Elaine Mulligan is the Assistant Director of NIUSI-LeadScape, a federally-funded technical assistance project that supports principals of inclusive schools. Her responsibilities include designing and delivering professional learning, coordinating LeadScape’s online resources, and coaching principals to support their transformation of school cultures and practices.
In working with educators through our various projects, I hear a lot of different viewpoints on Response to Intervention (RTI). Many states are encouraging districts to focus on RTI approaches in an effort to improve state assessment outcomes for groups that have historically not scored well on these tests (e.g., students with disabilities, English language learners, students in particular racial/ethnic groups). Districts are implementing mandatory professional development and support teams, and schools are rechanneling instructional supports and redesigning schedules to support intervention processes. There is a lot of activity and attention around RTI, from preschool through high school. Some educators consider RTI a great success and report great improvements in student achievement, while others see it as a series of bureaucratic hoops to jump through that impede student support processes. Which is it?
What is RTI?
Response to Intervention is a process for providing supports to students. It is not a program, a curriculum, or a mechanism for identifying students for special education services. Most importantly, RTI is not ever a place where you send students! Here are three good definitions:
What these definitions have in common is that they describe ways of providing effective instruction in response to student needs as general principles for practice, not a model of service delivery.
Common Themes from Successful RTI Implementation
Success stories from LeadScape principals who are using RTI practices in their schools, as well as those from schools in California, Nevada, and Arizona where culturally responsive RTI processes are helping to reduce achievement disparities, and stories from graduate students in doctoral programs here at Arizona State University who work in schools with well-developed, effective RTI practices reveal these several themes around effective RTI:
Common Complaints about RTI
Not every story about RTI is a happy one; teachers often report that RTI is disruptive to classroom learning, difficult to implement, and insufficiently supported by school or district leadership. Here are some of the issues that arise for teachers in RTI implementation:
What can we do to improve?
One thing that we do know about implementing RTI is that talking about it with other educators is a good way to get better at it. More information, more ideas, more stories help teachers, administrators, and parents to refine their approaches and lead to more student success. I’ve included some sources of information on RTI below. Please share your own stories of success or struggle with RTI in our comments section, and let us know about additional resources.