesson last for 5 or 6 year olds? ...

    ... How many days a week should students attend an RTI lesson? Is there a “law” stating that they need to attend a 30 minute lesson 5 days a week? 30 minutes is a lifetime for a kindergartener! Kindergarten is so different from 1st through 5th grade.

    Response from Lydia Carlis:

    Response to Intervention (RTI) was introduced as an IDEA-approved process for identification of specific learning disabilities (IDEA, 2004).  Key principles of RTI include: (a) recognizing children’s strengths and needs through systematic screening and frequent progress monitoring; (b) using multiple tiers of research-based interventions; and (c) problem-solving with parents and educators to aid in decision-making (Horowitz, 2006).  While more commonly known as a tool to prevent the over-identification of minorities and ELLs in special education during later years of formal schooling, NAEYC and the National Center for Learning Disabilities endorse RTI for preschoolers (Recognition & Response, n.d.). 

    Three factors often analyzed in intervention research are intensity, duration, and frequency (Jimerson, Burns & VanDerHeyden, 2007).  Based on your question, it seems you are struggling with duration, or how long an individual lesson should last, and frequency, or how often students should receive the intervention. Unfortunately, I have not found any hard rules on length of intervention lesson plans or frequency of interventions, though there are standard protocol intervention programs that prescribe both frequency and duration for teachers.  Examples are Success for All or Ladders to Literacy. Academic intervention research I have read typically does implement a frequency of at least 3 lessons or sessions per week.

    You are right that teachers planning individual lessons within an RTI model should take into account younger children's ability or lack of ability to attend to instruction for long periods of time. When thinking about the length of any individual core or supplemental lesson plan, a variety of factors should be considered.  First, teachers should ensure the lesson objectives are tied to the identified needs of the students.  Next, all learning activities within that lesson should tie directly back to the learning objectives.  Teachers should also be sure to include targeted opportunities to assess student's understanding throughout the lesson, and plans should be flexible enough to adequately respond to any misunderstandings.

    Children differ on a variety of characteristics such as culture, ethnicity, language background, etc.  These differences may impact their readiness levels, interests and preferred learning modalities. Another important consideration then, especially for a lesson plan that might last 30 minutes, is to address diverse learning preferences by incorporating a mixture of visual, audio, and kinesthetic learning opportunities. Differentiating based on modalities asks teachers to understand their students’ learning preferences.  There are three overarching learning modalities, or ways we can process information – visual (sight), auditory (sound) and kinesthetic (movement).
    As much as possible, teachers should try to address learning objectives through each of the three major learning modalities to ensure children have multiple opportunities to learn and demonstrate their learning (Tomlinson, 2001). In this way, teachers 'break up' the lesson into manageable chunks, and the natural transitions that occur between activities within a lesson offer the opportunity to reengage learners and focus their attention back to the learning objectives. 

    Finally, a key part of the word activities is 'active' - children should have lots of opportunities during a lesson to be active!  A 30-minute lesson where the student has to sit and listen to a teacher talk with limited opportunities to actively engage in learning would be a lifetime for the kindergartner, or for the grown-up responding to this question (smile)! 

    Here are a few examples of how a teacher might include active learning that addresses the three learning styles in a developmentally appropriate 30-minute vocabulary intervention lesson:

    • Visual
      • teach students sign language to accompany vocabulary (primarily visual if receptive; primarily kinesthetic if expressive); or
      • use pictures or photographs to illustrate concepts of words; or
      • use class-sized graphic organizer to classify or compare words
    • Auditory
      • work with students to create a story, song or rhyme integrating vocabulary (can include visual if you transcribe and/or use pictorial supports for key words and review writing or pictures as part of instruction)
      • Listen to existing story or song using vocabulary
    • Kinesthetic
      • have students practice vocabulary using a movement game like Vocabulary Chairs or Vocabulary Hopscotch (also visual); or
      • have students create representations of vocabulary via drawings or 3-dimensional objects.

    In summary, children who need additional, targeted support to master skills or concepts likely do need multiple exposures to the content each week (frequency). Though individual sessions may vary in length (duration), all lessons should include principles of high quality lesson plans. Finally, lessons should incorporate multiple modalities to ensure students are engaged and learning. Have fun teaching and your students will be much more likely to enjoy learning!

    If a child is being serviced for Tier 3 and monitored as such, shouldn't the interventions in Tier 2 still be taking place for that child and also be monitored? Would that be an overlap of progress monitoring in both tiers, or should different aspects...

    ... of learning be addressed within the two tiers between the 2 teachers? Should the Tier 2 interventions continue to be monitored, to determine if the interventions being executed in Tier 2 work? I am torn at the thought of having too much monitoring and not enough teaching. Please share what it should look like for Tier 3 students while they are in the classroom receiving Tier 2 interventions while also being pulled out for their Tier 3 interventions.

    Response by Lauren Campsen, Prinicipal, Ocean View Elementary School:  Each tier of intervention is always in addition to the lower tiers.  Current research is very consistent in finding that what is most effective for lower performing students is more time in high quality direct teacher instruction.  Substituting one instructional lesson for another lesson does not provide more time.  If students are not proficient after receiving high quality research based differentiated instruction in the core Tier 1 classroom, we must provide an additional Tier 2 second dose of direct teacher instruction in a small group setting. If progress monitoring demonstrates that a student is still not proficient, then a Tier 3 third dose of more intensive one on one instruction is added at least three times a week so that the student is receiving three reading (or math) lessons each day.  Progress monitoring is critical at all three tiers to identify students who are not responding to the instruction or interventions and may need to be referred for possible special needs.  In addition, we must use our progress monitoring to determine the effectiveness of our intervention program and the instructional strategies we select to implement during this direct instruction..

    Our school district is looking to decrease the reading specialist staff by almost half. Isn't it crucial that reading intervention be provided by specially trained experts, especially for students reading 2+ years below grade level?

    Response by Lauren Campsen, Principal, Ocean View Elementary School:  You are absolutely correct.   Reading Specialists are the best people to deliver reading intervention. However, ever increasing budget cuts are forcing school districts to make tough decisions about how to prioritize spending.  Most districts are opting to protect core (Tier 1) classroom instruction and cut support positions, even critical academic support positions like reading specials.  When these cuts come, we must begin to think outside the box to develop new intervention models.  In your case, I would make the following recommendation.  Expand the role of your remaining reading specialists to 1) provide training for classroom teachers in research based instructional strategies and differentiation to strengthen core instruction so that less students are in need of intensive support, 2) provide training to other staff members (administrators, media specialists, paraprofessionals, etc.) and even volunteers in some basic remediation strategies that they can use to support students who are reading moderately below grade, and 3) use their own instructional time to deliver intervention lessons the students who have the most critical needs.   No matter how great the cuts, student needs must still be met.  Everyone in the schoolhouse needs to take responsibility to be part of the solution.  Check out my blog posting, Saving RTI from the Budget Ax, which offers more detailed suggestions on dealing with funding cuts.

    I am wondering if there is any exit criteria for exiting kids out of RTI using AIMSweb. For example, we progress monitor the students once a week. If the student stays above their target line, as well as meets the next benchmark, a minimum of 5 times...

    ...is it ok to dismiss them from RTI services as long as we continue to Progress Monitor them for 2-3 more weeks?

    Response from Dawn Miller, Ph.D., Innovate Projects Facilitator, Shawnee Mission Public Schools:

    This is an important question and one that the Leadership Team should establish as part of their data decision rules. I'd like to make sure my response is contextualized properly. To me, RTI is a set of practices within a school improvement framework that is designed to meet each learners needs. This means that ALL students in the school are served within the RTI framework. That said, a student doesn't "exit RTI services," but rather may have their support change in response to their performance in a particular area. That change may represent a change in who serves them, the amount of time or frequency in support, the area of focus, or the materials being used to meet the need.  In my district, the data decision rules are similar to what you shared – we look at the last 3-4 consecutive data points. The rules, however, are applied in a problem-solving routine. If the data points are consistently above the aimline and in an area that indicates low risk, then the questions on the table include:

  • How has the student been performing during intervention time? Discuss within intervention progress monitoring data.
  • How has the student been performing during core reading time? Discuss differentiation during core.
  • Are the data indicating that a change is warranted?  If performance is consistently above, consider reducing or discontinuing current intervention and having the student supported during differentiated workshop.  If performance is consistently below, consider the intervention match with needs, time, frequency, or need to customize within the intervention and differentiate core.
  • I am a 3rd grade teacher and my RTI group is “struggling writers.” I have 18 students by myself with 45 minutes each morning. How can I best utilize this time? What would a 5 day schedule look like?

    Response from Linda Mason, Associate Professor of Education, The Pennsylvania State University:

    For a class of struggling writers, I would first recommend situating instruction within an evidenced-base approach, for example, Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) instruction.  SRSD includes teaching within six instructional stages for strategy acquisition (Develop prior knowledge, Discuss it, Memorize it, Model it, Guided Practice, and Independent Practice) and four self-regulation procedures (Goal setting, Self-instructions, Self-monitoring, and Self-reinforcement). For third grade struggling writers, teaching a simple planning strategy such as the seven-part story strategy
    W-W-W, What=2, How=2 (Who, When, Where, What does the main character do or want to do? What happens next? How does the story end? How do the characters feel?), is best.

    Self-Regulated Strategy Development 5-Day Lesson Sequence (PDF) provides an example of a five-day, 45 minutes-a-day, SRSD lesson sequence for teaching the W-W-W story planning strategy. It is important to note that SRSD is designed to be recursive rather than linear. In other words, strategy acquisition and self-regulation instruction are repeated and revisited as needed to support students’ learning.

    Response to Intervention (RTI) is a promising new measure through which learning disabilities can be identified. Students with academic delays are identified through a process of universal screening, and research-based interventions are offered at different tiers of intensity. Ongoing monitoring allows for adjustments to be made to interventions. If a student fails to respond significantly at the last tier of service, that student may be referred for either a formal special education evaluation or for formal special education services. RTI offers benefits for English language learners (ELLs) and other groups who have traditionally been overrepresented in special education as it provides services to students but does not identify them with specific learning disabilities (SLDs).

    Keywords At-risk Students; Curriculum Based Measures; Discrepancy Model; Early Identification; English Language Learners (ELL); Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 (IDEA); Intervention; Literacy; Local Education Agency; Psychoeducational Evaluation; Response to Intervention; Special Education; Specific Learning Disability (SLD)


    In 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was reauthorized as Public Law 108-466, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004), with new provisions that allowed local education agencies (LEAs) two options to meet the needs of an increasing population of students with learning disabilities (Lose, 2007). One option allows LEAs to use up to 15% of their special education budget to provide learning support to students struggling with the general education curriculum and to support professional development and literacy instruction. This option is referred to as Early Intervening Strategies (EIS). The second option is Response to Intervention (RTI), which allows LEAs to provide learning support to students at-risk for school failure without formally diagnosing a learning disability. RTI promotes the early identification of at-risk children. Intervention prior to referral for special education services allows agencies to assess if and how well a child responds to the intervening instruction (Lose, 2007). The goal of the new measure was to reduce the number of unnecessary referrals for formal special education service while providing academic and behavioral support to children at risk for failure. Students who may initially appear to be in need of special education services may in fact have limited English proficiency or inadequate instruction; RTI can help to limit the amount of unnecessary testing (Cortiella, 2006).

    According to Linan-Thompson, Cirino and Vaugh (2007), there has been an historic concern about the representation of English language learners (ELLs), students from ethnic minority groups and other subgroups of lower-performing students in special education (as cited in Donovan & Cross, 2002). These students are diagnosed with specific learning disabilities due to inappropriate or inadequate assessment and instruction and other factors related to the discrepancy between their achievement and ability are ignored (Linan-Thompson et al., 2007).

    A Multi-Step Process

    Response to Intervention (RTI), or Responsiveness to Intervention, is a research-based process implemented by schools to identify and support students experiencing difficulty with learning. RTI programs differ among schools in their design and delivery, however, most involve a multi-step process that includes screening, which is followed by more targeted interventions. The final step is intensive intervention and comprehensive evaluation. Progress at each stage is carefully monitored. Parents or teachers can move to have a child formally evaluated for special education services at any time during this process, and a child's inclusion in RTI programs cannot be used to delay or deny a formal evaluation if one is sought. In order to do this, the lowest performing children must be identified early so that appropriately intensive interventions and tiers of support can be provided within a comprehensive approach to literacy instruction at the first indication of the child's difficulty (Lose, 2007).

    Hilton (2007) describes a three-tiered system wherein the initial interventions are the responsibility of the classroom teacher and include data-proven practices to identify children in need of intervention. At the next tier of intervention, students who continued to under-perform despite tier one intervention receive data-based, research-supported intervention from professionals other than their classroom teacher. Progress is measured frequently to determine whether the student demonstrates any significant improvement in academic skills. If there is a continued failure to achieve, this can be interpreted as an indication of a specific learning disability and the assessments involved with a formal special education evaluation can be initiated (Hilton, 2007).

    Research-Based Intervention

    Of significant note is the idea that successful RTI, regardless of the model implemented, relies upon well-researched and data-proven interventions rather than random or trivial ideas. Haager, Calhoon and Linan-Thompson (2007) found that two issues are at the forefront of the implementation of RTI. One critical component is the employment of interventions that are validated by research, while the other is that only valid and reliable assessments are used to identify students at risk. According to Willis and Dumont (2006), historical information about the student should be included in any review of efficacy. Data regarding both informal and semiformal first-tier interventions and their outcomes are essential to the planning of deliberate and individualized second tier strategies (Willis & Dumont, 2006).

    Standardized testing of a student's ability and cognitive processing for the diagnosis of a specific learning disability and subsequent formal special education services remains important, though some states have developed tiered models of RTI that culminate in intensive problem-solving activities rather than assessment (Ofiesh, 2006). Accordingly, Ofiesh (2006) asserts "use of RTI without measures of ability or cognitive processing ultimately disregards the definition of SLD and distorts the construct in the same way aptitude-achievement discrepancy models did" (p. 3). In its simplest form, RTI only documents low achievement and not discrepancy. Ofiesh cautions that without formal pyschoeducational testing, any tiered model will only result in the identification of a varied group of students who are not academically successful and who failed to respond to intervention for any number of reasons, rather than the identification of those students with specific learning disabilities (Ofiesh, 2006).

    At its best, RTI will serve as a means to reduce the disproportionate number of minority students and English language learners in special education that has concerned those in the field (Haager, 2007). By identifying at risk students early in elementary school and providing intervening and support instruction, it is hoped that they will not continue to underachieve and will begin to perform at grade level (Linan-Thompson et al., 2007). According to Haager (2007), the reduction of the number of low-income ethnic minority students in special education programs would be to "improve the core elements of classroom instruction in the early grades" (p. 2).

    Another issue that RTI is designed to combat is the "wait-to-fail" model, in which a student in the regular curriculum is identified as needing special education services only after prolonged failure. Among the reasons that students who might be in need of service are not evaluated or placed in a timely manner are "subjectivity in teachers' referral of students, inaccuracy in assessment practices, and lack of consistency in the nature and quality of...instruction" (Gresham, 2002; Vaughn & Klingner, 2007 as cited in Haager, 2007, p. 1).

    Discrepancy Model of Defining SLD

    The current definition of a specific learning disability (SLD) is based upon a discrepancy model that emerged in the 1960s (Ofiesh, 2006; Linan-Thompson, et al., 200;, Hilton, 2007; Haager, 2007; Willis & Dumont, 2006). For over 40 years, this definition was based upon a general assumption that a child with learning disabilities had at least average, if not above-average intelligence and that there existed a discrepancy between the child's intelligence and the child's academic achievement (Ofiesh, 2006). The current IDEA definition of a specific learning disability has remained unchanged and is based upon the one adopted by Congress in 1968 and adopted into federal law in 1969 in the Learning Disabilities Act (Bender, 2004 as cited in Ofiesh, 2006). Ofiesh (2006) states

    The term 'specific learning disability' refers to a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include a learning problem which is primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage (p. 2).

    In an attempt to clarify the definition, new regulations were published in the Federal Register in 1977. They supported the discrepancy model and stated that in order to apply a diagnosis of a specific learning disability, evaluators must find that a student does not achieve at appropriate age and ability level in at least one specific area despite adequate learning experiences and that the student has a severe discrepancy...

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