Education Letter to the Editor

Thoughts and Questions on ‘Response to Intervention’

February 23, 2009 2 min read

To the Editor:

Some observations on using “response to intervention” in departmentalized middle, junior, and senior high schools (“High Schools Try Out RTI,” Jan. 28, 2009):

RTI’s origins are in elementary, skill-driven schools, and the strategy follows a clinical instructional model: assess, gather data, prescribe, monitor, and retest. Therefore, it is only natural that when RTI is tried in knowledge-based, departmentalized schools, it is imported and implanted. Since departmentalized schools do not have the same goals as elementary schools, a different set of questions must be asked:

Intervention in what? In knowledge-based schools, students enroll in content courses such as literature (not reading), the sciences, mathematics, history, geography, and a wide range of technology courses. Does RTI define intervention in terms of success or failure in these? Can it be used in courses in which reading is not the primary means by which students encounter content?

Who is involved? Is RTI for all students? If an honors or Advanced Placement class in European history is encountering achievement problems, will RTI respond? Or, is it a program to deal only with basic-skills-identified students?

What is being monitored? Is the monitoring data source basic-skills achievement or the requirements of academic courses? A literature course, for example, will focus on goals that are not shared by basic-skills testing.

How is progress measured? The course needs in a departmentalized school are not those found on standardized tests.

Staffing for what? Are literacy specialists assigned to RTI centers ready to move quickly and decisively into mathematics, science, and technology courses in which language demands are entirely different from RTI data sources?

Finally, what are the goals for RTI centers? Achievement for all students on all external examinations, such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams, SAT reasoning and subject tests, and the ACT exam? Instead of or in addition to basic-skills tests required for No Child Left Behind reports and high school graduation?

Response to intervention can work in departmentalized settings and help all students achieve if its advocates recognize and adjust to the tribal and discrete worlds of non-elementary schools.

Harry Stein

New York, N.Y.
The writer teaches at Manhattan College and the City University of New York City College.

A version of this article appeared in the February 25, 2009 edition of Education Week as Thoughts and Questions on ‘Response to Intervention’