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Education - Response to Intervention

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As districts begin to implement a Response to Intervention (RtI) systemic plan for student services many questions for implementation and best practices arise. Within the parameters of law as described by Johnston (2010) a strong RtI process will be used "as a strategy for identifying students with learning disabilities and as a strategy for reducing the great number of students who end up with disabilities, part of guaranteeing "appropriate instruction'" (p. 602). So, in essence, RtI can be viewed as an approach for identifying students with LD and/or it can be framed as a systemic plan for preventing such identification. District funding and budget cuts have resulted in the elimination or down sizing of many programs; RtI among them. Finding a niche within an existing system for which RtI will fit is also an issue of concern in practical practices of implementation in districts and at school sites.

Definition of RtI

In its simplest terms RtI can be defined as "the change in behavior or performance as a function of intervention" (Wright, 2007, p. 2). "Response to Intervention is a new movement that shifts the responsibility for helping all students become successful from the special education teacher's [shoulders] to the entire staff" (Buffum, Mattos, & Weber, 2009, p.2). "Fundamental to the notion of the RTI model is that instructional practices or intervention at each level should be based on scientific evidence about what works" (Klingner & Edwards, 2006, p. 108). As described by Mellard & Johnson (2008) a strong RtI process will usually have these things in common: high-quality, scientifically based classroom and intervention curriculum, schoolwide screening of academics and behavior, progress monitoring of student performance, and fidelity of implementation.

Many RTI models are based on three or four tiers. Tiers 1 and 2 are normally incorporated into the school day by general education teachers who provide instruction and interventions in addition to the students' core or basal curriculum (Council for Exceptional Children, 2007) . Students enter tiers 3 and 4 after they have been served and found to be "non-responsive" to the intervention within tiers 1 and 2. Tiers 3 and 4 commonly replace the general education curriculum. The intensity level of the intervention is calibrated to meet the needs of the students being served within each tier (Brown-Chidsey & Steege, 2005; Bender & Shores, 2007).

Assessment is an integral aspect of a response to intervention system. The assessment data should be used "to inform teaching decisions, to trigger special supports for student learning, and to evaluate school practices, rather than simply to allocate mechanically determined rewards or sanctions" (Darling-Hammonnd & Falk, 1997, p. 191). Universal screening, progress monitoring and curriculum-based measurements (Hosp, Hosp, & Howell, 2007) have been proposed as a means for predicting performance on standardized state tests, and these same measures have been used to as a means of identification and referral within response to intervention models (Wallcae, Espin, McMaster, Deno, & Foegen, 2007). The use of "Dynamic Assessment" (Caffrey, Fuchs, & Fuchs, 2008) may also have potential within the assessment suite of a response to intervention model due to the fact that the test will stipulate a learner's potential which can be used to determine rate of improvement goals over time. The use of universal screening, progress monitoring, benchmark assessments blocks for all students, and definitive cut scores are all essential for data based decision making processes and identification. The response to intervention pedagogy provides a clear and decisive plan to allow for fluidity or movement between tiers of instruction and the ability to mainstream students back into general education or move them into special education when necessary.

Altering the Paradigm

Recent changes to the language and parameters of the IDEIA (2004) standards and protocols opened the door for a seismic shift in intervention systems across the country. "As a result of the intervention-focused nature of RTI, eligibility services move toward a supportive rather than a sorting function" (Mesmer & Mesmer, 2009, p. 287). With the advent of this legislation school districts are able to focus efforts on prevention; not just intervention when mainstream students have been struggling to meet achievement standards. Special education services oftentimes focus on accommodations not systematic intervention systems to meet individual needs. The majority of students in the US do not qualify for special education services until they are entering third or fourth grade (Pierangelo & Guliani, 2008; Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006; Gersten & Dimino, 2006). Due process hearings or the involvement of litigation are sometimes the only alterative for parents in order to have their children's needs addressed by the school district. These new IDEIA 2004 regulations allow for early intervening services with the use of special education monies (Allington & Walmsley, 1995).

Conditions for Change

One of the most difficult challenges facing practitioners of response to intervention can be resistance at multiple levels within the school and the district. There are difficulties in enacting new paradigms within schools; Douglas Reeves (2009) asserts that in order for these systems to be successful we need to create conditions for change. These conditions that allow for change include, "pulling the weeds, before plant[ing] the flowers" (Reeves, 2009, p. 13). Reeves (2009) suggests the removal of at least one initiative for every new program or curricular idea enacted in a school or a district.

Change is difficult and opposition and resistance are common factors with the introduction of new strategies and structures at the site and district levels. "If school leaders understand the nature of resistance, they can improve their relationships with teachers and increase teacher implementation of proven practices" (Knight, 2009, p. 508). Some teachers and leaders see changes to the structure and architecture of their educational design as "an annoying departure from their day-to-day labors. Inevitably, they respond to these



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