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You might notice when reading about response to intervention (RTI) that different states and organizations may use different terms and structures. This is because although RTI was mentioned in IDEA 2004, it was not described; thus, both federal and state agencies are currently clarifying and testing new ideas that will eventually become the standard. In general, the RTI framework has three prevention levels or tiers, with interventions that are increasingly intense as you move from tier one (students at low risk for failure) to tier three (students at high risk). At every level, the RTI process has four basic components: screening, data-based decisions, highly qualified teachers and monitoring. Let’s look at how these four components work together within the RTI framework to help students.
At the beginning of each school year (or, in some schools, two or three times a year), students complete a universal screening tool, a test that can correctly identify students who are struggling with grade-level concepts or skills. Although this test is not the same everywhere, it is usually consistent across a school district and may be a copy of a state test. Regardless, this test should be easy to use and must be used consistently. Data that’s collected through universal screening tools is used to find the areas in which each student is weak and determine the student’s baseline, so that progress can be charted throughout the year. Scores that fall below the cut point alert the teacher to potentially at-risk students. Cut points, also called cut scores, are cutoff scores, usually selected by a district, that are used to determine whether or not a student needs additional testing or intervention.
Students scoring below the cut point may be given additional screening to see if they need intervention. This screening also determines how much and what kind of intervention the student needs. Through this additional evaluation, targeted to the areas of students’ weaknesses, the teacher has a chance to identify problems which could lead to failure. Even though universal screening tools are administered regularly, students can misread questions or mark down answers carelessly, both of which can result in lower scores and inaccurate data. In these cases, additional screening can save time and effort by preventing unnecessary interventions. This is also the case in the event that an inaccurate universal screening tool falsely identifies a student as being at risk.
After the teacher has given additional screening to the students falling below the cut point, he or she uses the collected data to determine the intensity and duration of the needed intervention. Making such data-based decisions about student learning is the second component of the RTI process. If the interventions are relatively minor and fall within tier one of the RTI framework, the general education teacher will often assign these interventions and work with the student; but, if the needed intervention is more intense (such as those that fall within in tier two or three of the RTI framework), the teacher will take the data to a RTI team, which consists of the teacher and other school personnel. This team will review the data and contact the parent; together, they will assign the student to appropriate interventions based on student data.
Some schools take the idea of the RTI team a step further and create a professional learning community (PLC) to review data, create needed interventions and make decisions, with the goal of helping students learn and achieve. While the exact definition of a PLC can vary from school to school, in general, the PLC serves the entire school and members collaborate to analyze data and support student learning. SEDL (formerly Southwest Educational Development Laboratory) cites five attributes of PLCs: supportive and shared leadership, collective creativity, shared values and vision, supportive conditions and shared personal practice.
Highly Qualified Teachers
The third component of the RTI process addresses the teachers responsible for carrying out each step. According to No Child Left Behind 2001, all teachers should be highly qualified. Highly qualified teachers (HQT) have proven proficiency in the subject they teach and are trained and skilled in helping students learn. Those who are highly qualified in special education are perceptive of cultural and linguistic differences, and they teach curriculum and use RTI interventions that have been researched for their effectiveness, such as small groups, graphic organizers, metaphors, summarizing, scaffolding instruction and cooperative learning. They monitor student response to RTI interventions and bring data to the RTI team so that timely decisions can be made.
In addition to these skills, HQT also create an orderly classroom climate by stating and posting school and classroom behavior rules. At the beginning of the year and periodically throughout the year, they instruct students on both sets of rules. They support and reinforce desired student behavior in accordance with their own behavior plans and any school-wide RTI behavior plans and keep student discipline records for the RTI team to use when making decisions.
Assessing, keeping accurate records and monitoring student progress as well as responsiveness to instruction and intervention constitute the fourth component of RTI. To do this, HQT use evidence-based assessments like state-developed tests and curriculum-based measurements (CBM), which are small, regular evaluations used to determine how well a student is learning in various subject areas.
CBM can involve checklists or oral questions which the teacher uses to gauge student understanding and skill in a particular curriculum. In addition to CMB, HQT use progress monitoring assessments, which are specific and can also evaluate how effectively the content was taught. Especially in tier two and tier three of the RTI framework, both progress monitoring assessment and CBM can be used to compare the expected rate of learning to the rate at which it’s actually taking place. Although the universal screening tool may sometimes be substituted for these assessments, CBM and progress monitoring assessments should be used most often in the classroom to give students the greatest shot at academic success.