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Delaware’s Early Childhood RTI Project

By: Verna ThompsonPublished: December 28, 2011
Topics: Data-based Decision Making, Implementation Planning and Evaluation, Pre-K, Professional Development, Tiered Instruction


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Verna Thompson is an Education Associate in the Delaware Department of Education Early Development and Learning Resources office.


In Delaware, the Department of Education Early Development and Learning Resources (EDLR) office facilitates the Early Childhood Response to Intervention project. I work directly with local school district early childhood coordinators in this effort. Using Department data, two communities with low performing schools are targeted to participate. As the RTI project manager, I then work with the district coordinators to identify two federal and/or state funded Head Start classrooms in each district and help them to establish a screening protocol process. The district coordinators work with the Local Instructional Support Team (LIST) to identify children who might benefit from the project. Children who scored low on developmental screenings are then targeted for additional intervention support. Monthly, the LIST groups come together to review the progress of the children targeted for support, giving the teachers an opportunity to summarize children’s learning experiences, and to discuss the results of the progress monitoring data maintained by each teacher.  Family service workers and program administrators also participate in LIST meetings and connect families to the process as well as provide internal support for teachers. Based on the information that is provided by the program staff, the LIST team decides if children have made enough progress to continue classroom support, if the teacher needs to change the teaching strategies and learning opportunities, or if children need to be referred for a comprehensive evaluation. The RTI project has a team approach to making decisions about children’s progress and the need for further services. 

Programs have eagerly participated in the RTI process because they enjoy the support and technical assistance that is offered. Each month, a technical assistance specialist (TA) coaches each of the four classroom teachers involved in the project. She helps plan intentional small group learning experiences to promote early literacy and social-emotional skill development. She helps teachers reflect on whether the plans they developed are accelerating children’s learning. This year, the teachers are using the IGDIs to track progress on early literacy skills, and a child behavior checklist to track social emotional skill development. The TA also provides professional development opportunities for quality indicators related to RTI Tier 1 practices. Some strategies include using observation-based assessments, using an Environmental Rating Scale, and using the Creative Curriculum Implementation Checklist.  In one of the participating communities, an itinerant special education teacher provided additional TA support for the classrooms and actively participated in monthly LIST meetings.     

There were two challenges that were encountered in the RTI project. First, it was difficult to focus on Tier 1 and Tier 2 activities simultaneously. While Tier 1 focused on implementing high quality effective practices with fidelity, even the most experienced teachers needed help setting up an environment with active learning experiences for all children. Many teachers have difficulty planning lessons with interesting props and familiar materials that would help children scaffold learning naturally. Teachers also needed assistance to plan “intentional” play opportunities for children to engage in the skills they are learning throughout the day. The second challenge was promoting data collection in the classroom. Many teachers preferred to provide narrative accounts of classroom experiences rather than reporting “numerical” data to document children’s progress. They needed encouragement to use “probes” and progress monitoring tools such as the IGDIs to track children’s progress.        

One of the biggest lessons learned through this project was how to help educators to effectively address children’s challenging behaviors in the classroom. Once we were able to help educators implement preventive behavior strategies, it was difficult to help them to promote learning in other areas. When teachers were confident in their ability to control behavior, they were much more willing to try new strategies to promote children’s learning. 

Delaware’s Early Childhood RTI project is a success for a number of reasons. First, as a result of the collaboration between the school district and the program, the number of children with disabilities referred to Head Start and the number of itinerant special education teachers working in the programs increased in both communities. Additionally, the teachers report that as a result of the RTI experience, they improved their teaching skills and see themselves as more creative. They report that they are having more fun in the classroom. Teachers also reflected that relationships with families improved as a result of this experience. They learned to communicate information about positive learning events rather than continually relating negative experiences. The final and most important reason that the RTI project is a success is that 90% of the children who were identified as being at risk of having learning disabilities for the past three years made substantial progress while being involved in the project.
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