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