Implementing RTI in an Urban School District — New York City

Why RTI?

For far too long, schools viewed special education as the only viable option for struggling students. As a result, increasing numbers of students were unnecessarily referred for special education, interventions for struggling students were not available in general education, and students were not referred until the third grade after not meeting proficiency on State ELA and Math assessments.

RTI provided a school-wide approach that promoted:

  • Early identification of at risk students
  • Data driven decision-making
  • A tiered system of research-based intervention in general education
  • A decrease in unnecessary referrals to special education
  • Collaboration among general and special education staff

Getting Started

To ensure a collaborative approach and organizational support, a District Leadership Team was formed, comprised of representatives from general education, special education, the State Education Department, colleges and universities, and the teachers’ union. The District Leadership Team aligned policies and began to create the infrastructure needed to support widespread use of an RTI model. The team decided to initiate an RTI model addressing early grade literacy. They developed a District/School Action Plan that included the following components:

  • Evidence-based practices (a standard treatment protocol)
  • Benchmarks of student performance
  • Professional development and on-going coaching for teachers
  • Scheduling daily intervention time in schools
  • Continuous progress monitoring of student performance
  • Assessing periodically the fidelity with which the interventions were implemented

Once the District/School Action Plan was developed, the District Leadership Team decided to start small, introducing the RTI model in two schools. Because RTI implementation requires significant changes to school organization, staff roles, and the allocation of resources, they thought that starting small would enable them to provide ongoing support to the schools and not overwhelm them.

These two schools would later become demonstration sites for other schools. Starting with two schools also made it easier to obtain feedback from those implementing the program about what worked and what didn’t, the professional development needed, and the supports and resources necessary to successfully implement the RTI model.

The selected schools had strong leadership and a well established core curriculum. Strong school leaders were essential; they would have to:
  • Develop clear expectations for RTI, and foster a sense of commitment and purpose in the endeavor
  • Create supportive working conditions by committing time in the school day for providing interventions, reviewing data, and providing staff development and coaching
  • Provide adequate support to ensure teachers used the selected program with fidelity
  • Problem solve as issues surfaced
  • Prioritize or re-align resources
  • Invest in building school-level capacity for sustaining RTI, for example by creating teacher leaders

The schools followed the process described below when implementing RTI:

  • Implemented an evidence-based general education instructional method
  • Collected benchmarks of all students’ performance
    • DIBELS benchmark data was collected for all students in September, January, and June.
  • Identified the students who scored below benchmark targets
    • Teachers reviewed the DIBELS data, classroom performance, and unit test scores to identify students that required Tier 2 intervention.
  • Provided daily scientifically based small group intervention (Tier 2)
    • Students identified as requiring additional support received instruction from Academic Intervention Teachers three times weekly in groups of six. When the RTI model expanded beyond the initial two schools, small group instruction was provided by any of the following, depending on the school’s resources: classroom teachers, reading teachers, coaches, intervention teachers, and others.
  • Monitored student progress frequently
  • Increased the intensity, duration and/or frequency of Tier 2 instruction for students needing more assistance based on data review.
  • Teachers continued to review, revise, and/or discontinue Tier 2 instruction based on the data.
  • Students who did not respond to interventions were referred for a comprehensive evaluation, if needed.
  • For non-responders a referral was made for special education eligibility.

Schools reported that a critical factor to their success was providing ongoing site-based coaching to teachers to support program implementation with fidelity.

The results for the two demonstration sites are presented below. Both schools experienced a decrease in the number of kindergarten and first graders “at risk” for literacy.

Student Gains in DIBELS Measures - Kindergarten

Student Gains in DIBELS Measures – Grade 1

The following year the initiative was expanded to an additional 14 schools. Those schools had the opportunity to visit the initial two schools to learn about the RTI model and to speak with administrators and teachers prior to implementation. Schools reported that this feedback was a critical factor in getting them started with implementation.

Keys to Success

  • Leadership and administrative support
  • Training and support for teachers
  • Staff commitment
  • Team approach
  • Flexible scheduling
  • Ability and willingness to use data-driven instruction
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Dr. Rodriquez the RTI model in the article was used in schools that applied to be part of the initiative in response to an RFP that was promulgated. The schools were from different districts. The initiative was introduced in the 2005-2006 schol year. In the schools participating in this initiative all school staff received professional development on RTI and training and on-site coaching in implementation including progress monitoring. Fidelity was measured by coaches using fidelity checklists that were developed.