Address Realities in Planning for Implementation

On August 6th, I posted a blog concerning some questions and thoughts about RTI generated from an article written about my elementary school in the June Scholastic Administrator ("Your Guide to RTI," Kate Rix). I would like to continue with that theme, and hopefully those of you who are reading will weigh in with thoughts and questions, expanding on ideas, and sharing how you have implemented RTI in your schools.

The following paragraph is taken from that June 2008 article.

RTI gives schools an explicit blueprint for identifying kids with special needs and closely monitoring student progress in general. It provides a three-tier system for organizing students: those who are responding well to instruction, those who need help, and those who should be referred for special services. Under this approach, classroom teachers have to try more and different research-based approaches with kids to help them master material before handing them over to a specialist. (Kate Rix, Scholastic Administrator, June 2008)

This particular paragraph is loaded with so much potential for discussion that I cannot possibly write to all the concepts it addresses in this short blog, so I have skimmed off some of the gems from the content to address here.


RTI Gives Schools An Explicit Blueprint…

For those of us in the field of education, when we implement new programs and instructional practices, even those that are research based and replicable, we all know that implementation is situational.  Amanda VanDerHeyden, Education Research and Consulting, Inc., has on this very web-site a white paper called “Approaches to RTI” that addresses the variations and conditions under which an RTI model may be implemented (Problem-solving models, Functional assessment models, Standard protocol models, and Hybridized or blended models).  Implementation of any new program is based on staffing, money, teacher expertise, school culture, community support, and state and federal regulations.  Planning for implementation allows schools to address implementation based on current realities.  We all know every school site has different needs, resources, and environments, so RTI implementation will not look the same at every school.

In regard to RTI implementation, some program characteristics do remain constant for successful implementation.  High-quality instruction, tiered instruction with focused interventions, assessment (screening, progress monitoring, diagnostic), strong professional development, and community support are imperative if RTI is going to have an impact on student learning.

Kate Rix states in the paragraph above that RTI…"is an explicit  blueprint for identifying kids with special needs and closely monitoring student progress in general."  As stated in my blog of August 6th, the goal of my school when implementing RTI was never to use the model for identifying students for special services.  Our goal was to provide a support system that allowed more students to read at grade level.  She also mentions progress monitoring.  Progress monitoring is an essential element of RTI.  But, without screening and diagnostic assessments, progress monitoring is not enough. Screening all students gives school staff two views.  One is the overall view of the school.  Screening all students allows school staff to get a "big picture" view what is happening in the school in regard to teaching and learning, and the data allows school staff to make instructional adjustments.  The second is that screening allows the school staff to address the instructional needs of every child in the school.  Diagnostic assessment provides a more thorough view of what skills need to be addressed for tier two and three students.  Progress monitoring is the feedback that lets teachers know if their instructional strategies are impacting student learning.  At my school, we screen in September, January and May.  Diagnostic assessment is done with students at tier two and three so that teachers can address the specific skills that students need support in to improve.  Progress monitoring is based on individual student needs.  Some students are progressed monitored weekly, some twice a month, and some just monthly.

So, there is no blueprint.  RTI implementation is not a clear-cut, cookie-cutter process.  As stated before, there are specific elements that need to be in place for effective implementation, but every school is different, and implementation will be different in every school. If you are looking for models to use as a framework for RTI implementation, NASDSE has available on their web-site Response to Intervention Blueprints for Implementation (District Level and Building Level), and George Batsche in the Get Started section of this web-site has an excellent reference called “Developing a Plan.”

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Read what others had to say...

I think that this article hit the controversy surrounding RTI right on the head. The fact is that many schools need to realize that RTI is not a "fix it" program and needs to be implemented only AFTER there is a strong educational system in place. It is also not a program to be used simply to identify kids with special needs but rather to ensure that ALL children are brought up to grade level and are able to become successful in the classroom. Making sure there is enough money, capable and motivated staff and a support system for the program need to be in place before RTI can be successful.

I agreed with the blog's author when they mentioned that RTI isn't necessarily implemented to assess a student's need for special services but more to get all children reading at grade level. While RTI can help determine which students are in need of special services, it is also a great way to see which just need a little extra help. By incorporating multi-tier levels, educators and administrators have a clearer picture to the scope of which a struggling student may need help and this scope may not necessarily warrant a special education referral.

I look forward to encouraging a community of learners determined to step forward with our RTI blueprint for implementation. I anticipate a well-rounded group of mentors for this worthy project. We'll need to take it slow as it is in its infancy in our building, but is sound practice as the best intervention is immediate intervention. Continuous assessment doesn't have to be onerous, together- we'll all get there and our students will benefit.

I think it's wonderful that this piece addresses the fact that RTI will look different in each setting. It can be daunting to recognize that there is no cookie-cutter RTI model we can all follow exactly. Instead of becomming frustrated by this fact, our school decided to face the challenge head on, recognize that this diversity exists, and use other people experiences to shape our own. With the right attitude, this can be done! Thank you for addressing these realities.