Saturday / June 22

Is RTI dead? The Truth about Its Future and Student Achievement

Several years ago, Response to Intervention (RTI) was the hottest educational buzzword of the day. RTI trainings popped up all over the country, much attention was placed on implementation, schools set up RTI teams, and new books on the topic rolled off the press at rapid speed. Then, as often happens in education, the term slowly disappeared from the majority of educators’ vocabulary.

First, RTI Is Not Dead – It Has Several Aliases

Is RTI dead? No, it’s not dead. Rather, it’s taken on a variety of labels and names as states changed the term to suit their State Department of Education (DOE) initiatives. Consequently, a district might actually be implementing RTI, and yet, the teachers would not even know that’s what they were doing because it is called something else. This seems to be the modus operandi of our state educational systems.

Personally, I prefer to call RTI “Really Terrific Instruction” because that is exactly what it is! RTI is instruction that increases the achievements of all students: Students with special needs, students at risk, those that need stimulating challenges, as well as students who are gifted. It is a general education initiative that supports all learners.

RTI is not dead.

RTI Is Part Of Something Bigger

RTI is the academic supports that are part of the Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework. MTSS is an umbrella term which encompasses the many supports provided for students at all grade levels. The goal of MTSS is to identify students before they fail and to intervene to support their success. A team approach that often involves collaboration with other staff while implementing a problem-solving model is at the core of this intervention model.

MTSS provides a framework to support the emotional, behavioral, and academic success of all students through tiered levels of support. Where Positive Behavior (Intervention) systems (PBIS/PBS) is the tiered model for emotional and behavioral supports, RTI is the tiered model for academic support.

The Short Description Of RTI And Its Aliases

When implementing RTI, a three or four tiered model is used, depending on the State DOE’s implementation. Teachers utilize and develop highly effective instruction, implement formalized progress monitoring, as well as frequent formative assessments to supplement traditional summative assessments. They then use the data gained from assessments to adjust future whole-class and individual instruction, as needed.

Whereas we often consider that these adjustments only impact students who are struggling, in reality, the best implementation of RTI – Really Terrific Instruction – is to use that data to also accelerate and enrich instruction for students who are ready to go to the next level.

To summarize the common functions between MTSS and RTI consider the following:

Both RTI and MTSS

  • Are based on a problem-solving approach to student intervention.
  • Are evidence-based.
  • Focus on collaboration between general education teachers and specialists (special education, speech and language pathologists, school counselors, reading specialists, ESL, etc.)
  • Focuses on collaboration and cooperation between schools and the district office.

Both RTI and MTSS streamline resources by keeping all adults on the same page and aligning student goals and interventions across the board. Classroom teachers, special education teachers, intervention specialists come behavior specialists, and paraprofessional support staff all work together towards the same goal of supporting student success.

Steps To Ensure RTI’s Future In Supporting Student Achievement

There are many tasks involved with setting up effective tiered supports for students district-wide. Much research has been done on the efficacy of RTI and MTSS implementation.

Action Items for School Leaders:

  • Establish a common language. There are so many labels for educational initiatives that it becomes confusing for all staff, especially if individual schools are using different terms. Also, having a common language should alleviate some of the anxiety produced by teachers believing they are forced to implement “one more” initiative on top of everything else they’re asked to do.
  • Create a foundation for effective communication. This should be common sense yet, in reality, it’s one of the most difficult goals to achieve on a school campus, or even between individual schools and the district office.
  • Strengthen the initiative by reducing “initiative overwhelm” and diminished focus. Take it slow, get buy-in, take the time to explain the initiative ahead of time, be available to answer questions and alleviate fears.
  • Most importantly: support classroom implementation. The reality is, no matter how perfect our paperwork is, no matter how well the team does its job, if teachers don’t know how to implement tiered supports in the classroom, RTI will not be successful.
  • Support the initiative holistically by providing a multi-pronged approach:
    • Provide quality, on-going, professional development.
    • Be present and visible in your support for classroom instruction.
    • Acknowledge teachers who are taking steps towards effective implementation.
    • Be clear with teachers who are not participating that they are expected to grow and move forward in providing supports for all students.
  • Show teachers HOW to implement multi-tiered supports in their classrooms
    • Provide ongoing and embedded in-class coaching and consulting.
    • Encourage teachers who are being successful to share their strategies and solutions with their peers.
    • Suggest that teachers observe other teachers and provide coverage so that they may do so without losing their lunch or prep.
    • Provide in-service training so that everyone is on the same page, using the same language, and understanding the same concepts.
    • If teachers are collaborating with grade level teams as well as specialists, or if they are co-teaching, provide training on how to collaborate. Most teachers never learn how to collaborate with other adults in teacher school.

Written by

Susan Fitzell, M. Ed has been touching lives in public schools and beyond since 1980. She has over two decades of experience identifying and meeting the needs of youth with special needs, behavioral and anger management issues, and students who experience bullying. Susan’s work focuses on building caring, inclusive school communities and helping students and teachers succeed in the inclusive classroom.

Susan is a dynamic, nationally recognized presenter and educational consultant specializing in special education & Response to Intervention topics, co-teaching, bullying prevention, and adolescent anger management. She provides practical strategies to increase achievement of ALL students in ALL classrooms. Susan’s motto is, “Good for all, critical for students who learn differently.”

Susan’s greatest satisfaction comes from helping teachers make a positive impact using practical, doable strategies that fuel positive, measurable results. Whether she’s doing a one day workshop or long-term consulting, Susan’s straight forward, common sense approach always yields positive results.

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