Why Are We Doing RTI?

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    In today’s world of education we are faced with more diversity than ever before. For the most part we hear about special ed and we hear about general ed — but it is really about every ed! Too often the many worlds of education work in isolation for our second language learners, our gifted students, our special needs students and our general education students. With the scarce resources available, both financial and human capital — we need align our educational system to meet the learning needs of Every Ed!


    The authorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (2001) and reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004 have brought the issues of student learning and accountability for that learning front and center. Education systems must necessarily account for the learning of Every Ed. However, nationally and locally data continues to show achievement gaps for lots of students, especially those of color, second language learners and with learning disabilities. We know more about what works in instruction than ever before, yet we still have gaps in student learning.

    For students at risk for learning failure, and those with disabilities, these laws have been an incredible asset. They have required school systems across the country to intentionally examine the learning of all students, including those with disabilities.  However, the continuing gap in student learning begs the questions “Are we differentiating instruction based on students’ talents and needs?”  “Are we working from the model of one size fits all?” and “Are we providing tiered interventions for students who, based on assessment and evaluation data, show they need more strategic and intensive intervention?”

    Teachers and administrators are expected to raise test scores and close achievement gaps of an increasingly diverse group of students, teach huge amounts of content and manage a wide range of behaviors, almost certainly with limited resources.  The good news is that research on what works in terms of highly effective instruction has been going on for years.  Although there is no one right way to teach all students, empirically proven ways exist for increasing student performance through the implementation of effective instruction and data-based decision making strategies.

    In most cases, when a student does not progress as expected, the child is placed under the microscope.  In other words, the psychopathology is within the child and testing takes place to see what skills a student lacks.  Seldom does an evaluation of the student’s classroom learning environment take place to examine what factors may be related to the reported lack of progress.


    Without a comprehensive evaluation of the student within the context of the instructional environment it is often difficult to reliably and validly indicate the true cause of poor student progress.  Traditional psycho-educational evaluations most often do not include an analysis of variables directly related to academic success such as academic engaged time, opportunities to respond, teacher presentation style, teacher-student monitoring procedures, academic learning time, and teacher expectations to name just a few.

    Response to Intervention (RTI) is the practice of providing high-quality instruction and intervention matched to student need, monitoring progress frequently to make decisions about changes in instruction or goals and applying student response data to important educational decisions.  This approach is not about placing the problems within the student, rather examining the student’s response to instruction and intervention.  In essence, RTI expands the practice of looking at students’ risk of learning and behavioral failure beyond the student and takes into consideration a host of factors.  While RTI itself is not new and many of us have been doing it for decades, its recent surge in the field is a direct result of IDEA 2004.

    RTI as a model or practice should be applied to decisions in general, remedial, and special education, creating a well-integrated system of instruction and intervention guided by student outcome or performance data.  Student outcome/performance data are essential to:


    • making accurate decisions about the effectiveness of general and remedial education instruction/interventions;
    • making early identification/intervention with academic and behavioral problems;
    • preventing unnecessary and excessive identification of students with disabilities;
    • deciding eligibility for special programs, including special education; and
    • determining individual education programs as well as delivering and evaluating special education services.
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