Panel 1 Speaker: David Allsopp, Ph.D. - University of South Florida (FL)

RTI Leadership Forum
Washington, DC
December 8, 2010


Good morning.  It’s really a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak with all of you and also to participate with this very distinguished panel.  I am, I was a little bit hesitant when I found out that I was speaking after Don Deshler because he really gave us the really smart version of things.  He’s maybe Tier 1.  I’m going to be the Tier 3 or 4 presenter.  I’m going with the South Park theme, so we’ll see how that works.

I was asked to highlight some key points with regard to the question that’s there – how comprehensively are we as schools implementing RTI?  To do this, I briefly want to address some current progress and I think there’s some similarities in some of my thoughts in relationship to what Don has said.  But I also want to spend the bulk of the time talking about a few issues or areas that I think we’re falling short.  And then to finish with a final thought about future directions.

With respect to the progress that’s been made, it’s evident that states and school districts across the country are in the midst of some level of implementation of RTI.  And there’s some evidence that RTI processes are positively affecting outcomes for some students in some areas, for example reading and literacy.

I believe that one of the most important outcomes has to do with the level of discussion that’s occurring across what has traditionally been independent silos of knowledge and practice.  These camps, if you will, have often been very far apart in the past.  But you know like camps, hopefully, we begin to get closer and closer together.  And I definitely think one of the very positive outcomes is that some of these silos are beginning to get closer together in terms of discussing issues relative to kids who really need good, solid instruction in order to attain educational success in their schools.  So, some progress has been made.  And I think that’s very encouraging.

However, in building a road to the comprehensive implementation of RTI, you know we’ve got a good start.  With this said, we’ve got a long way to go.  And we have much to consider in terms of moving forward.  Like building a road through a beautiful mountain range and I know some people are from areas of the country where we have some beautiful mountains, we have to be mindful of the natural beauty that the mountains, the lakes, and the animals bring to us.  And we’ve got to be mindful that we don’t forsake the very view we want to embrace after we have finished building the road.  So likewise the road to the comprehensive implementation of RTI can’t be laid without recognizing and embracing the beauty of our purpose, making public education accessible to all students.  There’s beauty in the students we serve.  Their families, the discovery of better methods of teaching and learning and of the moral obligation we have as stewards to do this thing right.

So where are we falling short as we work towards building a road toward a comprehensive RTI?  Well there are three areas that I’d like to examine.  One is the extent to which the intent of RTI is actually happening in its implementation, the extent to which highly qualified, high quality tiered instruction is occurring, and the extent to which students with disabilities and other exceptionalities are included in the conversation.

First let me address the issue of intent.  As I’ve observed implementation of RTI in a lot of different areas, states and school districts, and have listened to teachers and building leaders and RTI specialists and parents, I’ve been struck by how differently RTI is being implemented.  I often ask myself the question, Do I see the intent of RTI in the implementation?  I’ve kind of reached the conclusion that not all responses by schools to the implementation of RTI appear to be done with the spirit or the intent of RTI.

So what is the intent of RTI?  Well, in my estimation it’s getting the best instruction early to all students based on their individual learning needs in order to promote school and life success.  In my paper, I characterize 4 general implementation responses by schools.  The first one is what I call the same game, new name response. And probably many of you have seen this. We have RTI-sounding names that are applied to processes or procedures that really aren’t reflective of the true intent of RTI.  For example when Tier 2 or 3 is kind of put in within an already existing 90-minute reading block.  Or at the high school level,  when the existing core structure of AP/honors/IB, then general basic diploma courses, then remedial, and then non-diploma option courses become the tier instruction that occurs in high schools.

There’s the add-on or and take-away response.  Got to click the right button.  And this response is when well, we add something in an area that’s RTI related, but then in place of that we take something away.  We might add 30 minutes to a reading block but within that additional 30 minutes the same teacher is doing most of the same thing, monitoring those kids who are “Tier 2” but also monitoring those kids who are doing center work, etc.

There’s what I call the replacement response, and the replacement response is when a specific aspect of RTI is emphasized to replace another area that’s existing prior to RTI but other RTI components are less emphasized.  One of those has to do with instances I think where schools have a very keen sense that their purpose in RTI is to reduce the numbers of identifications in a particular school.  I’ll talk a little bit more about that later.

The last one is the moving ahead response, and this is the one where I see vision, leadership, innovation, collective buy-in by those who are involved, and I often see this at the school level.  We need more moving ahead responses as we continue this important work.  And if we’re going to do that then it’s important that within this implementation that the true intent is a part and the lead for what we’re doing in terms of our school-based responses.

A second area I believe we’re falling short is the extent to which high-quality tiered instruction is occurring.  And I say this across grade levels and across content areas.  What is high-quality tiered instruction?  Well, like a lot of good ideas we know less than what we need to know in order to make it happen across all of the grade levels that we want and across the different content areas.  The good news however is we’ve got a foundation and certainly some of Don’s words pointed to that.  Practices such as explicit systematic instruction, cognitive strategy instruction, universal design for learning, and components of differentiated instruction such as flexible grouping and particular types of peer-mediated approaches like class-wide peer tutoring are just a few examples.

But there are issues and a lot of times the issues have to do with translation.  Are we translating what we know in ways that can be used?  And oftentimes we find a lack of consensus across what is or isn’t supposed to be high-quality instruction.  Don mentioned this.  Social validity—the extent to which what does work can actually be implemented in ways that are useful.  And this results in fragmentation.  And also I’m very concerned about what I think is an overemphasis in some districts about the “what” we’re using rather than the “how” it’s being used.

A third area is the extent to which students with disabilities and other exceptionalities, and I include students who are gifted and talented, twice exceptional, English language learners and young children as well in this category.  I’m not really sure that their needs are being addressed.  I’m not sure they’re at the forefront.  In some ways I kind of question whether or not they’re even at the table, particularly when push comes to shove and we’re in our daily, day to day implementation of a new process, meeting deadlines, timelines, data reports have to be done.  Sometimes I’m not real sure.

Sometimes in our zeal I think we are trying to move so fast, so quickly, that we’ve got blind spots that cloud what we’re thinking and what we’re doing in relationship to this population.  Some of the blind spots include oftentimes I hear Tier 3 is special education.  Issues, both for students with disabilities and students who are not yet identified but who have, who are struggling miss out when this is the case.   I hear “RTI kid” used a lot nowadays.  Sounds like the special ed kid concept that we used to hear a lot more.

For English language learners, those who are gifted and talented, young children, I’m not sure where we are.  Sometimes I wonder if we’re in a new vogue tracking system.  And I’m not sure the needs of these students are being addressed.  For example students who are gifted and talented and twice exceptional, is there a tiered system that actually allows them to extend and deepen their understandings?  And I think there should be an option.  Embedded with RTI is the issues, mandated issues like accountability.  All of these can become blocks to the implementation of RTI in ways that really could be helpful.

And last is the identification issue.  Reduction versus accuracy.  I’m really concerned that in many instances we are in the process of overly concerning ourselves with reduction and not necessarily accurately identifying students, and this is important.

So although where we currently are and where we want to get to, there are some issues.  The question is, how do we get there?  Well we’ve got a couple of choices.  One way is to build a road in haste, short-cutting the beauty, the purpose, and in some cases dismissing some of those issues that we really need to address or leaving them in shambles, and creating a road that has potholes and fissures and cracks that is not going to last a long time.  That’s the quick and dirty approach.  However, we also can take a different approach and that is we can attend to the important issues that arise and we can choose to stay the course.  With regard to the true purpose of RTI, we can build a road with quality that embraces the beauty of this purpose using strong and lasting materials.  Many of us are working toward this end and it’s going to take all of us to really make it happen.  I think this is our next best chance to make pre-K through 12 education right for all students.  Let’s hope we have the fortitude to take advantage of this opportunity.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you this morning, and for your work, your continued work towards making RTI happen for our kids.  Thank you very much.  (applause)




Dr. David Allsopp is Professor of Special Education in the College of Education at the University of South Florida. Prior to his work in higher education, Dr. Allsopp was a middle school teacher for students with learning disabilities and emotional-behavioral disorders.

Dr. Allsopp’s research and writing interests include mathematics instruction for students with learning difficulties, social-emotional/behavioral outcomes for students, learning strategy instruction, and the integration of technology in preservice and inservice teacher preparation.

Dr. Allsopp has authored or coauthored several books, is published in multiple peer-reviewed journals, has published chapters in edited books, and has made presentations at international, national, and state conferences. He has successfully written both federally funded and state funded grants.



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