A New R in School – RTI

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

Tommy is struggling to learn how to read while Sally does not seem to understand how to do math. Tommy and Sally’s parents know their children are struggling but don’t know where to turn to get the help that their children seem to need.

What most parents don’t know is that there has been a major change in the way that schools try to help struggling students catch up. Though the actual interventions used have not changed, the process by which they are done has changed.

This process can be summarized by the initials RTI which stands for Response to Intervention. RTI is a system that aims to ensure all students receive academic interventions when a student is just starting to struggle rather than when she is already failing. This means that help for reading will start as early as pre-school and kindergarten rather than waiting until the child is failing in 3rd grade.

RTI is often shown as a pyramid made up of three tiers. Tier 1 is general instruction for students and is where all students start in RTI. Students are typically tested three times per year to make sure they are keeping up with their classmates. Some districts, like Madison County, use MAP testing as their way of monitoring student progress. These tests provide a snapshot of what skill the student has mastered, what they are currently working on, and what they will be learning next. It is a terrific tool for teachers and allows them to tailor instruction to each child’s needs. These results can also be very helpful for parents. At your next parent-teacher conference, ask the teacher to lead you through your child’s MAP scores.

Thanks to Tier 1 monitoring, schools are now more aware of students that are not making the progress they need to on their reading, writing, and math. In these cases, students will be moved up to Tier 2 which focuses on small group instruction. Programs like Read 180 are considered Tier 2 interventions. In this tier, students’ progress will be monitored more frequently to make sure the intervention is working. For many students, the Tier 2 interventions work and they get caught up with their classmates. Once the students get caught up, they go back down into Tier 1.

Unfortunately, a few will continue to struggle. At this point more intensive interventions such as one-on-one instruction may be necessary. In addition, various academic specialists begin to help the student. Progress is now monitored on a weekly basis to ensure the student is making progress. If all of these efforts fail to get the student caught up to grade level, a referral for special education may be necessary.

All schools have been mandated to use the RTI system though most parents have not heard of it. If your child is having academic difficulties in school, ask if they are implementing RTI and what interventions are being tried.

This article was published in the Richmond Register Health Beat Magazine in March 2012.

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