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The “Big Ideas” that Characterize RTI in EC/Preschool Settings

By: Robin Miller Young, Ed.D., NCSPPublished: January 14, 2011
Topics: Early Childhood Education, Implementation Planning and Evaluation, Professional Development


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We said in our first blog that we wanted to start to share thoughts and ideas around RtI as applied in EC/Preschool settings.  So, what is the conceptual framework—or set of “Big Ideas”, that should characterize RtI in EC/Preschool settings?

Big Idea #1: System-level Change Initiative:


The RtI initiative creates a two-fold shift in our service delivery system.  Depending on the strategic planning process used by the program leadership team, the two shifts may occur in an inter-dependent manner, or they may occur somewhat more independently of one another.  

One, program leadership team members need to re-examine their current vision and mission in order to ensure that their collective efforts are still on-track to achieve their prioritized purposes.  In this process, some leadership teams decide to work to achieve a mission of a more comprehensive purpose or vision than the current focus.   For example, program leadership team members may expand their early academic program by adding an early numeracy and math component or a “standard protocol” packaged social-emotional intervention to their “core” or universal instruction.  Also,  additional grant money or other resources might become available, allowing an expansion of program offerings and/or service recipients.  One of those other resources might be professional development opportunities to support application of the Problem-Solving Process, development of Professional Learning Communities – PLCs, or enhanced use of instructional technology.  These resources can increase staff members’ skills to meet children’s needs, thereby building the program’s capacity to sustain the system changes over the long term.  Last, program leaders may seek to develop other collaborative relationships (e.g., district- and university-based partnership) that enhance the program’s ability to conduct reflective program evaluation efforts.  Visionary thinking will increase the scope of our service delivery models.  Consequently, current system structures and operating procedures will need to be examined and then redesigned and rearranged so they are better aligned with one another and can operate with greater coordination and integration to achieve a more comprehensive purpose. 

Second, as noted above, the various individual systems will need to be better aligned with one another to create a seamless continuum and a smooth transition between systems as students’ needs change.  This transition may occur as students age-out of one system and move to another system (Early Intervention to Preschool to Elementary School) and/or as their profile of strengths and needs changes over time, requiring different services from different systems.  This shift will require strong collaborative efforts among the program leaders of the various systems working to meet the children’s needs in local communities.  Consequently, individual systems will be better aligned with one another to ensure that children’s and families’ needs are correctly identified and appropriate effective and efficient services are provided.  Additionally, duplication of services and having needy families fall between the cracks of our systems needs to be eliminated.  

Creating this two-fold shift in our service delivery systems will result in stronger student achievement of targeted outcomes with a more efficient use of resources than our present systems generate.     

Big Idea #2:  Grounded in “Best Practices” for All Young Learners:


The service delivery systems’ foundations must include National Association for the Education of Young Children’s  (NAEYC) “Developmentally Appropriate Practice” (DAP) guidelines,  the Division for Early Childhood’s (DEC) Recommended Practices (RPs), and the joint position statement on “Inclusion” authored by both organizations,  the current authoritative sources for educational “best practices” in the field for all young learners. The National Head Start Association (NHSA) has joined NAEYC and DEC and the three organizations are jointly developing an “RtI in Early Childhood” position statement which will reestablish the “Response to Intervention” concept within the early childhood years.  For additional information about this work, contact Camille Catlett, National Professional Development Center on Inclusion at (919) 966-6635; or by e-mail at catlett@mail.fpg.unc.edu.  Additional organizations such as the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) are expected to develop practice guidelines for the RtI in EC/Preschool movement as well.

In addition to meeting the needs of all young learners, members in the field recognize that the core principles should apply to supporting growth in all developmental domains, not just the early academic (literacy and numeracy) and social-emotional domains that have been targeted so far.  We need models that look at other cognitive skills (play), knowledge (science concepts) and functional skills (fine and gross motor, oral expression and pragmatics, self care and environmental adaptive behaviors) that acknowledge the child’s increasing proficiency in integrating and executing the skills necessary for successful independent functioning in various settings.      

Big Idea #3:  Student Assessment Data Linked to Team-Based Decision-Making Process:


Questions will be asked about a specific student or group of students (e.g., “How successful are our students when provided with the core curriculum?); then, an on-going cycle of linking assessment findings to curricular, instructional and programmatic decision-making will take place (e.g., examination of student outcomes on curriculum-based assessment or measurement tool).  Decision types (e.g., child find screening, progress monitoring, determination of disability, program evaluation, etc.) will be matched to the types of data that meet technical adequacy criteria for that specific purpose.  Also, an explicit and transparent process for gathering and evaluating the data will be developed and employed; plus, a team, including professionals and families, will participate in a collaborative, decision making process.  

Big Idea # 4:  Student Needs are Matched to Instructional Intensity:


A system of curricular, instructional, environmental and programmatic supports will be available so that students have instruction and interventions that are matched to their needs.  This is often accomplished with multi-tiered models of instruction, supports and service.  The early childhood literature contains many references to tiered models and these models are often the seeds for developing a full-fledged RtI framework.   Additionally, as we improve collaboration with other service providers, we will be able to ensure that children’s needs are met in our own system, or the system of an allied organization. 

Big Idea #5:  Evidence-Based Tools and Processes:


 In the early childhood arena, we use evidence-based knowledge about our tools (e.g., assessment measures, curricula and instructional strategies, etc.) and processes for using these tools whenever possible.  However, tool development is, in some cases, still in its infancy, so we must also look at promising practices that reflect the values of our families and service providers as well as the collective wisdom we possess.  At all times, we need to collect data on the tools and methods for implementing them to ensure that they are working for the specific student and/or group of students.  Then, we need to engage in a process of practitioner reflection and peer-review on the appropriateness, effectiveness and efficiency of our tools and processes with our specific child/children.  With time, the evidence base will grow and expand and we can raise the bar on the scientific standards that our tools and processes need to meet for use in the field.

Big Idea # 6:  Accountable for student achievement of essential outcomes:


With Big Idea #6, we loop back to Big Idea #1.   Specifically, our purpose, our raison-d’être, is to continually gauge young children’s responses to the schooling experiences we design and in which we purposefully and intentionally engage them and to change environmental components to achieve greater effectiveness and efficiency.  Moreover, we need to continually hold ourselves, and one another, accountable to ensure that children achieve benchmarks on skills and knowledge that are known to result in successful life experiences.  An RtI framework will allow us to achieve greater consensus on the essential outcomes, to develop or reestablish the benchmarks for those essential outcomes, and to support our efforts to use our resources wisely and in accordance with the desires and prioritized values of system stakeholders, including funding sources, and especially parents. 

So these are the six “Big Ideas” of RtI that I think of as I consider how RtI may be applied in EC/Preschool settings.  What do you think?  What does the term RtI mean to you and your colleagues?  We welcome your thoughts and ideas!
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