Responding to Meet Students’ Needs

I ended last week by supporting a district level Response to Intervention (RTI) team in the beginning stages of their implementation of a reading intervention for secondary students. Everything about their work is creating a pathway to success for the students—data informed decisions, instruction based upon students’ reading process needs, and teacher training sessions on the instructional materials to increase their knowledge.

There are critical components necessary for students’ intervention instruction:

  • a universal screening assessment instrument,
  • diagnostic assessment to determine specific areas of strength and growth,
  • specific instructional goals for the student,
  • research-based instructional practices, and
  • a progress monitoring assessment instrument.

Often you hear RTI described using a medical analogy. A patient goes to the doctor for a routine check-up, and his heart rate is not in the normal range. So, the doctor orders further testing such as an EKG. Those results determine the next course of action by the doctor, which often leads to a referral to a specialist. A plan for the patient is created and followed to improve his health. Future tests are preformed to determine the improvement made from the baseline results. With the latest information, a doctor decides whether to stay the course of treatment or to make adjustments. In the school setting, the teacher is the doctor and the students are the patients.

Students’ state standardized test scores, or another standards-based assessment, are used as the universal screener to determine if a student is performing at grade level. From those scores, the students in most critical need of intervention instruction are identified so a diagnostic assessment can be given. In the work mentioned above, the district chose Benchmark Assessment System by Fountas and Pinnell as the results give data on students’ accuracy of reading, fluency, and comprehension. Additionally, it aligns with the research-based instructional materials, Leveled Literacy Intervention by Fountas and Pinnell, they will use. Students’ progress can be monitored via administration of the diagnostic assessment at the middle and end of the year, or another small assessment based upon instructional focus. Teacher observations during instruction also note progress.

One key component of this district’s intervention instruction is the use of a certified reading teacher. At a 2016 RTI at Work Institute by Solution Tree, Mike Mattos illustrated the importance of who delivers intervention instruction. Paraphrasing his words, when you are diagnosed with cancer you go to an oncologist for treatment, not your general practitioner. Likewise, students who have educational cancer should receive treatment from someone who is trained in that area. This is the one breakdown in RTI instruction I have seen throughout the course of my career—the lack of research-based instructional practices administered by a teacher whose instructional specialty matched the need of the students.

As the school year begins to unfold and planning for struggling students’ interventions starts, please ensure these critical components are addressed.

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