ILLINOIS SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL
Response to Intervention: Meeting the needs of every student
by Nancy Mundschenk, Regina Foley and Melissa Bergstrom
Nancy Mundschenk and Regina Foley are faculty members at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. Melissa Bergstrom is on the faculty of Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. All are affiliated with an Illinois State Board of Education RtI initiative — Illinois ASPIRE (Alliance for School-based Problem-solving and Intervention Resources in Education).
Recent amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) have introduced Response to Intervention (RtI) as a means to improve instruction for all students and to improve the identification process for students with learning disabilities. That makes RtI an "every ed" initiative encompassing general education, special education, Title I education, gifted education, etc.
According to education researcher George Batsche, RtI is defined as "the practice of providing high-quality instruction and interventions matched to student need, monitoring progress frequently to make decisions about changes in instruction or goals, and applying child response data to important educational decisions." It reflects a proactive approach to serving all students and their families by matching the intensity of education resources to the level of students' education needs and rates of progress.
The system is designed to be proactive and preventative. All students are screened three times per year on scientifically based indicators of achievement. Students who are at-risk or demonstrate significant risk for not meeting standards are identified through the process so that additional instruction may begin immediately.
This is very different from the current system in which students must fail prior to receiving additional instructional support. Only then do teachers request additional support for individual students, creating a one-by-one process that not only requires a student to fail, but one that is time-consuming, ineffective and unreliable.
RtI is much more likely to meet students' immediate needs as well as be efficient, effective and reliable.
Why are we hearing so much about RtI?
Many of the basic principles of RtI have been around for years, with educators and policy makers using components to help guide educational decision-making. "RtI is simply another way of framing for us and our constituencies what is good educational practice," said one principal. "It means answering these questions regarding student performance: What are you doing? What are your results? Can you show me? What are you going to do next?"
Four changes in education policy and practice increased emphasis on the critical elements of RtI:
- Adequate yearly progress (AYP) as measured by state tests that apply to all students.
- IDEA and NCLB require that interventions must be "evidence based."
- Mounting evidence that shows research-based instruction and early intervention are more likely to work than current "wait until the student fails and then intervene" models.
- Authentic assessments and progress monitoring that document frequent changes in student achievement inform interventions most directly.
RtI focuses on outcomes and maximizing student achievement. It is all about student progress, regardless of where or who that student is. One elementary school rephrased RtI as "reaching them individually." Isn't that what all parents want for their children?
In addition, schools boards have long struggled with issues related to the responsible allocation of financial and staff resources within their districts. Reliance on gross measures of students' end-of- year performance may not provide the necessary information in a timely manner. School leaders need to rely on quality student performance data, available with an RtI model, to make decisions regarding resource allocations.
What performance data do we use?
A major component of RtI is a reliable and valid measurement system known as curriculum based measurement (CBM). More than 30 years of research by Stan Deno and others supports this system as valid tasks or "indicators" (e.g., reading fluency) to measure student progress and guide educational decision-making.
CBM has been used for a variety of purposes including academic screening and formative evaluation of student progress. For children in kindergarten through third grade, Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) has been shown to provide reliable and valid indicators of early literacy skills. DIBELS subtests include assessments, called "probes," that ask students to do things such as name the letters of the alphabet and the sounds they make, or read a short written passage quickly and accurately. These subtests have been shown to predict student success on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).
Two major assessment activities, universal screening and progress monitoring, are used within RtI. Universal screening assesses all students using the identified probes appropriate for their respective grade levels, and is conducted at least three times a year, usually in the fall, winter and spring. This assessment identifies students who are significantly deficient, students who are acquiring the skill, and students who are proficient in target skills, (e.g., reading fluently), by comparing their scores to established local, state or national benchmarks. Based on this information, students are determined to need additional intervention, continuation of current interventions or supplemental enrichment activities.
A second purpose of universal screening is to determine the adequacy of the core curriculum including content and instructional practices for meeting the academic and behavioral needs of all students. Policy considerations articulated by the National Association of State Directors of Special Education indicate that for the core curriculum to be a functional program, approximately 80 percent of the student population in each grade level meet identified benchmarks. When an individual grade level has less than 80 percent of students meeting established benchmarks, a core curriculum review is warranted to identify lacking components (e.g., lack of intensity of instruction for specific skills, fidelity of implementation).
Progress monitoring is an assessment procedure in which CBM probes are administered to students on a frequent schedule (e.g., monthly, weekly) to monitor changes in the level and rate of learning. The student's scores are plotted on a graph to determine whether the student is making adequate progress. Unlike standardized tests, CBM data are sensitive to small increments of change, making such data reliable and valid for decisions relative to curriculum, materials and/or instructional procedures, according to research by Lynn and Doug Fuchs at Vanderbilt University,
Under the RtI model, progress monitoring data are collected for students who have been identified as significantly deficient and are receiving additional instructional services to determine the effectiveness of the intervention for increasing the student's learning rate and/or level of performance necessary to meet identified outcomes.
How do we provide support to all students?
A second core component of RtI is a three-tier system of instructional support to decrease the likelihood students will fail.
With each tier, the intensity of the academic intervention increases. This increase in intensity comes through systematic, explicit and teacher-centered instruction; more frequent instruction; intensive instruction for longer periods of time; small group instruction for students working on the same skill; and/or highly skilled specialists (such as Title I teachers) delivering instruction.
Tier 1 instruction is provided to all students in the context of the general education classroom with scientifically validated curriculum shown to be effective through student achievement gains. Effective teachers at the Tier 1 level design instruction to meet a broad range of student needs by matching students' prerequisite skills with academic content and using effective instructional strategies. This may include enrichment activities for those students doing well.
Tier 2 instructional supports are targeted, short-term interventions, provided in addition to the core Tier 1 program, to students identified through universal screening as not having met established benchmarks. They provide additional instructional support to students for whom the core curriculum is not fully addressing their academic needs. These interventions are typically delivered in small groups of three to six students.
For example, students receive an additional 30 to 40 minutes of extra practice on specific reading skills such as word reading or fluency building. Students are assessed frequently (e.g., twice per month) to monitor their learning rate and their level of performance to determine the effectiveness of the additional supports. Students who demonstrate adequate progress and meet benchmarks go back to Tier 1 instructional supports with progress monitoring.
Tier 3 instructional supports move to intensive, individualized interventions for students who did not make adequate progress with the Tier 2 intervention. Through individual diagnostic assessments, academic skills patterns are identified indicating a student's academic strengths and deficits.
For instance, a student may have limited alphabet knowledge or vocabulary development. Using data, educators can design effective instructional interventions to remediate the student's academic deficits. Tier 3 remediation programs include the supports provided in Tiers1 and 2 supplemented by intensive individualized intervention for an extended period of time (e.g., at least 60 minutes per day). The academic progress of students receiving Tier 3 supports is monitored frequently (e.g., one-two times per week) to determine learning rate and changes in level of performance.
Tier 3 services may or may not include special education services. For students who have a history of academic difficulties and have shown a need for intensive intervention, a multi-disciplinary evaluation may be warranted to determine the presence of a disability and whether or not there is a need for special education.
How do we change to RtI?
First, administrators will want to work with key stakeholders to develop a district RtI implementation plan. An important initial consideration is the review, adoption and implementation of a scientifically based data system that will drive most of the RtI process.
We recommend a screening and progress monitoring data system that can be used across all tiers and that meets standards outlined by the National Center on Student Progress Monitoring (e.g., AIMSweb or DIBELS) in order to determine an appropriate level of student support.
With the data system in operation, district leaders will have information regarding student performance and potential need for instructional changes. We recommend placing an emphasis on research-based core programs with high levels of professional development and implementation integrity. Also, it is necessary to consider Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction programs as defined by local student needs.
In addition to professional development on research-based instruction, district leaders should consider a plan for staff development on the RtI implementation process. Key implementers, including principals and data managers, should receive specialized professional development.
A final important consideration is the reallocation of resources based on students' instructional needs. One of the most valuable resources in education is the time of highly qualified educators. We recommend serious consideration of how to best use educators' time in order to increase the likelihood that all students will meet expectations.
To assist school boards in moving to an RtI model, materials and resources are available through Illinois ASPIRE (Alliance for School-based Problem-solving and Intervention Resources in Education, www.IllinoisASPIRE.org), a statewide initiative through the Illinois State Board of Education. The overarching goal of this initiative is to establish and implement a coordinated, regionalized system of personnel development that will increase the capacity of school systems to provide early intervening services to at-risk students and students with disabilities, as measured by improved student progress and performance.
Effecting meaningful change in school systems is not always easy. Presenting at a sales meeting, King Whitney Jr., president of Personnel Laboratory Inc., was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying: "Change has considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better."
The challenge for school boards will be to provide the requisite leadership necessary to undermine the fear of change and promote the confidence necessary to continue to make things better for all students.
G. Batsche, J. Elliott, J.L. Graden, J. Grimes, J.F. Kovaleski, D. Prasse, D. Reschly, J, Schrag, & W.D. Tilly, Response to intervention: Policy considerations and implementation, Alexandria, Virginia: National Association of State Directors of Special Education, 2006
W.D. Bursuck, & M. Damer, Reading instruction for students who are at risk or have disabilities, Boston: Pearson Allyn and Bacon, 2007
S.L. Deno, "Developments in curriculum-based measurement," Journal of Special Education, 2003
D. Fuchs & L.S. Fuchs, "Introduction to response to intervention: What, why, and how valid is it?" Reading Research Quarterly, 2006
D. Fuchs, D. Mock, P.L. Morgan, & C.L.Young, "Responsiveness to intervention: Definitions, evidence, and implications for the learning disabilities construct," Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 2003
P.M. Stecker, L.S. Fuchs, & D. Fuchs, "Using curriculum-based measurement to improve student achievement: Review of the research," Psychology in the Schools, 2007
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