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RTI: Not just for special education

Once a concept only well known in special-education circles, Response to Intervention (RTI)–which responds to individual students’ needs by taking a data-based approach to instruction–has taken hold in the general education arena and is helping educators take a more active role in monitoring student progress.

While many associate RTI with special-education students, the point of the movement, according to several experts, is to make sure that all children succeed and thrive in the classroom, including those who are falling behind with lessons and those who are not being challenged enough.

RTI is a multi-tiered approach to help all learners, although much of the focus has been on its use for helping struggling learners. Student progress is closely monitored at each stage of the intervention–and each stage will look different, depending on the student’s or the district’s situation–to determine the need for further research-based instruction or intervention in general education, a move to special education, or a combination of the two.

Critics say RTI can present challenges to educators in classrooms or districts with limited resources, and some worry that the emphasis on data creates a burden for teachers. But advocates maintain that RTI helps educators use data to better inform their instruction–which can result in significant learning gains.

“RTI in and of itself is a movement–it’s a decision that a school district makes to improve educational outcomes for all students, not just for those kids that struggle, but for all students,” said Sheldon Horowitz, director of professional services at the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD).

NCLD operates the RTI Action Network, a clearinghouse of RTI information that helps educators, administrators, and policy makers learn RTI basics, who is implementing it, and how different states approach it.

The RTI Action Network “offers a rare opportunity for all stakeholders to work together to ensure that each child has access to [high-] quality instruction, and that struggling students are identified early and given the necessary supports to succeed in school,” said Kathleen Whitmire, director of the RTI Action Network.

Part of the network’s strength, Whitmire said, lies in its ability to bring together and guide educators and parents at the local level, where RTI implementation occurs. They are able to share information and ask questions on discussion boards, which helps them realize that RTI is happening across the nation.

It “reveals pent-up demand for better ways to serve struggling kids than waiting until they crash and burn in third and fourth grade,” said James Wendorf, NCLD’s executive director.

The web site offers research-based information and professional development, and it gives visitors a chance to interact with experienced RTI professionals.

The RTI Action Network’s objectives include promoting collaboration among general education, special education, and families; widespread implementation of a research-based system for early identification of struggling learners; implementation of a progress monitoring system to match interventions to student needs; and improvement in the accuracy of special-education eligibility determination.

A basic principle of RTI maintains that children live in a multifaceted environment, Horowitz said, interacting with teachers, parents, peers, instruction, textbooks, iPods, and more. Thus, the world is complicated when it comes to teaching and learning, and people have different ways of approaching that learning.

“Let’s help those kids in general education who might benefit from a different approach that is still provided by the general educator, without pulling them into special education,” he said.

To help schools implement an RTI-based approach to instruction, several companies have released RTI-related products, services, or add-ons to their existing software, while others are highlighting how their formative assessment solutions can be used to address RTI in the classroom.

CTB/McGraw-Hill’s Acuity, a formative assessment program that helps teachers identify students’ strengths and weaknesses, assigns personal instructional activities based on students’ assessment results.

Acuity can serve as a universal screener for students who might need more attention in the classroom, said Tom Moellering, senior product manager for CTB/McGraw-Hill.

Components of the program include predictive tests that “give educators a strong indication of how well students will perform on their NCLB exam,” he said.

If Acuity indicates that a student is struggling in a certain area, educators can use Yearly Progress Pro, a combination of weekly assessments and instruction that will help students as they progress throughout the school year. Once a week, for instance, a student might take a short assessment that will tell his or her teacher what types of instructional resources should be assigned based on the student’s weaknesses.

“It’s not only giving teachers the information, but it’s making it actionable–it covers the ‘what now’ aspect of RTI,” Moellering said.

In May 2007, Wireless Generation introduced mCLASS:RTI, a solution based on the company’s handheld computer-to-web assessment and reporting system.

The product’s RTI component lets teachers implement an RTI program for at-risk students and includes research-based assessments and real-time reporting.

mCLASS:RTI lets educators administer reading and math assessments to screen and monitor students, access web-based reports to group students by learning needs, track what intervention activities have been delivered to each student and for how long, and evaluate whether those interventions are being delivered properly and are working.

Carnegie Learning’s Cognitive Tutor software was developed around an artificial intelligence model that identifies weaknesses in each individual student’s mastery of mathematical concepts. It then customizes prompts to focus on areas where the student is struggling, and sends the student to new problems that address those specific concepts.

The software features a “skillometer” that measures increases in a student’s skills in a given area, and teachers are given up-to-date snapshots of that student’s progress. As students work through a skill, they receive immediate feedback, allowing for self-correction.

Last year, CompassLearning announced Odyssey High School, an intervention solution that the company said is based on current research into how high school students learn today. CompassLearning already offered Odyssey for grades K-8, and the new high school program builds on that K-8 model, in which students take an assessment that identifies their weak areas and are placed on a learning path that addresses those deficiencies.

Throughout the process, teachers and administrators can generate detailed reports on each student’s progress to determine where the student is struggling or improving. Odyssey High School includes text, video, and Flash-based activities, a teacher’s video, and an assessment following each activity.

Spectrum K12’s EXCEED/RTI, launched last June, helps educators manage and measure day-to-day activities and research-based interventions used to help students succeed in the classroom.

Until recently, the special-education community was much more aware of RTI than most people in the general education community, said Steve Benfield, Spectrum K12’s chief technology officer and vice president of product strategy. Spectrum holds focus groups with superintendents every six months, and Benfield said he noticed that RTI has gone from a concept that few superintendents knew of to something that was taking hold in their day-to-day meetings.

“We think of RTI as a mini-education plan–what are we going to do to help this child succeed based on what we see,” he said. “RTI is really hot now, and it’s a process–it’s systematizing something we should have been doing all along, and it’s something that good teachers probably have been doing.”

AutoSkill’s RTI Package for its Academy of Reading software delivers web-based oral fluency assessments and combines an RTI management tool with an intervention program and professional development.

“Given a teacher’s full day, we wanted to help [teachers] be more effective and reach more students,” said Sue Koch, vice president of marketing for Autoskill. “We wanted to create a web-based dashboard where anyone on the RTI team can log in and document what their involvement with a student is. It provides a web-based case management system.”


RTI Action Network


Wireless Generation


Carnegie Learning

Spectrum K12


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