By Lynn Boyer
West Virginia Department of Education
In this final posting on RTI implementation from a state perspective, I want to reiterate three things.
First, a State Department of Education (SEA) may exert its considerable authority in directing systemic reform but will always do so through the vision and passions of the state schools’ chief. She or he must understand the potential that RTI has for changing the outcomes for all students and incorporate its use and language within the strategic plan that will guide the state’s work with the legislature, the state board of education, and the districts. For a state to use the premises of RTI and its established practices, the chief’s voice must be heard.
Second, SEAs have powerful levers for change available to them -- federal law, state codes or laws, and funds over which they have discretion. As RTI becomes established, these levers are critical to ensuring that reform efforts will not be unduly affected if prominent leaders move on to other positions. The infrastructure of screenings and progress monitoring must become embedded within the state’s accepted assessment practices, for instance. Federal and state funds that are targeted for school improvement and early intervention, among other initiatives, should be considered together and used as possible when embedding the components of RTI at district and school levels. Language must be congruent across state board of education rules and policies; this presents complexities that may not have been anticipated initially. For example, the use of any teacher (Title I, literacy or math coach, special educator, general educator, etc.) as an interventionist may have implications for rules on licensure, teacher assignment, reporting in state information systems, and course codes.
Third, there are simply unknowns about RTI’s impact on student achievement -- particularly in reading and math -- over time. The best approach is to implement models that retain the non-negotiables, as I call them, but incorporate review points where emerging research can be accommodated. The National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), in collaboration with CEC’s Council of Administrators of Special Education (CASE), has developed the Blueprints series of publications to assist districts and schools in including the essential components as they implement RTI. Starting out with what we know and remaining vigilant about implementation with fidelity are keys to success. The District Level Blueprint andSchool Building Level Blueprint may be downloaded from www.casecec.org.
I have talked about RTI as an evolutionary perspective on instruction that allows ALL struggling students to acquire the knowledge and skills they need. I don’t want to end this month, however, without expanding on a point I made in my February 16 posting -- one that relates to the special education aspect of RTI. I remarked, “All of this begs the question of what IS different about special education when a student has been through a tiered system that presumably brought to bear on his or her instruction all the small group, research-based teaching and strategies that are available.” That is, what is the difference between special education and Tier III (or the uppermost tier that is not special education)?
The answer lies possibly in considering that special education is itself an intervention. From this perspective, special education fits into the larger systemic reform effort that is RTI with the research-based teaching that is expected and the accountability for progress that is increasingly the hallmark of our field. Across states, the dialogue of the field and emerging research are being followed as the complexity of the implementation evolves and the use of RTI to improve results for all children is systematically studied.