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An Educator's Guide to RTI and Funding: Part II

Thursday, September 3, 2015 -- Winnie O'Leary

Last week, we introduced a very complex topic—developing and funding an RTI program. We discussed the need to design a thorough program blueprint before determining funding sources and we introduced two sets of questions to consider that are hugely helpful in the design process.  You were also given homework. So, now it’s time to discuss.  Let’s take a deeper look at the first set of questions regarding the interventions your program will put in place and see if your answers match common language.

Reviewing these questions will give you the specific knowledge needed to identify the best potential funding buckets. It will also help you start thinking about the inevitable challenges that will come with implementing your program, as well as what success will look like.

1. What universal screening tool will be used to assess all students?

In the RTI world, a universal screener is the first step in identifying students who might be in need of additional instruction or who are at risk of experiencing learning difficulties. As this article from the School Psychology Review explains, your universal screener is the tool that will help you recognize which students are struggling to learn when provided with a standard, scientific, evidence-based general education. In his paper Candidate measures for screening at-risk students, University of Washington College of Education Professor Joseph Jenkins explains that this screening assessment is typically conducted three times per school year: in the fall, winter, and spring. It usually consists of brief assessments focused on target skills (e.g., phonological awareness), that are highly predictive of future outcomes. 

For example, students can be given the NWEA™ Measure of Academic Progress© (MAP) assessment to pinpoint gaps in their knowledge and skill deficiencies. With data from that assessment, teachers can identify individual students’ specific skill gaps and then tailor their teaching, using online and traditional pen-and-paper interventions. These interventions can support the class as a whole, as well as small groups of students with similar deficiencies. A tool such as Study Island, which can generate an individualized learning path for each student based on NWEA MAP results, could be leveraged to differentiate instruction and provide instructors with additional data to monitor student progress.

2. For the core instruction provided to all of your students, do you have a strong scope and sequence in place? Is it research-based, and does it make pedagogical sense?

When developing a tiered approach, all students will be participating in core instruction. What exactly does this core curriculum look like for your school or district? Consider the specific standards and graduation requirements in place in your state which students will be assessed against. Be sure that the core curriculum you use has rigorous, research-based instructional methods and your instruction happens in both whole-class and small-group formats.

3. For those students who are struggling with elements of the core instruction, what interventions will be put in place? What will be considered Tier II, and what will be considered Tier III interventions?

When students are not meeting expectations set by your core curriculum, as evidenced by data collected with your universal screening tool, what Tier II instructional practices will be used to bring them back up to pace? How long will this intervention be instituted, and how will you monitor students’ progress within the intervention? At what point will the interventions be increased and provided through Tier III intervention? How will those services differ from Tier II interventions, and what more in-depth strategies will be used to monitor student progress and differentiate instruction more intensely?

The overarching idea is to continue instruction in a way that is providing support for the students. With that in mind, the goal should always be to maintain forward motion in all students’ understanding and adjust to different instructional strategies when progress for any student is halted. All of this must be recognizable and defendable with data.

4. What determines when interventions will be instituted, and what are the criteria for students to receive Tier II or Tier III interventions? What course of action will be followed if interventions do not work?

The answer to this question is all about creating measurable milestones and cutoff points to determine eligibility, continuation, and escalation of all interventions in your RTI program. For example, in a 4th grade class, students who score in the 20th percentile or lower on reading tests conducted with your universal screening tool could receive Tier II targeted reading interventions with a small group on a weekly basis. After a certain period of time, if they do not show a specific level of improvement in their understanding, they would then be moved into Tier III intervention and receive one-on-one instruction with a specialist three times per week. Creating common RTI language throughout your school or district will help in identifying these groups and cut points, and knowing your student population, based on the data, will help determine the funding sources that you can tap into.

5. For the interventions put in place, what will be the mode of delivery? What will the length of each intervention be? How frequently will students receive each intervention?

Here is where you really dig in to the nitty-gritty details of the interventions you will put in place. Consider specific online programs, formative assessment tools, and devices you will use to deliver interventions. Think about how interventions will fit into the schedules of individual students, as well as your school as a whole. Be sure to consider the resources that you currently have at your disposal, both in terms of technology and staff availability.

Although RTI programs follow a common framework, the effective programs are not one-size-fits-all, and they certainly require adjustments along the way. As you design and implement your program, be sure to keep it organic. Take the time to develop teacher buy-in, cultivate a shared vision, and be willing to adjust if you have data that show certain aspects are not turning out to be successful. You must be willing to take a step back and analyze the student population you will be serving, as well as the type of curriculum and intervention approaches you will be taking. Ask questions, gather information, form teams of the appropriate experts within your organization, do your best to create a detailed plan, and be open to feedback, criticism, and modifications.

Now, time to treat yourself to a latté—you’ve answered the first five questions and are halfway through designing your RTI program blueprint! Stay tuned next week when we will continue digging into the specifics of what that blueprint needs to include by answering our second set of key questions focusing on your school!

In the meantime, check out this brochure to learn more about Edmentum’s solutions for RTI!