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The Gold Standard of RtI Implementation

Discovering the best way to implement RtI in your school or district

by Richard Capone, CEO Let's Go Learn

Considering all the amazing changes that are occurring today with regard to the Internet, communication, and society in general, the way we teach our students is rapidly evolving.  One of the newest models that schools are adopting to help ensure achievement for all students is Response to Intervention (RtI).  Buzzwords like "universal screening" and "progress monitoring" are used constantly, particularly as districts search for products to help them implement RtI effectively.  But there is a major piece of the RtI puzzle that is missing:  diagnosis.  As districts examine the accepted model of RtI, they find themselves looking for products to screen and monitor those students who need intervention.  But how are schools determining which interventions are right for which students?  How do schools ascertain the exact needs of each individual student?  The diagnostic piece of the puzzle is often left behind because the models being adopted haven't kept up with the rapid pace of change.

Let me give you an example:  universal screening.  There is an implication that universal screening is a light-weight test given to all students in order to separate them into groups:  those who need additional help and those who do not.  However, with computer-based assessments, particularly those with adaptive technology like Let's Go Learn's DORA and DOMA, we can do far more than a light-weight screening.  We can perform a full diagnostic in the time that it would usually take to do only a screening measure.  So we need a new term: Universal Diagnostic.  Because of these buzzwords, however, administrators are still seeking "universal screeners," and companies are producing "universal screening" products.  In this case, schools must complete an extra step - adding further diagnostic assessment to determine the placement or course of action for their intervention students.  Or worse, as we have seen with many districts' RtI implementations, diagnosis is completed left out.

Let me give you another example.  Currently, many RtI implementations are based on aggressive progress monitoring.  The idea is to watch students closely and if they fall behind, apply medium to aggressive remediation.  This was adequate in the past because diagnostic assessment was time-consuming and very difficult to do.  Thus, schools focused on what was easier to do.  As a result of this line of reasoning, many schools are deploying AIMSweb or similar products, which focus on aggressive progress monitoring and the storing of data online.  But this is not the end game.  How do you help these students now that schools are, in theory, more efficiently sorting them into Tier 1, 2, or 3?  It comes back to the diagnosis.  This is the failure point of many interventions.  Students are given the wrong instruction and thus no gains are seen.  Ironically, with a proper diagnosis and thus the correct intervention, progress monitoring can be applied less often because teachers will be confident that they are applying the correct remediation.  Once again, with next-generation diagnostic products like DORA and DOMA, diagnostic assessments can be applied online and in a lab to entire schools.  So in theory, Tier 1 to Tier 3 students can all be diagnostically assessed.  Or in secondary schools, one might apply DORA/DOMA just to the Tier 2 and 3 students. 

The RtI model is a strong one and is being implemented nationwide with vigor.  But let us not forget that when implementing any intervention model, all the pieces must be addressed.  Building a car but forgetting to install an engine means the project will fail.  A screening alone won't produce RtI.  And progress monitoring alone is inefficient, if you're just making a guess as to which intervention to use.  The component of diagnostic assessment is the one that completes the RtI puzzle.

Tags: RtI implementation, RtI assessment, RtI planning

  1. goldankauf
    Reply 04/30/09

    I just couldnt leave your website before saying that I really enjoyed the quality information you offer to your visitors… Will be back often to check up on new stuff you post here!

  2. Richard Capone
    Reply 03/22/09

    Thanks for the comment. On a positive note, I’ve seen a real change in administrators and their understanding of assessments over the history of Let’s Go Learn.  In 2001, I received a lot of bewildered looks at IRA when I would explain that we had an online diagnostic reading assessment.  Today, administrators have a much better understanding of assessment probably in part beause of the constant attention testing has had since NCLB.  I’m not saying they all get it but more do.  After a recent trip to Minnesota where I participated in 3 different district meeting, I left very excited because at all 3 meetings, the administrators demonstrated the highest level of understanding of RtI and diagnostic assessment. But the problem became how to implement diagnostic assessment when there is tremendous pressure to implement benchmark testing systems to predict state testing results.  More on this later…

  3. Anne McBride
    Reply 03/22/09

    Cudos to you!  wink  I’m a special ed teacher so I’ve always known the power of diagnostic assessment. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frustrated by administrators who don’t understand that you can’t just buy intervention and apply it to all students who are in tier 2. We’ve just started using DORA in my school. It’s been amazing!  We currently have 3 very different interventions and use your Unique Reader as a supplement too.  DORA’s analysis helps us determine how to place students and provides excellent diagnostic information for teachres. I’m going to send this article to our district administrators who run RtI for the entire district.  Maybe they will listen you!  They certainly have’t been listening to me.

  4. Margy
    Reply 03/06/09

    Yes, I like that term, “universal diagnostic”!  Our district is implementing the bare minimum of RtI so they can meet the state requirement that all districts have a plan in place.  I’m going to try to turn my principal onto Let’s Go Learn and then see if she can influence the district.  Good virtual tour by the way on RtI.

  5. Sarah Jackson
    Reply 09/19/08

    Interesting point…  Our school has implemented RTI in the manner you are describing!  The focus has been to use progress monitoring to rotate students into a single intervention which I have found doesn’t work for all kids. I think our administrators were fooled because most supplemental programs say they are diagnostic.  But we really need a separate diagnosis to happen outside the intervention.  And we need more than one program.  In particular our intervention program doesn’t work well with our really low EL students.

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