What is 'response to intervention'?

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

If your child is struggling with school, you may have heard a teacher talk about a new term, Response to Intervention. Wondering what that really means?

In its simplest form, Response to Intervention often referred to as RTL is a method to ensure a struggling student receives the proper amount and type of instruction. As James B. Hale, Ph.D. wrote in Response to Intervention: Guidelines for Parents and Practitioners, "RTL is what good teachers have always done to help struggling children learn."

In its simplest form, RTL is "when a teacher modifies instruction (intervention) to help a struggling child, and then checks the child's progress regularly (called progress monitoring) to see if the intervention is working. If the intervention is working, the problem is solved. If the intervention is not working, you change the intervention and monitor progress. This process continues until the child improves."

RTL is used for good reason. It works. Just 30 years ago, children with disabilities were often denied public education. In 1975, more than 1 million students were refused access to public schools and another 3.5 million received little or no effective instruction.

This fact is outrageous to many parents. In today's society, every child has a right to a public education. The law requires it under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which mandates States to provide special education consistent with federal standards.

Until 2004, when the IDEA was reauthorized and the U.S. Department of Education strongly recommended the use of RTL, teachers used a system of identifying special education students called the Learning Disability Discrepancy model/IQ Discrepancy model. As a result of that model, too many students were placed in special education class without actually needing to be.

RTL is not just for special education students and actually includes on-level students. The goal is to monitor student learning and provide extra support, as needed.

The three-tier approach

Currently all states, including Ohio, have implemented some type of RTL initiative/model framework or guidance for districts to model. The most common approach to RTL as recommended by the Department of Education is a three-tier continuum of school-wide support:

• Tier 1 (Core Instruction): Students are performing at or near grade-level proficiency. The core instruction is sufficient.

• Tier 2 (Targeted Group): Students have distinct difficulties in a subject area and need to review concepts before re-joining the core curriculum.

• Tier 3 (Intensive Intervention): Students have severe difficulties or inadequate skills and are at risk of falling behind. Additional intervention and support is needed to increase learning rates and academic success.

What can you expect if your child is in Tier 1?

A Tier 1 student continues reading and math lessons in the general classroom setting from the grade-level teacher. Subject areas last at least 90 minutes per day or more. The teacher uses scientifically based instruction and various grouping formats to meet student needs.

For example, the teacher may begin with pulling out small groups of students who need additional help to preview vocabulary words or concepts. Then the whole class completes the daily lesson, followed by independent work when the teacher can provide one-on-one support as needed.

What can you expect if your child is in Tier 2?

Children who require Tier 2 intervention have gaps in one or more essential concepts that make it more challenging for them to perform at grade level. Approximately 20-30 percent of students are in this category. These students are grouped with about four or five other students and receive an additional 30 minutes of instruction per day. It might be led by the classroom teacher or a specialized instructor, and it may take place in the general classroom or a separate room. They focus on important skills needed to progress, thereby reducing the need for more intensive intervention.

Students who continue to demonstrate a lack of understanding of Tier 2 material move to Tier 3.

What can you expect if your child is in Tier 3?

This tier is for students who have demonstrated serious gaps in achievement of benchmark standards and require intensive, explicit instruction to bring them up to grade level. About 5-10 percent of students are placed in Tier 3.

Again, these lessons might be led by the classroom teacher or a specialized instructor and may take place in the general classroom or a separate room; however, Tier 3 students receive a minimum of two 30-minute sessions per day with a program designed for intervention in addition to the 90-minutes of general classroom curriculum.

Data-informed decisions

The best part about RTL is that it is data-driven. Students' progress is monitored continuously and they are moved within the tiers based on their specific needs at that time. This allows teachers to truly tailor their instruction and for your child to shine.

Jeff Livingston is senior vice president of marketing for SRA/Wright Group/McGraw-Hill based in Columbus. Before joining McGraw-Hill, he owned one of the largest online college- and test-prep companies.