This paper details the process of response-to-intervention (RTI) and its role in special education. The paper describes the four key components of – high-quality classroom instruction, ongoing student assessment, tiered instruction, and family involvement – and how they impact the identification of special education students. Also examined is how the structure of RTI can reduce the number of referrals for special education and limit the disproportionate representation of minorities who are placed in special education programs.
The Role of Response-to-Intervention in Special Education School districts, state governments, and the federal government have been focusing on improving student performance in public schools for many years. The average classroom contains students with a wide variety of ability levels. Developing instructional practices that are beneficial for every student, and not just the highest level learners, has always been a challenge in a diverse classroom.
A handful of initiatives had been put into place through local and federal government to improve academic performance, but not much had been done to identify and assess students with disabilities (RTI pdf site). Response to Intervention (RTI) is a model that has been introduced into schools over the last decade to ensure that students with additional learning needs are identified and supported at an early age (rti action network). The RTI model employs techniques that are student specific in an effort to increase academic achievement.
The RTI model is an effective tool to teach all students, identify students for special education services, and reduce the number of special education referrals through effective interventions. According to the PBIS website, RTI “grew from efforts to improve identification practices in special education” (2015). RTI has been used since the 1980’s as a way to identify students with specific learning disabilities (Hughes). In order for RTI to be effective in schools there are four main components that must be in place.
These mponents are – high quality classroom instruction, ongoing student assessment, tiered instruction, and parent involvement (RTI Network). High quality classroom instruction is crucial to RTI to ensure that student concerns cannot be attributed to poor instruction (RTI network). Instruction should be scientifically based, using the latest research and methods that have been proven to be effective in the classroom. Instruction should be differentiated for the diverse learners in the classroom.
The intensity of the work should meet the needs of the specific learner and be evidenced based (PBIS site). Higher level thinkers are tasked with the more difficult, less directed assignments, while the other students in the classroom work on assignments that are tailored to their ability levels. Students who fail to make adequate progress are put on interventions to supplement their education and improve their performance. Having highly qualified teachers in the classroom is an integral part of ensuring high quality instruction.
Most states have rigorous procedures in place to guarantee that the educators in the state are erudite in the content they teach and the pedagogical approaches used in the classroom. Students are routinely assessed as a means of monitoring progress. This progress monitoring provides information about a student’s level of achievement as well as the rate at which they are learning (RTI network). Data analysis is then performed to identify students who need to be more closely monitored. If necessary, students are then selected for appropriate interventions to assist with their education.
Monitoring is continued throughout the year so that multiple pieces of evidence can be collected in order to meet the instructional needs of the student (RTI network). Shapiro states that “the heart of any Response-to-Intervention model lies in the use of tiered instructional processes” (2015). The traditional RTI model consists of three tiers. There is a base tier (tier 1), a middle tier (tier 2), and the top tier (tier 3) (Special Education Guide). Tier 1 of the RTI model is referred to as “classroom instruction” according to Hughes (2015).
Three distinct elements make up tier 1 – a scientifically based core curriculum, screening and assessing of students at least three times per year, and professional development for teachers to ensure quality classroom instruction (Hughes). Approximately 80% of the student population falls into the category of tier 1 (special education guide). These students will be screened throughout the year in order to identify students who need additional instruction (RTI network). Methods used for screening are curriculum (or district) based measures and formative assessments (shenet).
If a student is not performing up to the expected standards, that student is deemed to be “at risk” and he or she will be given additional instructional support during the school day for a period of no more than 8 weeks (RTI network). Students who show adequate progress during the 8 week intervention return to regular tier 1 instruction, while those students who continue to struggle are moved to tier 2 of the RTI model. Secondary interventions, or tier 2 interventions, are more demanding because students are at greater risk than those in tier 1 (special education guide).
About 10% of learners are considered to be tier 2 (PBIS). Instruction in tier 2 is matched to the individual needs of the student (rti network). While students in tier 2 will continue to get high quality tier 1 instruction in the classroom, they will also receive additional instruction in a small group setting to supplement their education (RTI network). A tier 2 intervention should last between 9 and 30 weeks, with progress screening no less than once every two weeks (shenet. org).
Each intervention should last about 20-30 minutes with no less than three sessions per week (shenet). An intervention plan needs to meet certain criteria to be effective. The plan needs to have a specific goal that can be achieved through measurable objectives (PDF). If the objectives are not measureable then student performance cannot be accurately gauged. The intervention plan needs to be formulated as a response to inadequate performance on a particular assessment and there must be some indication as to what is the perceived cause of the problem (PDF).
The intervention must account for all forms, documentation, resources, and personnel that are necessary to effectively implement the plan (PDF). As progress is monitored the plan can be amended or changed as needed in order to maximize effectiveness (PDF). Students who fail to show sufficient progress during tier 2 interventions are then moved to tier 3. Tier 3 has the most intensive interventions of the three tiers (RTI network). In addition to whole class instruction, students in tier 3 are also instructed in individualized or small group settings.
Student progress is tracked and monitored no less than once per week (shenet). Tier 3 interventions should last at least 30 minutes and be administered more frequently than tier 2 interventions. This process should last between 15-20 weeks (shenet). If tier 3 interventions fail to work the student is then referred for an evaluation and considered for special education services (RTI network). In some RTI models special education students are considered tier 3 while other RTI models consider referral for special education to be a separate fourth tier (Shapiro).