In this lesson, you and your leadership team will consider ways to optimize your RTI framework so that the needs of diverse learners are met effectively. When it comes to RTI, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all framework that addresses the diverse needs of all students. As you consider the diverse student populations represented at your campus (e.g., culturally and linguistically diverse students, students identified as gifted and talented, and those eligible for special education support), it is necessary to incorporate approaches throughout the model that are responsive to students’ unique needs.
Addressing diverse instructional needs does not entail layering additional processes on the existing framework. On the contrary, the campus RTI model should serve as the overarching framework for literacy instruction for all students, and differentiated approaches should be infused within each component of the RTI model. Below, we revisit the fundamental components of RTI and address some ways in which diverse student needs are served by this effective instructional framework.
Tier 1: All learners should receive comprehensive, evidence-based, and quality Tier 1 literacy instruction. Core instruction should implement explicit and systematic instruction for all learners as well as incorporate the use of assessment data to inform instructional decisions, student groupings, and strategies for differentiating instruction. Evidence-based, in this respect, refers to practices that are shown to be valid for the particular target population (Klingner, McCray Sorrells, & Barrera, 2007). Particularly for English learners (ELs), core instruction needs to systematically develop students’ listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in English, their first language, or both.
Universal screening: An effective RTI framework ensures that students are systematically screened to identify students who are making adequate grade-level progress and/or students who are falling behind and are at risk for learning difficulties. A common method of screening in secondary school is looking at cut scores and student performance on state-level assessments. State-level assessments are a good use of data for screening at the secondary level because they are comparable across grades (i.e., one can look at performance from 7th–10th grades and compare changes). State-level assessments provide a data source that is useful for all districts and can provide valuable information when screening a student who has no other accessible data. For ELs, assessments need to be linguistically aligned with the students’ language of instruction, and the interpretation of screening data must take into account the students’ level of language proficiency.
Tiers II and III: All learners who are identified to receive additional Tier II or Tier III intervention instruction should be provided with systematic evidence-based interventions that are differentiated to meet students’ unique learning needs. Tiers II and III instruction should supplement, not replace, quality Tier I instruction, and they should focus on the skills and areas of need that are identified through systematic review of student performance data. For ELs, supplemental instruction must address students’ English language development needs in the four domains of listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
Progress monitoring: Learners with specific needs should be regularly monitored for progress toward learning goals within each tier of instruction (at least monthly in Tier I and every two weeks in Tiers II and III). Valid progress monitoring assessments ensure that students are receiving appropriate instruction and are on track for reaching established goals.
(Alber-Morgan, 2010; Echevarria & Hasbrouck, 2009; Klingner & Edwards, 2006; Vaughn, Bos, & Schumm, 2010; Vaughn & Ortiz, 2010)
Educators need to be well informed of the different student needs to be addressed in each of these components of RTI. For example, specific assessment accommodations need to be considered when administering RTI screening and progress monitoring to students who are English learners or who have learning disabilities so that the assessment will be a valid measure of these students’ progress. Also, administrators and instructional staff will want to review additional types of student data (such as English language proficiency data for ELs) to validate the need for student support identified through screening measures. An instructional framework that is effective for diverse student populations requires staff to be flexible, responsive, and able to draw on differentiated expertise. At the same time, what is universal across all tiers of the model is access to high-quality instruction that includes equal opportunities to learn for all students. Additional information about differentiating instruction for diverse populations can be found in Part 2 and To Learn More at the end of both sections.
At the systems level, there are important factors to consider when implementing an RTI model that supports students from diverse populations. Thoughtful scheduling of specialized services (e.g., special education, dyslexia, English language support, gifted and talented programs, etc.) ensures that they are delivered with minimal impact upon the instructional time provided at each tier of the multitiered framework (Hall, 2008). An effective RTI framework ensures that all students have adequate opportunities to learn; thus, your campus-based leadership team will need to create a schedule of intervention instruction and specialized services that effectively supplements (not impedes) high-quality, Tier I literacy instruction.
Furthermore, as Lesson E4 discusses, your team will need to establish communication structures that facilitate collaboration and the coordination of services among all stakeholders, including the providers of specialized services and the teachers and interventionists in Tiers I, II, and III. As part of the efforts to provide effective instruction to all students at your campus, it will be necessary to draw upon the range of your staff’s expertise and to facilitate collaboration among staff so that the expertise is shared. Effective communication structures ensure that one important message is continuously reiterated at your campus: Everyone is responsible for student learning.
Effective communication structures can also minimize misconceptions or misunderstandings regarding the relationship between RTI and special education. Although RTI is now an option for identifying students with specific learning disabilities based on their response to appropriate instruction, staff could undermine the fundamental purpose of RTI if it is conceived as solely a pre-referral process for special education.
It is true, however, that an RTI approach and special education are intertwined in necessary ways. For example, valid and reliable protocols for documenting each student’s progress in the RTI process is a critical part of his or her comprehensive evaluation (i.e., to corroborate that low achievement is not due to inadequate instruction or inequitable learning opportunities). However, the leadership team should clarify that the RTI process is only one part of the comprehensive evaluation system for special education services. Your campus-based leadership team will need to emphasize that the RTI model is a framework for efficiently identifying student needs and responding to those needs in all tiers of instruction.
“When teachers use an RTI model to teach diverse learners, they are better able to identify struggling students quickly and provide them with timely supplemental instruction” (Alber-Morgan, 2010, p. 2).
Finally, RTI processes should never trump student needs. This means that RTI should not be viewed as a lock-step instructional approach in which students who need specialized supports must go through each tier of intervention before receiving the necessary services. Districts and schools must ensure that the RTI process does not delay or deny students the evaluation for services they may be eligible for through special education. In the same vein, students who may not need specialized services but could benefit from immediate instructional intervention should not be delayed by the special education evaluation process. All instructional staff should be skilled in systematically reviewing student data (e.g., through regular data meetings) and responding to students’ needs as they fit within the parameters of the RTI framework at your campus. You can find additional information about the role of special education in To Learn More at the end of this section.
Note: Keep in mind that this Action Step will need to be integrated as you implement all of the other Action Steps. As you plan professional development, consider the specific Indicators and your level of implementation for Action Step E5. For example, your team may need to target evidence-based instructional approaches and assessment procedures that have been validated for each student population in your school.
TO LEARN MORE: The resources below provide more information about RTI and meeting the diverse learning needs of students.
The Building Capacity for Response to Intervention Implementation Project at the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk contains links to resources on all aspects of RTI.
The following resources provide specific recommendations and evidence-based practices for implementing RTI with the following student populations:
“Classroom Instruction and Teacher Training for Gifted Students from Diverse Populations,” published on the National Association for Gifted Children’s website, discusses how classroom practices and strategies can support advanced learners, including those who are limited English proficient, disabled, or from minority or low-income backgrounds.
The National Association of State Directors of Special Education’s “Myths about Response to Intervention (RTI) Implementation” clarifies eleven misconceptions about the relationship between RTI and special education, such as false assumptions about RTI as a pre-referral service and Tier III services.