Response from Claudia Rinaldi, Ph.D., Assistant Director of the Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative, Education Development Center:

RTI, when implemented with high fidelity, has the potential to positively impact the outcomes for ELLs with and without disabilities. However, in a recent study conducted for the state of Massachusetts, ELL administrators and special education administrators reported that ESL teachers and administrators were rarely included in the RTI teams or in common planning time in their schools. They additionally reported that there is much confusion about which services should be provided to an ELL with disabilities, where those services should be provided, and how to capture this in the individualized education program (IEP). ESL supports are part of the core Tier 1 curriculum, so one important consideration is to include the ESL teacher in core Tier 1 curriculum planning, screening, data-driven intervention planning and delivery, and progress monitoring.

Another critical consideration for serving ELLs with and without disabilities in schools implementing RTI is how the school’s RTI teams can be leveraged to increase collaboration and data-driven instructional planning and progress monitoring for all students, including ELLs with disabilities. The following recommendations can help teachers working with ELLs with disabilities in schools implementing an RTI model:

  1. Ensure that school- and grade-level (and cross grade-level) RTI teams meet weekly and that they have representation from regular education, special education, and ESL teachers and para professionals as feasible.  

  2. Ensure that RTI teams discuss Tier 1 core instruction and adaptations and strategies that differentiate instruction appropriately for ELLs with and without disabilities. It is recommended at this stage that teams adopt a fidelity checklist for core Tier 1 instruction.

  3. Once Tier 1 core curriculum planning is happening within collaborative structures and with fidelity, options for tiered interventions should be outlined and discussed. Have the discussions emphasize some key aspect, such as matching the intervention to a progress-monitoring tool; identifying screening and progress monitoring options for grade level and instructional level; planning the frequency, duration, and intensity options; determining how to ensure delivery by the most qualified professional; and evaluating feasibility.

  4. Develop and implement an efficient meeting protocol so that the teams can discuss various students who are in need of tiered interventions.

  5. When discussing an ELL with disabilities, ensure that the student’s teachers bring Tier 1/grade level progress-monitoring data, that the special education teacher bring instructional level progress-monitoring data, and that the ESL teacher bring progress-monitoring data on English language proficiency (data would have been predetermined in the initial universal screening and data-driven process for this student).

  6. Think out of the box on how to capitalize on staff with training in at least two of the areas (regular and special education, special education and ESL, or regular education and ESL). Reorganization of these professionals is critical in an RTI model in order to capitalize on services and expertise for addressing the instruction and intervention for these students.

  7. Create schedules that support staff (i.e., staff who can push in and out and have multiple areas of expertise). For example, a school can adopt a staggered literacy block or ESL block where support personnel can move from hour to hour, or the school can adopt an enrichment and intervention block where you can provide the ESL teacher with the time for intervention.

  8. Implement a data calendar schoolwide to support discussion on screenings and progress-monitoring cycles.

  9. Adopt a data-driven problem solving cycle.

  10. Organize a schoolwide data work meeting where the school can set unique goals for the entire community of students as well as specific goals for groups or subgroups of students who may be doing poorly (i.e., ELLs at Tiers 1 and 2 with identified disabilities).

  11. Work with agencies across the nation specializing in providing training and technical assistance to develop professional development sessions that address how to support ELLs specifically at each tier.

There are various challenges still ahead on the actual progress monitoring of English language development levels for these students, but many school districts are developing informal tools that follow their standards-based assessments. The key is to closely monitor gains in each English language development level by using task analysis of the expected skills in each level of proficiency. Task analysis is a typical practice used in special education that identifies the outcomes skills and then breaks down the skills a student must complete in order to identify where the breakdown in learning is occurring. Collaboration between special education and ESL teachers will be critical in developing a checklist that may serve as a tool in the process of developing a monthly or weekly progress-monitoring schedule.

The goal should be to ensure that the team’s level of collaboration is high so that students can get Tier 1, 2, and 3 supports as needed by the most trained professional and that the entire team feels a responsibility for the outcome of all students and, in particular, for ELLs with disabilities.