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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Response to Intervention - Tiers without Tears

The National Center for Learning Disabilities

January 25, 2014

Schools across the nation are working hard to ensure that all students are provided the best possible educational experiences during their pre-K through grade 12 years, and in doing so, are faced with enormous challenges.

Even without taking into account such variables as the many dozens of language spoken by students and families and the impact of economic hardship, schools need to be increasingly effective in ensuring that all of their students, including those with learning disabilities (LD) and other obstacles to learning, have the best opportunities to succeed during their school, and be college- and career-ready upon graduation.

It's no surprise, therefore, that greater numbers of schools are embracing Response to Intervention (RTI) approaches all the time. Read on to learn why, and visit the RTI Action Network to discover common myths about RTI implementation.

Organizing Instruction in Tiers

While there is no single, sure-fire RTI model, schools that embrace this type of approach share some common features:
  • All students receive high-quality instruction in general education settings.
  • To the greatest extent possible, all instruction is evidence-based.
  • General education professionals and other teaching staff share active roles in student instruction and in collecting data on student performance.
  • All students are screened to establish an academic and behavioral baseline and to identify struggling learners who need additional support.
  • Student progress is monitored across the curriculum (not just in isolated skill areas).
  • Student progress monitoring is ongoing (not just one assessment or snapshot of scores at a particular point in time).
  • The RTI approach is most effective when documentation of effort and outcomes are seamlessly integrated into school-wide practice.

How does this approach play out in school settings? Successful implementation of an RTI approach to helping students includes at least these three essential components:
  • Multiple tiers of intervention (the most common number of tiers described in the literature is 3 but some models include 4 or more)
  • A well-defined, step-by-step method of problem-solving and trouble-shooting to identify precisely where students are experiencing frustration and failure
  • A procedure for collecting data that allows for prompt decision-making about what to do next to accelerate students' learning.
Multiple Tiers: A Step-by-Step Approach to Problem Solving

Imagine for a moment that every time you drive your car you hear a strange sound coming from under the hood. You're a responsible car owner and you check the tires, change the oil, and go for regular inspections. What steps might you take to identify and alleviate this problem?

Surely you wouldn't ignore the problem, neither would you rush to a highly specialized mechanic and demand that extensive (and expensive) diagnostics be run on the engine. Most likely you would think about when the problem was first noticed, be very clear about when it happened and what effect it has on the car's functioning, ask friends and colleagues whether they had any thoughts or recommendations, and systematically try to discover the cause and ways to fix the problem.

Along the way, you might call upon the expert mechanic to give you feedback and advice, and if all efforts fail, you might hand your keys over to this expert to take charge of the problem-solving process.

Now drive your imagination into the school building or classroom. Without too much difficulty, it's easy to see how a similar approach could be applied to the "tiers" of intervention we refer to in an RTI model.

Tier 1 Core instruction (80-100% of all students)

  • Tries to prevent failure and optimize learning by offering the most effective instruction possible to the greatest number of students
  • Takes place in a regular education setting and is, for the most part, whole class (scientifically based) instruction that produces good results for most students
  • Involves all students

Tier 2 Supplemental instruction (15-20% of all students)
  • Tries to address instructional challenges that could be contributing to individual students' learning difficulties
  • Takes place in a regular or special education setting; features instruction to small groups of students; some students might need more support than others, but most students will respond quickly and make good progress
  • Involves students who experienced difficulties with Tier 1 instruction

Tier 3 (5-15% of all students)
  • Tries to accelerate learning for students who need more intensive help and who are lacking effective strategies for learning
  • Addresses students' individual learning and behavioral needs through intensive and highly focused, intentional, research-based instruction targeting specific needs
  • Takes place in a general education or special education setting, with small groups of students or with 1:1 attention
  • Involves students who did not respond to Tier 2 intervention

Students who did not respond to Tier 3 intervention undergo more formal evaluation to determine eligibility for special education services.

“How does special education fit into a tiered instructional model?” is always a question that occurs within RTI models. Different models have placed special education in different ways within the process. In some models, Tier 3 is defined as special education. This level of intensity is typically for children who have not been responsive to the Tier 2 level of instruction and, therefore, are considered in need of more individualized instructional delivery consistent with individualized education programs (IEPs).

Some RTI models contain three tiers of instructional intensity, as described above, prior to special education, where special education is viewed as 'Tier 4.' In other models, however, special education is not considered a separate tier. Instead, special education is viewed as a service delivery model that is integrated within the tier of instruction matched to the student's skill needs” (“Tiered Instruction and Intervention in a Response-to-Intervention Model”).

Features of Successful RTI Approaches

At each of the tiers in an RTI model, educators and school leaders must make some important decisions about how to ensure that students will benefit and achieve success. Parents should work in close partnership with school personnel to help define the specific types of instruction and related services and supports that will help their child. And, parents should be familiar with this list of important questions:
  • Has the school adopted a school-wide (or district-wide) curriculum and is the chosen program consistent with current research-based practices?
  • How much time is devoted to individual, small group or whole class instruction?
  • How will teachers learn about and gain proficiency in the use of research-based instructional teaching tools and methodologies?
  • What kinds of ongoing professional development and teacher support is provided to ensure that students make (and sustain) progress?
  • What professional resources (i.e., psychologist, special educator, speech-language pathologist, reading specialist) are needed (and available) to contribute to student progress?
  • How will student progress be assessed (i.e., mastery of skills, rate of learning) and monitored over time? And how will these data be shared among faculty and with parents and students themselves?

Answering these questions is essential to creating an effective RTI model of instruction and support for all students, including those with learning disabilities.

 Download a FREE e-book: “Parent’s Guide to RTI”

For More Information

The heart of any RTI model lies in the use of tiered instruction and in the specific types of instruction delivered to students that address the nature and severity of their specific difficulties. Visit NCLD's RTI Action Network for a detailed explanation of the multi-tiered instructional component of RTI.

The IRIS Center is an excellent resource for learning more about RTI and the types of research-based instructional practices that have been proven effective for all students.

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