At the first of this school year I was asked to be on a committee to study R.T.I. and come up with an implementation plan for our school system. Quite frankly, I wasn’t thrilled to be on the committee because it meant I would miss working with my students for a day each month when the committee met. Plus, anytime a teacher is part of a committee or attends any type of inservice, then that teacher is responsible for bringing back information to the school or providing training on the topic. Simply put, it meant more work for me. However, R.T.I. is a topic of interest to me, and I wanted to learn more. So I said yes.
The committee consists of principals, reading specialists, teachers, tech coaches, curriculum specialists and others. It has been an interesting ride. We already have two schools that use the R.T.I. model, and more will follow suit next year. By the following year, it will likely be system policy - especially since it appears that it will become state/national policy.
Since I’m the only representative from my school and only one of two reading specialists on the committee, I’m frequently asked for information about R.T.I. and what’s in store for us in the coming year(s). So I’ve developed what I call a “quick and dirty” primer on R.T.I. By necessity, this primer leaves out a LOT of information. However, it hits the highlights for anyone who isn’t sure what R.T.I. is and what it could mean to a school or school system.
The purpose of R.T.I. (Response To Intervention - or as our school system has decided we prefer, Response To Instruction) is to identify struggling learners as early as possible in order to put interventions in place to help the learner get up to speed. Previously we used the “discrepancy” model which meant that a child must have a wide enough discrepancy between his/her ability and his/her performance before official intervention (i.e. special ed) could take place. The R.T.I. models holds that the earlier children are identified and interventions are in place, the fewer children will fall through the cracks, and the fewer children will end up in special education.
Of course, even in the discrepancy model, educators don’t always wait until that required level of discrepancy is reached before making interventions. Good teachers recognize when a child is struggling, and they make sure that the child receives the interventions needed as soon as possible. Teachers seek help from teacher assistants, parent helpers, curriculum specialists and others who might be able to provide the needed help.
R.T.I. can be configured in many ways. We have decided on the three tier model. Tier One consists of interventions that the classroom teacher will implement within the classroom. Tier Two might include utilizing the reading specialist, other special area teachers, parent helpers and/or teacher assistants to work with the child on specific areas of need. Tier Three would mostly consist of referring the child to Student Support Services (aka Special Education).
How do we decide which students need intervention? This is done as result of a universal screening, which is one of the main components of the R.T.I. model. A universal screening is given to all children regularly to monitor their progress. A helpful metaphor is that a universal screening is a thermometer. It shows that there’s a temperature - something is wrong - but it doesn’t inform us about what is wrong or what is needed to get better. When a child has a temperature, then we use our knowledge and other assessments and strategies to make him/her well.
In our school system, we’ve chosen AIMWEB as our universal screening. We selected it over DIBELS and others because it has reading, math and spelling components. It is also cost effective when compared to other screening tools.
That’s it in a nutshell - just hitting the high points with enormous amounts of information missing. However, if you’re interested in learning more, you’re in luck because there is an abundance of other information available on the topic. Our school system has found two books that have been helpful to us. One is No Quick Fix and the other is The RTI Guide: Developing and Implementing a Model in Your Schools:
If you search R.T.I. at Amazon, you’ll find dozens of books on the topic. You can also Google it and find good information online.