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Education in America

Education in America: Response to What?

In response to my defenses of teachers and the American public education system, people often ask me, “Mona, so what are we doing to support these struggling students that we hear so much about?”

To this I answer, “RtI!”

All educators should be familiar with the term RtI by now, and I am sure that many parents have also heard it bandied about. Like many of the other education issues that we are focusing on here at Persephone Magazine, RtI is very complex and really deserves more than one post. However, I am going to try my best to condense it down.

RtI stands for Response to Intervention, and it is a government mandate aimed at helping students who are falling behind academically. RtI benefits both regular and special education. It is not solely a special education initiative; it is not simply another way to identify children for special education services. RtI belongs both to regular education and special education and focuses on all struggling students.

In the past, in order for a student to be diagnosed with a learning disability, said student needed to be functioning academically at a significantly lower level than their IQ. This was called the IQ discrepancy model, and I could go on at length about its drawbacks. Basically, a struggling student needed to fail before they would receive extra help (usually administered through the special education department), which gave rise to the nickname: the wait-to-fail model. Furthermore, under the IQ discrepancy model, there was a over-representation of minority students in special education.

Response to Intervention seeks to change this wait-to-fail model of service.

The philosophy behind RtI is to measure and respond to students’ outcomes throughout the year. RtI is made up of levels, or tiers, and all students begin in tier 1, which is the basic curriculum of the school. For about 80% of students, this basic curriculum should be enough in order for them to excel. However, for the other 20%, more intensive interventions are needed. 15% of students need tier 2 interventions, which are usually implemented in the classroom (however, they can be pull-out) and are not considered special education interventions. The remaining 5% of students will need tier 3 interventions, the most intensive. These interventions can be special education interventions but are not inherently so.

One of the best aspects of RtI is the fact that it helps out the “slow learner” that was not serviced by special education. Historically, these children were not considered to have a severe enough problem to warrant special education services and were then left to languish in the classroom trying to learn with all the other students and falling further and further behind. RtI identifies these children via universal screening assessments done three times a year. From the results of the universal screening, schools can identify those students who scored the lowest and decide, “Is there a problem warranting intervention?” and, “Is the core instruction effective?” If the answer to the first is yes, an intervention can be implemented. If for many students the answer to latter is no, the core instruction should be changed. Change happens right away, unlike the long periods of waiting for testing to be done, results to be computed, and meetings to be scheduled under the old model.

When implementing interventions in the classroom, teachers have to be flexible. Another reading group may need to be added, or a teacher may need to meet with some children more often. In the end, those 15% of students in tier 2 interventions are the responsibility of the teacher. However, the teachers have the vast resources of the school at large and the service team* when looking for ideas and research-based interventions on which to work with the students.

In many cases, only when a child is not responding to interventions (or responding at a very slow rate) will that child be considered for special education services.

Now, I know that I am going to get a lot of flack (particularly from current teachers) regarding my defense of RtI. Like so many other unfunded mandates, RtI is great in theory but lacks in logistical follow through. It has been left up to individual states, school districts, and even schools to create and implement their own versions of RtI. Some schools have taken the mandate and run with it! Others have avoided it and are now scrambling to put something together. Additionally, many schools are struggling with finding (and paying for) quality, research-based interventions.

I contend though, if implemented correctly, Response to Intervention can help teachers and schools reach all learners. One of the best ways to explain why the RtI is the best model for helping children is by stressing how the old model focused on the process, whereas RTI focuses on outcomes. By using the Response to Intervention model, all children will receive the help they need and we will leave no child behind.

*A traditional service team is made up of representatives from all areas of the school who meet regularly to brainstorm interventions and help teachers with struggling students. An example would be: a primary teacher, an intermediate teacher, an ELL teacher, a special education teacher, the school psychologist, and the principal.

7 replies on “Education in America: Response to What?”

I swear to god, the next person at my school to talk about RTI may get punched.

I’m a special education teacher and I have to fight gen-ed for everything that’s already written into their IEPs, but they’ll bend over backward for kids with RTI. It makes me so fucking angry. The things they’re doing for RTI kids are exactly what my sped kids need, so why can’t they include them? For fuck’s sake.

That’s my biggest fear with RtI, too. I was an intensive interventions specialist (meaning I worked with the kids with the greatest challenges) and I was constantly thwarted in my attempts to get my students some time in a gen ed setting. I think it’s a great idea in theory, but if it pushes my former students even further out of the gen ed loop, what will the long-term effects be for them?

I battled gen ed on everything, from getting classroom teachers to implement adaptations to allowing the modifications my students needed to even letting my students associate with their students at all. I was fortunate to eventually find a couple of really great gen ed teachers who were excited about including my kids and willing to do all they could to help, but those teachers were kind of like unicorns in my career.

I agree that the “wait to fail” model needs to be chucked. One of my biggest frustrations was SST-ing 3rd graders who were obviously struggling, only to find out they didn’t get testing in 1st or 2nd grade because the district was “waiting for a large discrepancy.” The result was a student so used to failing their self-confidence was rocked.

I tried a RtI model at my school as part of my Admin. Credentialing Masters project. It really can be great… if the schools let it. And that’s a BIG “if”. We’re talking a complete shift in thinking, increasing support staff, deemphasizing standardized test-prep sessions… all thing that cost money the districts are simply not willing to spend. (I’m of the school of thought that there is plenty of money for education in many states, it’s waste and fat paychecks at the top that short-change classroom funding. I used to do our schools budget for the O3 and O2 accounts. The amount of waste is staggering!)

Oh! I completely agree!
I worked at a school a few years ago who was implementing RtI before RtI existed. It was still a struggling school, but you couldn’t fault their interventions.
However, they were part of wealthy school district and had the money to pay for staff to carry out said interventions and programs.
My current school is making a valiant effort to implement RtI, however, many teachers are struggling with the mindset change.

This solution would have been really fascinating to see in practice when I was a student. We were always (as children) confused to see students we knew did not have distinguishing “developmental disabilities” or anything like that still placed in Special Education classes. The stigma for those students was harsh, indeed.

This is really interesting. I just got finished copyediting a book for a local school psychologist (message me if you want to know what it is!), and she actually mentioned this, though not by name. It’s a book for parents, teaching them how to be advocates for their children in the school system. She basically explains to parents how they can get their children’s teachers and schools to treat them individually if they need personal help. Very interesting!

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