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What Does RTI Mean for the Classroom?

Response to intervention (RTI) is the process of identifying and addressing student learning needs with a tiered approach to early intervention. Guests Judy Elliott and Douglas Fuchs answered questions about RTI and its role in the classroom and school.

November 13, 2008

What Does RTI Mean for the Classroom?

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  • Judy Elliott is the Chief Academic Officer for the Los Angeles Unified School District. She has trained thousands of staff, teachers, and administrators in inclusive schooling and assists districts, national organizations, state and federal departments of education in their efforts to update and realign curriculum, instruction, and assessment for all students. Judy Elliott was a lead author on the Response to Intervention Blueprint: District Level Edition (NASDSE, 2008). .
  • Douglas Fuchs holds the Nicholas Hobbs Endowed Chair in Special Education and Human Development at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, where he is also the co-director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Reading Clinic. Identified as one of 250 most highly cited researchers in the social sciences, Doug Fuchs’ most recent book is Response to Intervention: A Framework for Reading Educators (IRA, 2008).

Elizabeth Rich (Moderator):

Welcome to our live chat on response to intervention--an instructional approach that’s of great interest to educators and administrators alike. We’d like to thank our sponsor of this chat, AIMSweb. To learn more about AIMSweb’s RTI solutions, visit www.aimsweb.com.

Our guests today are two leaders in the field of RTI. Judy Elliott is the Chief Academic Officer for the Los Angeles Unified School District and Doug Fuchs holds the Nicholas Hobbs Endowed Chair in Special Education and Human Development at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. I’m Elizabeth Rich, an online editor for teachermagazine.org, and I’ll be your moderator today.

We have received many excellent questions already, so let’s get started.

Question from Tam Pirmann, teacher, Whiteside Elementary:

We are struggling with the intervention portion of RTI. The call is for research based strategies to be used. We are struggling with where to find them. Is there an accepted resource for these strategies/lessons that are research based?

Douglas Fuchs:

hi tam: important question. i’ve got two suggestions. first, there is a newly established national center on RTI funded by the office of special ed programs in washington. its website is: www.rti4success.org. its email: rticenter@air.org. its website has important pages and links that will lead you to what you’re looking for. second, there is the RTI action network. its website: RTINetwork.org. i highly recommend both of these websites.

Question from Cliff Rabe, Middle School Lang Arts Teacher, Camp Ernst Middle School:

From my understanding, RTI was/is primarily used in elementary schools, and is seemingly successful. How effective would such a model be in a middle school? Is there any research that supports that it works at that level?

Douglas Fuchs:

hi cliff: you’re right. RTI was initially modeled after “reading first,” the early intervention centerpiece of NCLB. as such it was conceived as a service delivery system for the primary grades (K-grade 3). moreover, it was initially meant for the area of reading bec the research on early reading is very strong. during the past 3-5 years, we’ve seen RTI morph into “something for everyone.” the fact of the matter is that there is very little research on how to think about RTI, let alone implement it, in middle and high school. i’m not saying RTI at these levels is wrongheaded; rather, there is very little empirically to guide us at this time.

Question from Clifford Rabe, Lang uage Arts Teacher, Camp Ernst Middle School:

Let’s face it, RTI is the newest “buzz” in education. Thus, I have heard of some school districts who are advocating RTI, yet they are not being “officially” trained on it, or are watering it down into a very “summarized” form of “training.” How much training is suggested and who is exactly “qualified” for such? Have you seen districts who have failed to implement RTI effectively?

Judy Elliott:

Thanks for the question. On the contrary, RtI is not a new buzz in the field. The concept, framework and practice has been around for decades.

What is different is the focus of how states and districts, as well as school sites are moving forward with it.

Training will depend on the infrastructure and implementation capacity currently available. Like any professional development or innovation - a needs assessment should be done to see where folks are and the specific areas to be addressed.

At the end of the day leadership and planning as well as a coherent approach to RtI needs to be done so this is NOT seen as another initiative but an integrated approach to meeting the needs of all students

Question from Carole White, Coordinator, CCSSO CAS SCASS:

What should the role(s) of a state department of education be in the implementation of RTI in its LEAs?

Judy Elliott:

The role of the state is important. We are in the process of finalizing the State Blueprint that will support the role of the state in RtI. You will find it at NASDSE.org.

In the meantime I would refer to the POlicy COnsiderations Book we did for NASDSE.org that was specifically pulled together for state level folks.

The state needs to work to model and support the integration of services and programs for districts and ultimately schools. We know that offices and departments within states are too, working in silos. Question from Herman Rohan, Social Studies Teacher, Longwood Junior High School:

Where can I find research which supports implementing RTI?

Douglas Fuchs:

hi herman. i want to answer this question in 2 parts. the first part concerns the work of researchers; the second part concerns the work of pracitioners. during the past 10 years, many researchers (including many researchers funded by the office of special education programs in washington)have been busy developing and (trying) to validate early screening measures, benchmarks, small-group tutoring protocols, and more. most of this work has been in early reading; more recently, similar work is being conducted in early (grades 1-3) math. i recommend you google the names of randi o’connor, frank vellutino, sharon vaughn, pat vadasy, carolyn denton, and my colleagues, lynn fuchs and don compton. there are more, but these names come to mind. this group (and others) have done a wonderful job of developing standard treatment protocols that might best be used in a tier 2 setting for at-risk children, unresponsive to the core curriculum. if the protocols of these researchers are implemented with fidelity, there should be many fewer “false positives” (or children who appear disabled but are not really).

regarding practitioners, my strong sense is that many are trying very hard to implement RTI in their schools and districts. i’ve no doubt that at least some are succeeding. however, the fact is that we have very few data-based evaluative reports from practioners on their successes. such evaluative reports are terribly important, partly bec RTI is inherently complex and ambitious.

Question from Christina Jenkins, Counselor and Student Support Team Chair, Apex Elementary, Wake County Public School System:

Have you found successful ways to get teacher buy-in? Some teachers are resistant to change.

Judy Elliott:

Indeed consensus is the first step to building an integrated approach for instruction.

I refer you to NASDSE.org to see the Blueprints on site and district development of RtI. Consenus at both is the key. Folks that are resistant to change, in my opinion, are responding to a fear of loss of some sort. Having open courageous conversations about what is working, what is not, what areas of concerns teachers have is the start of laying the important ground for RtI. Teachers are absolutely key players in this - they are the ones working with students daily and know best what the needs of students, interventions etc are.

Question from Myrta Cardona, social worker La joya isd:

What is the relation between RTI and districts that have a Student Assistance Program (SAP)which adresses problems that affect learning.

Judy Elliott:

This is a tricky question in that I do not know what your SAP is or comprised of. I will assume it is the intervention team for students who are struggling in the areas of behavior and/or instruction.

I see RtI and SAP one and the same. BUT again - it depends on the current role of SAP is. In many places these teams are seen as the gateway to Special Education. RtI is NOT that team.

I see them being melded.

Question from joan monroe, parent:

Who came up with the name “RTI”? I’ve tried in vain to understand it. Who is responding? To what intervention? Your description says “it’s a program of identifying and addressing student learning needs..” That sounds pretty much like what an IEP sets out to do. What acronyms like these do is continue to make education methodology inaccessible to parents--and it would seem, many teachers. Would love a concise explanation in english, not edu-speak. Thanks.

Douglas Fuchs:

hi joan. at one level, “responsiveness to instruction (or intervention)” is pretty straightforward. it addresses the fact that some children will be “responsive” and others will not. one of the basic assumptions and presumed advantages of RTI is that children unresponsive across tiers of increasingly intensive instruction are probably children who need most intensive instruction (special education in some places). put differently, RTI’s multiple tiers of instruction in principal are a “good” bec they help ensure that children get good instruction before they become eligible for special education.

at a different level, RTI is indeed confusing. why? because altho many of us talk glibly about who is “responsive” and “unresponsive,” the fact is that there is absolutely no consensus on what these terms actually mean. much work needs to be done in this area.

Question from gwen lavert, Asst. Professor, Indiana Wesleyan University:

Why is it that some regular education and special education teachers feel threatened by RTI?

Judy Elliott:

We have for decades worked in silos in education. Now we are saying come and talk about what is working for all students.

We have functioned for many years in what I call private classrooms and shared publicly little data. Now in the past decade things have shifted.

I do not see folks resistant to RtI per se but rather change. We went through this when “Inclusion” came along. Resistance was often driven by fear of the unknown, lack of know what and how to work with special education students etc

Resistance is a symptom of a bigger issue. Question from Ann Otwell, Graduation Coach, Chestnut Log Middle School, GA:

We’re confused about “research-based interventions”. Do they have to be elaborate models of instruction?

Douglas Fuchs:

good question. no, they do not necessarily have to be elaborate or highly complex. what they need to be is well-defined (replicable) practices that have at least a couple of well-designed studies to support them. with such empirical, or research, support, they become what i call “best bets.” if you’re on a school committee with responsibility for identifying “research-based interventions,” you want to choose those with a track record. if you choose an intervention without a track record, it doesn’t mean that the intervention will fail your studnents and teachers. it means you’re taking more of a gamble. “research-based” is never a guarantee, which means that all those choosing and using a given intervention must collect data on their own children.

Question from Kim Lawson, Reading Teacher, Poplar Bluff Jr. High School:

We have been asked to put together a custom RTI plan to implement in our regular education classrooms at our junior high school. How can we best go about this? What resources should we consult? What professional development would you suggest?

Douglas Fuchs:

hi kim. as previously expressed on this chat, RTI at the junior high and high school levels has not been researched. i wish i could say otherwise. this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t implement it. what i think it does mean is that you and your colleagues need to collect good data on your students’ academic achievement. your data will help you and your associate decide whether what you’re doing is working; will help you decide if changes should be attempted.

again, i direct you to the national center on RTI (www.rti4sucess.org) and the RTI action network (RTINetwork.org).

Question from Melissa McCain, Literacy Facilitator, Papillion LaVista Public Schools:

What is the administrator’s role?

Judy Elliott:

HUGE! Leadership is so very critical in this as well as any innovation or change in schools.

The admin is the leader, coach, data consumer, and the person that works to align all that goes on at the school site to support RtI. The admin makes decisions of what goes to the back burner or off the stove so that RtI work can be done. This cannot and should not be rolled out as another initiative - it is a way to integrate and better coordinate intervention and efforts currently going on - and also assess things that are being implemented- what do the data indicate?

The admin is the leader that brings folks around the table to have open dialogue about what is working and how do we know -- and what is not - and what do we need to do.

Leadership is huge with this.

Question from Mario Galante, Director of Special Services, Qukaertown School District:

Do you have any examples or experience with secondary, more specifically high school RTI models?

Judy Elliott:

Yes there are many. I suggest two resources - one is the rtinetwork.org where you will find blogs and articles about RtI from the practitioner’s perspective. The other is AASA’s Sept 2008 School Administrator magazine where the entire issue is dedicated to RtI.

The lead article that I wrote addresses secondary.

Question from Sarah J Sanchez EdD:

For a reading intervention in the elementary school setting, is there a recommended measurement interval, such as every week or every 2 weeks?

Douglas Fuchs:

hi sarah: generally speaking, i’d recommend a 1 or 2 wk interval. in our own research as part of the nationl research center on learning disabilities, we tested a small group of first grade children once per wk. these were kids who failed to meet an established cut point on a screening measure. among this small group, those who did not seem to be responding to the core curriculum went to tier 2 where they were monitored once per wk. those who then went to tier 3 were also monitored once per wk.

Question from Laurie Croft, Administrator for Professional Development, Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education, The University of Iowa:

RTI is being adapted for use the gifted students as well as those in need of some form of remediation when “learning needs” are identified. How can this be successful for gifted learners?

Judy Elliott:

Great to hear. Indeed RtI is a framework that works for all students, including gifted. Gifted students, too, have learning and behavior needs. Using the pyramid or triangle of RtI, interventions specific can be identified to support highly able students that need an extra scoop (Tier 2) or more specially challenging opportunities at Tier 3.

In Portland OR there is a school for student who are in the top 1% of achievement. This students are Tier 3 and are being challenged as well as affectively supported with their giftedness.

So yes the RtI concept works for gifted.

Question from Daniella Quinones, Marketing Coordinator, WGBH Teachers’ Domain:

What role do you think that digital media plays in the classroom both in RTI and in addressing student’s learning needs?

Douglas Fuchs:

i don’t consider myself expert in the area of digital media. what little i know, suggests that it can be an important addition to the general ed core curriculum however, for nonresponders--that is, for those kids who need something more intensive--media and technology generally is not as effective as a live expert instructor. that’s my sense. you may consider me a luddite. maybe so.

btw, i don’t know of any research that compares a live expert instructor to a good computer-based program. such a comparison would seem to be important.

Question from Michele Hill, Title I , James Madison Middle School:

What is the record of success for RTI based on school population, administration of instruction, and length of time implemented?

Douglas Fuchs:

i’m going to address the first part of your question, michele. the record of success is unclear bec school folks have not generated many written evaluations of their RTI work. this is completely understandable. as a former 3rd and 4th grade teacher and school psychologist, i know how crazy school life can be, how busy practitioners are. to expect them to conduct well-designed evaluations of their work is asking a tremendous amount. that said, there is little evidence of effectiveness coming from schools, districts, and states. some of the evidence from iowa and elsewhere is sobering. this does NOT mean we should pull back from RTI. it does mean that we must recognize that doing RTI is hard work. (it is indeed “rocket science.”) schools and districts serious about reforming general and special ed must try very hard to find the resources and routines that permit them to implement practices, collect student outcome data, and reflect on those data to determine next steps.

from our work as part of the national research center on learning disabilities (i’m thinking here of the survey work conducted as part of the center by daryl mellard and don deshler and their staff) i know that certain schools and districts have made great strides in implementation.

schools and districts need help in collecting data. i’m not sure where this help will come from but it’s badly needed.

Question from K.L. Prym, Technology, Sumner County:

How does technology fit in the RTI model for reading intervention?

Douglas Fuchs:

i believe i’ve addressed this question above. altho many may disagree with me, i see technology playing a greater role at “tier 1"; less and less of a role as one goes from tier 1 to tier 3. part of my reasoning here is that as we go from tier 1 to tier 3, the children with whom we’re working often need considerable support: encouragement, redirection, real-time task modifications and so forth.

that said, i’m very much “agnostic” about this; very open to being proved wrong.

Question from Barbara Salz, Learning Specialist, Byram Hills School District:

How do you encourage classroom teachers, who are already overloaded, to accept responsibility for Tier 1 interventions within their classrooms?

Judy Elliott:

Let me be clear here - Tier 1 is about robust instruction. It is good pedagogy and equitable access to high quality instruction. So not sure how to answer the ‘accept responsibility’ for this.

The framework of RtI is alive and well in the classroom. There are students that are Tier 2 or 3. This is where differentiated instruction comes in. RtI in many ways helps orchestrate and focus on in class interventions and methodologies that allow teachers to use differential approaches to student learning. Question from Stacie Lang, School Psychologist, Jones Middle School, Columbus, OH:

I think there is wonderful research on RTI and its effectiveness, especially in an elementary setting and with the development of reading. However, how do you see RTI and specific research based interventions in place for those students who have severe social/emotional and behavioral components to their learning?

Douglas Fuchs:

hi stacie: yes, i do. for the past 5-10 years, there has been a growing group of researchers and their practitioner partners who have been developing “positive behavior support.” i encourage you to google this and the names of robert horner (u of oregon) and george sugai (u of connecticut) for more info.

an interesting and as yet not really addressed question is, “how might school-based folks combine an academically-focused RTI to a behavior-focused positive behavior support?” there needs to be developed an effective and efficent way of doing this.

Question from Nancy Chittenden, reading teacher,, American School , Ecuador.:

What help can RTI give to ELL who struggle with the reading/writing process?

What degree of professional development is required to be able to implement RTI in a school system? Thank you. Judy Elliott:

RtI is for all students! The degree of PD is dependent upon what you have in place already. There is a significant of not only PD but planning and infrasture building that needs to be done to sustain the practice of RtI.

Start with a needs assessment to get the ball rolling. See NASDSE.org Site Blueprints and rtinetwork.org for more info as well

Question from Francena Cummings, Director of TA, SERVE @ UNCG:

To what extent have general educators embraced RTI? What kind of professional development is generally offered to bridge the perceived gaps between the roles of both special educators and general eucation teachers?

Douglas Fuchs:

another good question. as you know, there are about 16,000 school districts in our great country. it’s impossible to generalize across them to speak of “the typical teacher” and what s/he needs in regards to RTI. i think that school and district leadership here is very important. a leader, by definition, knows his or her charges. some teachers will require more support and professional development than others. however, as a general rule, i’d say it’s easy to underestimate how much professional development is really needed to implement RTI such that it will have a demonstrable value added.

regarding special education, i believe there has been way too little discussion of appropriate roles for special and general educators. my sense is that there is considerable disagreement betw groups on this pt that, to date, has been expressed implicitly, or thru back channels, or on exlusive listservs. this discussion should play out in the light of day, so to speak.

Question from Patty Corwin,Math Specialist/Coach, Forest Glen Elementary School:

I am a building math specialist. My role is basically to serve teachers as a resource-gatherer, information collector (testing & data), and inservice provider. What role should literacy and math specialists play in each of the tiers of RtI? Should we be offering to pull those kids who struggle? Or should we foster a climate of differentiation with teachers right in the classroom?

Judy Elliott:

Nice question. The role of specialists should be changed according to the needs of your building and students you serve. The bottomline for Rti is predicated on effective instruction first and foremost. So support at Tier 1 is critical so that truly the students that need Tier 2 and 3 are not curriculum casualties.

I would not suggest pulling students that struggle unless that fits into a tiered intervention approach for the school. You need to look at multiple measures to decide which students are doing well or struggling (aka Universal screens). Based on data you build for tiers of intervention that increase in time and intensity.

Question from Peggy Corbett, RTI strategist, Cherokee Co. School District, GA:

I know that the LA Unified School District has implemented RTI at the secondary level with success. I’m interested in knowing more about what their RTI looks like at that level beyond ninth grade and any suggestions for making RTI manageable in the secondary structure.

Judy Elliott:

Long Beach USD has had success with RtI. We are just beginning in LAUSD to have discussions about this.

See earlier response on secondary for resources

Question from Ann Otwell, Graduation Coach, Chestnut Log Middle School, GA:

At what tier should individual tutoring and monitoring come in?

Judy Elliott:

Individual tutoring can be at all levels. Depends on the context of what you are doing in the tiers. The thing to keep in mind is that as you go up the tiers, the intensity of instruction and the amount of Academic Engaged Time increases.

Monitoring is at all levels

Question from Robert Littlefield, Principal of Portsmouth High School (RI):

What are the implications for guidance counselors in a successful RTI model?

Judy Elliott:

The role of the counselor is critical in this especially at the secondary level. The role of looking at achievement data, attendance, discipline referrals are critical to setting up students for success. In High School students that are invovled in double blocks of intervention need to have graduation requirements closely monitored to be sure students are on track. And, if need be attend summer school to maintain credit accumulation in required courses that may be delayed in taking due to the enrollment in intervnetion electives.

Question from Valerie Pientka, Teacher, Barrington Middle School:

Please explain the difference in roles of a school psychologist post-RTI implementation.

Douglas Fuchs:

as a former school psychologist i am sympathetic with those (like some members of NASP) who fervently want a different role for school psychs; that is, a role that includes intervention development for at-risk children. i believe school psychs should have strong substantive roles at the bldg level, helping teachers monitor school performance at the various tiers, explaining when necessary, what a child’s time series data are saying, whether and how instruction at tier 2 or 3 might be changed to accelerate a student’s performance.

a few school psych academics have gone on record as enouraging a very large reduction in the number of children who are identified as special needs. some of these folks argue that if the current proportion of children with special needs is about 12% nationally, we can get this number down to 3%. their hope is that with such a reduction, school psychs will be liberated from their testing roles and will have more opportunity to act as i’ve desribed above. my concern here is that some of the assumptions made to make the 12% to 3% argument are not tenable. Elizabeth Rich (Moderator):

I’m afraid that’s all the time we have. Unfortunately, we had so many more questions than we had time for. I’d like to thank our guests, Judy Elliott and Doug Fuchs. We’d like to thank our sponsor AIMSweb. To learn more about AIMSweb’s RTI solutions, visit www.aimsweb.com. The transcript of this chat will be posted shortly to teachermagazine.org.

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