By Dr. Evelyn Johnson
Boise State University
Thanks to CEC for inviting me to contribute to their RTI blog this month! I’m Evelyn Johnson, an associate professor of special education at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho. For the last several years, I’ve had the great privilege of working with the National Research Center on Learning Disabilities as well as with the current National Center on RTI. Within Idaho, I work closely with our state RTI coordinator on issues related to the use of RTI within the SLD determination process, district level implementation of RTI, and the implementation of RTI at the secondary level (grades 6-12).
Last month on this blog, Dr. Patti Ralabate explained how RTI can be transformational. This month, we’ll consider what that might mean for secondary implementation.
By now, many educators are familiar with the tiered service delivery model. The goal is to provide a strong core instructional program that meets the needs of all students, recognizing that even with an effective instructional core in place, there will be students who require additional support to be successful. In an RTI model, students who struggle are provided with research-based interventions, their progress in the targeted skill is closely monitored, and adjustments to the program of intervention are made as necessary.
In our work and trainings in Idaho and nationally, we talk with a lot of secondary schools that are beginning to implement RTI. In many of these schools, the initial focus has been on developing options for Tier 2 interventions, which is a great start to assisting students who are struggling right now. Many of these schools, however, quickly discover that while their interventions do support many, they are typically insufficient to truly address the needs of all students. They soon realize that in a preventive services model, without a strong general education (Tier 1) program in place, an interventions-only approach will not be effective in the long term.
The great news is that there are numerous federally funded centers that provide a tremendous amount of guidance and technical assistance to support secondary schools. For example, the National High School Center provides research and technical assistance on high school improvement initiatives to include:
- Dropout prevention
- Best practices for supporting ELL students
- High school literacy
- Early warning systems
These initiatives can become important components of a comprehensive school reform model, in which RTI plays an important role. When the core instructional program is in place, then interventions can be provided to the small percentage of students who may require additional support beyond what is provided in Tier 1.
At the middle-school level, models of RTI implementation are emerging. One model, based at Cheyenne Mountain Junior High School in Colorado Springs, is described in the Jan/Feb 2008 TEACHING Exceptional Children article "Implementation of Response to Intervention at Middle School: Challenges and Potential Benefits" (CEC members-only content). The focus of this model is developing a strong core program through the use of evidence-based practices such as School-wide Positive Behavior Support, Professional Learning Communities, and data-based decision making. Cheyenne Mountain, under the leadership of principal Dr. Lori Smith, has successfully implemented an RTI model that greatly expands the notion of the three-tiered triangle into a more comprehensive model of school reform (see the figure below).
The important point about Cheyenne Mountain’s experience with RTI implementation is that they began the process by adopting and implementing a Tier 2 intervention without first examining the quality of their Tier 1 program. After the first year of implementation, they realized that intervention alone was not going to be sufficient to meet the needs of their increasingly diverse student population and began the focus on improving their Tier 1 instruction. The data they’ve collected over the years shows significant increases in student performance (I’ll post more about this in a subsequent entry).
I hope this overview has been helpful -- later this month I’ll post more specific information about the specific RTI components as they relate to secondary school settings. If you’re working on RTI in middle or high school, please comment on how the process is working in your school!