Special Education

New York Offers Guidance for RTI With English-Learners

By Mary Ann Zehr — November 18, 2010 2 min read
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New York State has just released guidance on how to implement “response to intervention” that includes considerations for using the educational approach with English-language learners. Response to intervention, or RTI, provides interventions to struggling students with an aim of reducing the number of students assigned to special education.

I learned about the guidance for RTI and English-learners this morning at a forum on the subject hosted by the Washington-based American Institutes for Research.

“Response to intervention is the right thing, but there are a lot of wrong ways of doing it,” said Louis Danielson, a managing director at the AIR in introducing some of the panelists. The gist of the meeting was to convey research findings and recommendations that might help educators to carry out RTI for ELLs in an effective way.

Theresa Janczak, the principal investigator and the project director of the New York State Response to Intervention Technical Assistance Center, introduced the new guidance while giving an update on what her state is doing to support school districts with RTI for ELLs.

“When conducting assessments and developing instructional programs for an [English-language-learner] student, care must be taken that issues of language differences are not confused with language disorders and that patterns of performance related to the student’s sociocultural background or interrupted schooling are not mistaken for signs of a disability,” the guidance says.

The document gives substantive recommendations, such as this: when monitoring the progress of ELLs, educators should compare the results of instruction to “true peers.” For example, the guidance says, a true peer might have the same language and culture and a similar educational history. It adds that the sampling of true peers should be large enough for making valid decisions. The document also stresses the importance of gathering information about students’ knowledge in their native language.

New York recently launched five-year grants for RTI to 14 schools, seven of which have a lot of English-language learners. Janczak said the state will be collecting data from those schools and posting it on the center’s web site.

I see that all of the 14 schools receiving RTI grants are elementary schools. I would like to feature a school district that has been successful in implementing RTI for English-language learners at the high school level as well as the primary school level. If you know of such a school district, I welcome you to make the case for why I should visit and write about it.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.