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September 28, 2009


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I recently returned from Washington, D.C., where I was honored to be part of a panel addressing the school division of the American Association of Publishers. The publishers are interested in RtI, and have questions about why it is so "hot" right now. The panel had three members - a university professor, a district coordinator from the D.C. public schools, and myself. I am principal of a K-6 school in NW Vermont, where we have been working to use RtI as a framework for overall school improvement since 2005. The major points I tried to convey:

1. RtI is a general education initiative, even though the terminology came from IDEA. The real power in RtI is when it is used to strengthen instruction across all “tiers,” and bring teachers together in collaborative consultation and communication.

2. RtI was "born" from the success of the public health model, where we learned the power of early diagnosis and screening. It was also originally used in reading, where we have more tools. I let them know that we need many more diagnostic and intervention tools for mathematics.

3. Since the notion was originally preventative, RtI at the middle and high school levels will be much more challenging to implement. The longer students continue with gaps in their curriculum and instruction, the deeper are their misconceptions and misunderstandings. Thus, RtI at the middle and high school levels creates a need for intensive, systematic, focused products to impact the achievement of striving learners.

4. In Vermont and other states, we are now referring to the paradigm as "Response to INSTRUCTION." In the words of former NAEYC president Lillian Katz, the challenge is to "find out what the child is thinking and intervene accordingly."

5. I let them know that for 30 years of teachers have been "independent contractors connected by a parking lot," (credit Mike Schmoker for that one!). In an RtI process, we need embedded discussion protocols. The 90/90/90 literature points to the efficacy of teachers discussing the results of common assessments, but having those discussions is a skill, and teachers need support.

6. I let them know that I understand the need for them to attend to the 25% of U.S. states that have mandatory textbook reviews, but encouraged them to look at the other 75% of us! I told them that RtI requires smaller, modular products that we can utilize flexibly to match to the profile of the learner. We need more than CBMs to use as diagnostic measures to add to our learner profiles.

7. I emphasized the need for teaching teams to use MORE than a single point of data to make high stakes decisions about access to services or movement between tiers. In that same vein, I let them know that we need materials that have embedded support for teams to make decisions, whether using a standard protocol, problem solving, or combined model.
9. I let them know that schools implementing an RtI framework need tools to sort, align, store, and consider the multiple data points. I emphasized the intersection of the PBS model with the RtI model, and let them know the power of using behavioral data as a form of interpreting a student's response to instruction. After all, for many students, it’s better to be "bad" than "stupid" in the eyes of their peers.

10. Finally, I asked them NOT to use the now familiar RtI triangle as a marketing tool. I let them know that in the airport on my way to the talk, I got 3 emails from publishing companies informing me that they had the answer to my RtI problem. I let them know that quality implementation of RtI is hard work that takes sustained effort and dedication. We need their support, but if they market their product as "RtI" or "research based," they run the risk of relegating this set of initials to the dustbin of other U.S. education reform efforts.


Julie Benay
Swanton School
[email protected]

Kathleen Brown

I am concerned that educators are using RTI to avoid identifying students under IDEA. A college professor told me she was elated that children would no longer be identified before grade 3. I told her that students need to be able to read and write for "content" at the beginning of grade 3. I am worried that RTI is taking the place of screening for eligibility to receive special education services - services that have, in my opinion, helped students make educational progress that led to an enviable life. A graduate student told me of a middle school where "RTI Plans" follow the students year after year. Apparently some teachers still think that we have to have a "discrepancy model" in order to identify students as having a learning disability. I believe that we who are special educators have worked to expand the possibility of receipt of special education services for students at all levels.

How can supporters of RTI and special education professionals work together to help all students? Special education is "education specially designed at no cost to the parent or guardian to meet the unique educational needs of a child with a
disability". It seems to me that there could be a "meeting of the minds" of both general and special educators so that all students can receive the services they require to make eductaional progress, and, receive corresponding related services such as speech and language and OT and PT. We are not adversaries. I do worry about students never being found eligible for services that could help them in school and also make them eligible for services in higher education.

Jennifer Dalgarn

Our school offers our students a PBS/RTI program for all students. Selections for the RTI program are decided by a computer based assessment program called MAPS. This program gives us the most reliable results because it constantly adjusts to the ability of the students based on the answers they provide for each question. The one problem that the teachers in our district find with the program is that it is multiple choice. This test design can allow some students to slip through the cracks because they are simply good guessers. Our RTI program is run by our reading specialists and a group of retired teachers who we have hired to come work with our students in a two day a week rotation. The students are constantly serviced during the week without interuption. Our reading specialists service our students that are labeled intensive while our retired teachers work with the strategic labeled students. Our RTI program has functioned in this manor for almost three years now. We have seen a anbundance of sucess with our strategic students, however there is a decrease in the identification of the special education students from our intensive group. I must agree with Kathleen's assessment that the introduction of RTI in the special education process has lead to a reduction of referrals. The most frustrating part of the RTI process is that we are discouraged from working with the unlabeled students so that they can be identified when the time comes. The bottom line is that we have to wait the prescribed sixteen weeks to gather enough data to have a meeting to decide if the student is eligible. In the meantime we could have worked together with the general education teacher to set up a program to make sure these students receive needed services to help them be successful. RTI is a great program for those students who are borderline, but those students who have more severe learning problems it gives them more time to fall behind and leaves the special educator with more ground to make up. I worry about those students who lose time because of the length of the process and those students who are never found to be eligible.


RTI can be useful resource if implemented correctly. I dont believe that it should take the place of other testing materials needed to identify learning disabilities.


My school district uses a PBS model for the past 3 years and is currently working towards adding the RTI model. We have started a committee that helps teachers with interventions for those students who are in Tier II and need extra help. It requires a lot of documentation that I feel sometimes is not always used effectively. I like to compare data, so reading this article and seeing the data related to success was encouraging.

Danielle R

We are just starting RTI at my school. After reading some of the posts on here, I think it is so important to point out that RTI is a general education and special education concern. Many of the teachers at my school see it as a special education issue. Also I think it is important for teachers to not get so wrapped up with the different Tiers. I know that was hard for me. I was always concerned at what level we were with interventions. I thought we were at Tier 3 when really we need to "beef up" are differentiated instrustion in Tier 1.
These are teh 2 biggest misconceptions I/my school had with the RTI pocess. Thanks to everyone who blogged on here to help us out.


RTI has been going on for a few years in my school. Although a name has been added to the practice, more and more teachers are using this in their schools. As a special educator, I was not sure of how the RTI process could affect me until I was told that it was the first step in possibly giving a child special education services and supports.


Drum roll Please, I would love to hear more about your research, because it sounds like my school. The RTI process in my school has not been very productive over the years that I have been there. I look forward to hearing good news of some research that is working. Thanks

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