TOM JENKINS, OF WILMINGTON, NC, RUNS AN EDUCATIONAL CONSULTING FIRM THAT PROVIDES school districts with staff development in the area of Response to Intervention.
What are the elements of the ideal RTI process?
An ideal RTI process would be one in which all students are successful. It would be one in which all staff members are involved, where there’s total collaboration between administrators and special educators and general educators, Title I people, psychologists, everybody. And then you also have database decision-making in regards to the effectiveness of instruction and the progress that the students are making.
Who in the district should participate in the RTI process?
Some people perceive it as being a special education initiative, but it’s not. It’s got to be a partnership between special education, general education, and then everybody else: your administrators, your Title I people, your reading coaches, your speech pathologists. Your special educators become more of a resource for all the students and teachers in the school. Your general educator has to start thinking: “How can I use formative evaluation even more in my classroom? How can I incorporate data collection within my instruction and use that data to adjust my instruction?” RTI is really a team approach for the benefit of all kids.
It sounds like succeeding with RTI requires that districts make some fundamental changes.
Absolutely. Implementation requires a cultural shift within your schools, and it requires a huge change in mindset of how instruction is delivered, a huge change in philosophy of how to work with students who are having difficulties. It really requires a whole cultural change as an approach to how you handle everything.
What’s the payoff? How can RTI be used to move every child forward?
First, you’re going to use some form of curriculum-based assessment to gather baselines on all your students at the beginning of the school year. That allows you to make datadriven decisions about the type of instruction and intervention every child needs. Another huge piece is setting goals about the level of performance that you want your students to achieve midway through the year and at the end of the year. You can tie those goals to state standard-based testing. That allows you to provide instruction, provide intervention, and progress monitor with your kids and make sure they’re moving towards those pre-established goals.
Are there aspects of the RTI process that can be automated?
The big piece that can be automated is the whole progress monitoring component. When students go through this process, they get their progress-monitoring chart. Essentially that is a chart or graph of the student’s baseline. You graph the goal and that allows you to create an aim line for the progress that you want the student to make. Then as you’re progress monitoring, you chart those progress monitoring data points to make sure they’re following the growth line you have for them. A lot of that can be automated. It eliminates the need for doing the paper and pencil charting.
How can districts that want to begin or expand an RTI initiative sell this to teachers and administrators who are stretched very thin?
With this model we’re not asking you to do something else—we’re asking you to do things differently. Instead of putting out fires with individual students who are having difficulties, this model allows you to systematically provide research-based instruction for all students. It incorporates the data collection piece so that you don’t continue providing an instructional approach or methodology that is not effective. It increases the quality of instruction, which then increases the level of performance of your students, and not just certain students but all students. A lot of teachers understand data collection. And teachers understand instruction. What they don’t understand is how those things go together. We need to show them how they can use data to make decisions about whether their instruction is working, and if not, what to do differently. Of course, the ultimate selling point is what it is going to do for the kids.