The Promise of Response to Intervention
Dr. John Russell
It has been almost 15 years since Congress passed legislation authorizing the use of Response to Intervention (RTI) as a means for identifying and remediating students with language-based learning disabilities. There are four common elements of RTI: high quality, research-based instruction in general education; continuous progress monitoring; screening for academic and behavior problems; and multiple tiers of progressively more intense instruction (Office of Special Education Programs, 2006).
These four elements of RTI are typically delivered to students through three tiers of intervention. Tier 1 calls for qualified teachers to provide a research-based reading program to all students in general education classrooms. Students who do not make appropriate progress at the Tier 1 level are moved to Tier 2 where they receive special education services in their schools. Students who do not respond sufficiently to Tier 2 interventions are then eligible for Tier 3 and placement in special education schools.
Since its inception, this very promising tool has been used to varying degrees of success. If RTI is to deliver on its promise to improve reading achievement for general education students, to efficiently identify students who need special education services, and to provide effective interventions for special education students, several steps must be taken.
First, all teaching materials and teaching practices that are labeled “researched-based” must be held to certain standards. Citing Skinner (1953), Travers (2016) offers the following criteria necessary to warrant the label “researched-based” or “evidenced-based”:
Evidence-based special education depends on the acquisition of robust empirical findings obtained via meticulous experimentation. The processes of empirical inquiry are necessarily accompanied by a set of attitudes that emphasizes valuing facts over authority, accepting evidence regardless of conflict with strongly held beliefs, and abstaining from acceptance of a claim until compelling evidence is available (Skinner, 1953).
Second, the quality of teaching must be improved.
“Parents who proudly bring their children to school on the first day of kindergarten are making a big mistake. They assume that their child’s teacher has been taught how to teach reading. They haven’t.” (Seidenberg, 2017)
Schools need to recognize that during their undergraduate education, teachers have, in most instances, not received the foundational knowledge necessary to teach reading. To improve the quality of teaching reading, comprehensive professional development is an absolute necessity. Dedicated, conscientious teachers can mitigate deficiencies in their preparation through professional development, but only if professional development programs are more rigorous and of a better quality than the undergraduate and graduate programs that are responsible for the deficits in the first place. In response to this reality, The Windward School established a professional development program that is comprehensive, demanding, and extremely effective in closing the knowledge gap between research and teaching practices. Other schools have followed a similar path in their efforts to improve teacher quality.
For RTI to be truly effective, highly qualified, trained teachers must use instructional practices and programs that have been rigorously validated as evidenced-based. #
John J. Russell, Ed.D. is the Head of The Windward School.