Response to Intervention

Is Response to Intervention Really Different?

by Dr. Jan Hasbrouck

Jan HasbrouckThis article is an excerpt from a new book by Dr. Jan Hasbrouck entitled Educators as Physicians, Using RTI Data for Effective Decision-Making: Training Manual, published by Gibson Hasbrouck & Associates.
pointer Contact Gibson Hasbrouck & Associates to order the book.

Across the country more and more states are moving toward a process called Response to Intervention (or RTI) as a newer and, many hope, a better way to address the needs of students who are struggling with academics, behavior, or both.

While at this point in time many educators have heard of RTI, there remains a great deal of confusion about what RTI actually is. RTI can be defined as a process in which a student's response to appropriate, high-quality, evidence-based instruction and intervention is documented across tiered levels of services. It is equally important to understand what RTI is not. It is not a curriculum to be purchased, an instructional program to adopt, a specific strategy to implement, or an intervention to try. Rather, RTI is a flexible, responsive framework for the delivery of academic and behavioral services in schools with a goal of preventing academic failure and reducing the numbers of students who may be inappropriately determined to have a learning disability. Because it is not a rigidly defined process, RTI implementations will appropriately look different from state to state and district to district. There will even likely be some differences from one classroom to the next. However, across ALL implementations, RTI must include some foundational elements in order for it to be effective. These elements include the following:

1. High quality instruction in the classroom

The essential base for RTI implementation involves having every classroom teacher effectively provide high quality instruction that: (a) has been designed to address clearly identified academic standards, (b) is informed by the results of appropriate assessments, and (c) is differentiated to meet the individual needs of students. Excellence in core, standards-based classroom instruction is the key to RTI success, and without this in place, the RTI process cannot be used as part of the process to identify students with LD (Fuchs & Deshler, 2007). RTI implementations should focus first on excellence in classroom instruction.

2. Frequent assessments

RTI requires that professional educators make frequent and often high-stakes decisions about students' education. For effective RTI implementation, it is essential these decisions be based on more than just a teacher's "cardiac assessment": "In my heart, I know what is right for this student." Instead, professional educators must select and administer appropriate assessments: Benchmark/screening Assessments (such as Read Naturally's Benchmark Assessor Live); Diagnostic Assessments (such as the Quick Phonics Screener—QPS) and Progress Monitoring Assessments (such as the Reading Fluency Progress MonitorRFPM). Then educators need to have systems in place to actually utilize the obtained data to inform their professional decision-making.

3. Immediate and appropriate instructional response

Educators are no longer required to wait and watch as their students fall further and further behind before appropriate services can be provided. Effective RTI systems seek to prevent students from "falling between the cracks" by providing appropriate services to struggling students as soon as needs are identified. It is also important to remember that effective RTI services begin by providing the least intensive level of intervention as possible and continuing only as long as necessary.

4. Involve parents and caregivers

Effective RTI implementation involves parents and caregivers in the process of providing support for all students. Families must be involved in the RTI decisions that affect their children in order to provide the best learning opportunities in school, at home, and in community settings. Collaboration—across home and school and across various school-based programs—represents another vital condition for RTI success.

Is RTI Really Different?

Some educators, upon hearing descriptions of multi-tiered RTI frameworks, have responded cynically. "Oh, I get it. Here we go again (*sigh*). We, educators just LOVE fads and riding bandwagons along the cutting edge. RTI is just a new code for what we've always done in schools! Tier 1 is the new code word for the "classroom." Tier 2 is a fancy new term for "supplementary remedial programs" such as Title 1. And now we're going to call special education Tier 3. Nothing is new—only the labels have been changed. Ha! (accompanied by sardonic laughter)."

While it is understandable that some of our professional colleagues would respond skeptically to RTI (I happen to agree that educators are indeed far too fond of being the cutting edge, riding bandwagons and embracing unproven fads!), it is a mistake to think of RTI as just a renaming of "business as usual". While there are some surface similarities, there are at least a couple of fundamental differences.

First of all, the current process of serving students who struggle academically involves a complex, time-consuming, and often expensive process of testing, qualifying, and placing students into programs. A well-functioning RTI framework, on the other hand, is able to immediately respond to students' identified needs. Using RTI we don't need to wait and watch a student struggle until they "fail"; instead, we take action right away to early indications of academic need. This is of course far more effective because, as is the case with any problem, if we catch it early it is often much easier to solve. In fact, good RTI implementations have mechanisms in place that actively look for students who might need assistance (especially Tier 2 assistance so that a minor need for instructional support of a particular skill does not become a serious deficiency down the line). Such proactive measures help prevent students from falling into those all-too-well-known cracks in schools.

Secondly, rather than a process that places qualified (and only qualified) students into programs (i.e., "put this student into special ed"), RTI is a needs-based, service delivery model. Students receive the services they need, not just the ones for which they qualify. Furthermore, students receive additional services only for as long as they need them, avoiding perpetual labels, stereo-typing, and extra expense of time and resources. A well-designed RTI system is more efficient and effective both in identifying students' needs for services and tailoring those services to address students' needs. Students can move into and out of Tier 2, for example, based on their academic or behavioral performance over a relatively short period of time. For this reason, it is more accurate to say that: "This student is receiving Tier 2 services," than "This is a Tier 2 student," or "He is in Tier 2 (as if indefinitely)." These represent subtle but important semantic differences. Moreover, they represent significant differences in practice.

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