Experts agree that key steps in creating a successful RTI program include having buy-in from teachers and specialists; starting small, such as with one school or grade in a district; and a demonstrating commitment to training and professional development.
Each district has different needs and problems and therefore requires a different infrastructure, according to Andrea B. Ogonosky, a licensed psychologist and an independent consultant in RTI. And every district has its own philosophy, which will then steer the kind of RTI system it will develop, she continues.
For example, the system could vary according to how the curriculum director wants to deliver instruction and curriculum. “One district I just consulted with does not use a curriculum that focuses on vocabulary development within the context of the delivery of instruction, something most of our struggling learners need,” she says.
Instead, the district does this type of instruction as a pull-out intervention in tier 2. But other districts choose curricular material that does this practice as the tier 1, instructional support. Assessment is another element districts consider.
Some districts might want to use progress monitoring weekly in tier 1 to watch learning rates of struggling learners, while other districts will only monitor progress weekly once a child is in tier 2 and put on a specific RTI plan. “I have districts identify these issues prior to developing their model as it greatly impacts the problem solving within the teams,” Ogonosky adds. “This is important when we start to survey the districts’ needs and align their data to formulate the staff development needs.”
Support must start from the top, from the superintendent and also principals, in order for the system to work and to create buy-in from the teachers and specialists involved. School administrators need to have patience. It takes about three to five years to build the proper infrastructure that will support a successful RTI program, experts say. “If you design your system and take your time, you can tear down each barrier each step at a time,” Ogonosky says.
Each district must create a district-level RTI team that includes teachers, curriculum specialists, speech pathologists and associate superintendents. The team meets regularly, such as once a week, and views their work as “we” not “I,” Ogonosky says. RTI has essentially forced general education and special education staff to work together. “Everyone needs to be involved in the planning and knowing how to operate in a school or district, and to keep different groups working together is a challenge,” adds Nancy Safer, director of the National Center on Response to Intervention.
Becky Darling, a school psychologist at the Manteno Community Unit School District #5 in Illinois, which uses RTI, says that larger and more urban districts could have an advantage over smaller and rural schools when it comes to the number of staff available to implement interventions. “Some districts have hired certified staff to provide interventions, but we don’t have the resources for that, so we’ve had to be creative in how we utilize the people who are available,” Darling says.
In the Manteno district, which uses Lexia Reading for the RTI program, Darling says, “we have people in lots of different roles doing the interventions, not just teachers.” The classroom teachers do tier 1 interventions, meaning they supplement their core curriculum with evidence-based instruction in areas where students are struggling.
In tier 2 interventions, students are typically pulled from their classroom for small groups, in which they use programs like Teacher-Directed PALS, or they go to the computer lab for Lexia Reading. Tier 2 interventions are done using principals, librarians, art and physical education teachers, and even trained grandparent volunteers and high school helpers, Darling says.
Tier 3 interventions are done using special education teachers or support staff such as psychologists, speech-language pathologists or reading specialists. Darling explains that the interventionist, with the exception of high school helpers or grandparent volunteers, collects progress-monitoring data. A paraprofessional or other school staff member pulls children out for progress monitoring.
The data are then given to teachers in a graph format. From there, any adjustments are decided upon, such as moving achieving students to less intensive intervention or having struggling students undergo individual problem solving.
While larger districts probably have more resources for purchasing intervention materials, Darling says, her district has been fortunate in having a state grant to help in purchasing the needed materials to get started.
Other important steps to building a program include having high-quality and scientifically based classroom instruction; ongoing student assessment to ensure that students who need closer monitoring or intervention get it; tiered instruction, which is done to differentiate instruction for all kinds of students and their particular needs; and parent involvement.
According to the RTI Action Network, schools need to inform parents of their child’s progress, the instruction and interventions used, and the academic and behavioral goals for their child.