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Response to Intervention: What You Need to Know

by Richard D. McCallum, Ph.D.

Whatever your political leanings may be, you can probably see the argument that NCLB has in many ways been good for low-achieving students.  Titles 1 & 3, among others, have channeled funds directly toward students who need help, whether during the day or after school.  An outgrowth of the focus on low-achieving kids has been a movement to systematize and structure the types of interventions schools offer for such students.  This process has been codified in what is termed "Response to Intervention," or RtI.

RtI sets out a structure for the range and types of interventions schools might provide, from targeted small group work to Special Education placement.  RtI outlines "tiers" or levels of interventions that schools may offer. These tiers vary by the size of the cohort of students addressed and by the nature and type of instruction provided.

Perhaps more important than the tiers themselves are the process measures that are required for identification and delivery of services.  RtI is a data-driven process by which teachers and administrators collect diagnostic data on students and use that data to place students in interventions and monitor their progress over time.  Both the initial screening and the ongoing monitoring of student growth are essential elements of RtI.

Having such a data-driven process that is structured and organized to address specific student needs makes sense.  The current situation in schools is that many different types of intervention, offered by different groups and organizations, are not coordinated or structured to provide the maximum benefits. What we often find in schools is that well-meaning individuals are not pulling on the intervention rope in the same direction.  Such a situation is expensive and fails to coordinate our precious resources or meet the needs of individual students.

There is another important issue involved in RtI and that is beginning the process of linking general education with special education.  For a long time SPED has been the ONLY intervention game in town, and because of that, the ranks of those identified as SPED have soared.  A key aspect of RtI is creating a series of interventions that don't begin with SPED designation, but rather build toward such a designation.  The idea is that schools provide Tier I, II, and III level interventions BEFORE a student might be considered for SPED.  The goal is to get students the right level of intervention for their needs.  Children with special needs will still be identified and served, but RtI should help ensure that the truly needy receive the intensive services of SPED.

Given the above factors, how do DORA and DOMA and the range of LGL's products fit into structure of RtI?  First, DORA and DOMA are designed to provide exactly the type of diagnostic information that teachers and specialists need to screen students for intervention services. The literacy profile in DORA, for example, provides teachers and other interested parties a way to visually examine the relationship amongst sub-tests and identify where discrepancies exist.  Using the classroom profiles allows teachers to group students for targeted intervention.  Further, using the measures over time allows teachers to track student growth and adjust instruction.  The same reasoning applies in other LGL products such as Unique Reader, in which students' performance on DORA is used to place them in the program and their performance is charted over time to gauge their growth.

Our philosophy at LGL has always been that the best intervention is targeted specifically to student needs and short in duration.  Once students show that they have the necessary skills, intervention should end and kids should return to their regular classrooms.  This belief is consistent with practices in RtI in that the process assumes that many of the needs of struggling students can be met without having students designated as SPED, and that once their needs are met, kids can return to regular classrooms.

The challenge for teachers and school administrators is to organize and align their current intervention services in such a way that, for once, we are all pulling in the same direction.  A key to doing this is to understand the nature and type of assessment information that teachers collect about students.  Individualized diagnostic assessment can act as a common thread to connect classroom instruction with the work of reading specialists, community-based programs, after-school programs, and summer school.  At LGL, this is how we've designed our products and worked with schools to implement the tools we've developed.  Whether liberal or conservative, we can all agree that we need to do a better job of meeting the needs of low-achieving students.

Tags: RtI, response to intervention, intervention strategies, reading intervention

  1. Richard Capone
    Reply 11/14/14

    CC, good point about labeling kids as “intervention.”  Along this line of reasoning, intervention currently “happens” to kids in most schools across the country.  Intervention should not be a permanent state. It has to have a goal and if met, students can exit.  With this said, what I’ve seen with more progressive teachers is that they bring the students into the process so that they own it.  Many teachers are sharing their DORA and ADAM summary reports (reading and math) with their students. Students then see their strengths and their weaknesses and finally understand why they may have been placed into intervention.  But more importantly, they now know what they have to do to exit.  We have special versions of our DORA and ADAM reports that hide the grade level scores as well if teachers want to have a more tactful report to share with students or parents.

  2. cc
    Reply 10/21/14

    How about struggling teachers? 95% of the time they are the ones that need to have an intervention. 27 kids in the class and 22 of them need intervention? NOT buying it. Intervention is only another way to label and set kids back further and if they get their way really help out and give the poor kid some drugs to take that will show him/her to be a kid huh.

  3. Lisa
    Reply 09/28/09

    RTI is used in our school system and it is our duty as educators to switch our thinking from the “old school” belief that college education is not for everyone. This may have been optional at one time, however, our students are facing an ever-changing global economy and must be able to move through it as fluidly as possible, to continue to be competitive.

  4. Lisa
    Reply 09/11/09

    This philosophy aligns with our school districts as well…everyone must shift from the idea that it’s ok if some students don’t make it to college. Our world today demands higher level education and problem solving skills no matter where you live or what you plan to do. I have not one, but two children who are success stories due to the hard work of caring educators…both college bound.

  5. John
    Reply 01/23/09

    My kids will be going into school soon and this is on my mind. I hope they grasp education and are able to keep up. Time will tell but hopefully the help is there if they require it.

  6. Jennifer
    Reply 07/17/08

    Awesome work on describing RTI.  My school district is using RTI as well!  This coming school year my school is changing the way we track interventions we are using with struggling students.  I’m sure RTI will play a big role in the process!

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