Janette Klingner, Ph.D., is a Professor at the University of Colorado. Before earning her doctorate in reading and learning disabilities from the University of Miami, she was a bilingual special education teacher for ten years. Currently, she is a co-Principal Investigator for The National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCRESt), a Technical Assistance Center funded to address the disproportionate representation of culturally and linguistically diverse students in special education, and a co-Principal Investigator on the Collaborative Strategic Reading (CSR) Project, an IES funded efficacy study. Of her more than 80 published works, one article, three chapters, and two books are on the topic of Response to Intervention (RtI). An additional book on RtI for practitioners is under contract and in preparation. She has presented at numerous local, national, and international conferences, and conducted several professional development workshops, many on the topic of RtI. She is a member of numerous professional organizations in special education, literacy, bilingual education, and multicultural education. In 2004 she was honored with AERA’s Early Career Award for outstanding research.
Greetings! I’m so glad to have been asked to write on this blog because I really feel passionate about RTI. I believe that RTI has the potential to change the way we think about supporting kids and may especially hold promise as a way to improve outcomes for culturally and linguistically diverse students and reduce their disproportionate representation in special education (see Donovan & Cross, 2002). Certain aspects of the RTI model are particularly encouraging: the emphasis on early intervention, the focus on making sure children receive appropriate instruction at the “first tier” or classroom level, and the push to match instruction to a child’s needs based on ongoing classroom assessment. I hope that RTI will help educators shift from a mentality of finding disability or within-child deficits to focusing on providing the best instruction for all students, regardless of label.
Yet there seems to be much confusion in the field about how to implement the various components of RTI in practical, effective ways. IDEA was passed before enough was known about how to actually put RTI into practice. Researchers had investigated the efficacy of RTI, but generally with research teams rather than school personnel providing students with supplemental instruction. Therefore, when the new law passed, it seemed as though states, districts, and schools were left to figure out how best to implement the new model without much guidance. Even now, as researchers, professional groups, and education agencies offer guidelines for how to set up RTI, school-level personnel have the sense that these guidelines do not take into account the many challenges they face in today’s schools, especially schools with culturally, linguistically, and socio-economically diverse student populations.
Additional issues are problematic and are cause for concern. Some of the assumptions underlying RTI are flawed, especially when applied with culturally and linguistically diverse students. For instance, the idea of “research-based” tends to be applied with a “one size fits all” mentality, without considering issues of population and ecological validity (see Klingner & Edwards, 2006). Also, teachers and other support personnel typically have not been prepared adequately to work with culturally and linguistically diverse students in general and English language learners in particular, and, for example, lack understanding of the language acquisition process. Also, it appears that there is not enough of a focus on the context for learning and examining and improving instruction and educational opportunities for students (and conversely, still too much of a focus on finding within-child deficits or blaming lack of achievement on the kids).
The role of the principal in overseeing RTI and facilitating its implementation is extremely important. Effective principals are present in classrooms and exemplify a positive, caring attitude; they convey that implementation of RTI in culturally responsive ways is important and show understanding of the challenges involved with its use. They facilitate implementation in various ways, for example, by providing resources and professional development opportunities, and setting up schedules so that team members have common times to meet. They limit requests for teachers to learn other practices while they are focused on getting RTI up and running. They work collaboratively with school personnel, parents, and members of the community, valuing diverse input. Effective principals have high expectations for kids, high expectations for teachers, and high expectations for themselves.
To help principals be successful RTI leaders, I offer a set of questions to consider as they plan for RTI. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but merely represents a starting point (see Klingner, Méndez Barletta, & Hoover, 2008).
School-wide RTI Plan
RTI: Reading Instruction at Tier 1
Tier II Interventions
In conclusion, I recommend using a flexible approach to RTI planning and implementation that builds on the strengths, interests, and expertise of school personnel, capitalizes on the assets in the community, and focuses on students’ strengths as well as needs.
Donovan, S., & Cross, C. (2002). Minority students in special and gifted education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Klingner, J. K., & Edwards, P. (2006). Cultural considerations with response to intervention models. Reading Research Quarterly, 41, 108-117.
Klingner, J., Méndez Barletta, L., & Hoover, J. (2008). Response to intervention models and English language learners. In J. K. Klingner, J. Hoover, & L. Baca (Eds.), English Language Learners who struggle with reading: Language acquisition or learning disabilities? (pp. 37-56). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.