Involving Families in RTI

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    In my state and district, RtI efforts have been framed within a school improvement process. As such, the planning, implementation, and evaluation efforts have been directly tied to the larger system and not narrowly to the procedures linked to the identification process for students with specific learning disabilities. This provides an important opportunity for our district- and school-based teams to carefully and critically examine the degree to which our assessment, curricula, and instructional practices are robust and sound and demonstrating strong outcomes. From the outset of our efforts, I have strongly believed that RtI provides another opportunity for us to be proactive about the involvement of families. This includes involving families in the RtI planning process and using their input to assist with decisions made for implementation and evaluation.

    The latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)-NCLB provided a definition of parent involvement that was a first in its 40 plus year history. The definition reads:

    The participation of parents in regular, two way, and meaningful communication involving student academic learning and other school activities; including ensuring that parents (1) play an integral role in assisting their child’s learning; (2) are encouraged to be actively involved in their child's education at school; (3) are full partners in their child's education and are included, as appropriate, in decision making and on advisory committees to assist in the education of their child; and (4) carrying out of other activities, such as those in Title I, Section 1118.

    To me, the definition is one that is embodied in IDEA and compels us to reflect on the degree to which our system moves from an invitation- or activity-based partnership to one that utilizes parents in a direct and coordinated fashion. Following are examples of how parents can assist and how systems of RtI can be designed to increase communication and involvement.

    District Level

    Parent representatives should be part of the district leadership team. In Kansas, parents are encouraged to be a regular member of the district leadership team. In my district, we have acknowledged this missing component. As our district team continues to be reconfigured to meet our needs, parent involvement has been sought in an advisory fashion as district training has been formulated. Involving families in the creation of staff development materials proved to be particularly powerful around progress monitoring. Our small, but insightful group contributed significantly to the discussion for our buildings around how teachers share data, when and how parents are communicated with regarding tiered efforts, and how parents can be involved in the intervention process. One of the parents was very willing to co-present with district staff, which is a powerful way to demonstrate the value of parent involvement.

    Reflect on how your district has garnered parent involvement in district-wide RtI efforts to shape and inform

    • an understanding of RtI principles and practices
    • district- versus building-level decisions
    • an understanding of the assessment tools utilized
    • the key features of the core delivered curricula and behavioral expectations
    • the front-line interventions used to address specific skill needs or specific skill enhancements
    • the district protocol regarding the decision-making process as it pertains to all, some and individual students, including when an exceptionality is suspected

    Building Level

    At a building level, a stronger and more direct opportunity exists for parent involvement because the school is often at the center of the neighborhood community. As RtI efforts have matured, buildings have made stronger connections for prevention and education with families. For example, Ray Marsh Elementary principal Pam Lewis has students demonstrate one of the reading interventions during open house that can be accessed on home computers. Mrs. Lewis has also educated the PTA about the assessment tools and interventions used in the building, not only by name but by having teachers model the assessment process and simulate reading lessons. Further, a volunteer organization of fathers, called the Watch Dogs, has been used to assist in the computer lab for one of the fluency interventions. At Brookwood Elementary, principal Teddi Stern and reading specialist Jennifer Danaher utilize the school newsletter and the front lobby television to share data, RtI efforts, and reading activities that can strengthen the home-school partnership.

    Maintaining a broader system view, reflect on how well your building(s) have communicated with parents regarding the

    • underlying principles of RtI
    • model of support used in the building
    • assessment tools and process utilized
    • key features of the core delivered curricula and behavioral expectations
    • front-line interventions used to address specific skill needs or specific skill enhancements
    • decision-making process regarding when to keep or change an intervention and how parents can expect to be involved in customizing an individual student plan
    • decision-making process regarding when a team, including the parent, may suspect an exceptionality and carry the intervention process forward into an initial evaluation

    These examples serve to stimulate reflection and sharing around this important issue—please use the comment feature below to contribute those things that have made a difference for your district or building.
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