By Joanne Allain
As a result of widespread implementation of Response to Instruction/Intervention (RtI), we now assess students to determine their specific needs. These assessments often show that large numbers of students perform below grade level and require additional work with Tier II or Tier III intervention. In fact, many schools fall far from the optimum RtI configuration of 80 percent at Tier I, 15 percent at Tier II, and 5 percent at Tier III.
In response to this data, schools develop sizeable intervention systems designed to accelerate student growth. Interventions are necessary and welcome, but they are only part of the solution.
A primary component of a comprehensive RtI system is the use of a research-based core curriculum in Tier I (Batsche et al., 2007). However, when a significant number of students fall through the cracks, we must question the effectiveness of our Tier I curriculum, even if it is research based.
Is the current Tier I instruction strong enough to keep students from falling back into intervention after they have been successful in Tier II and supports have been removed? Have we created an instruction/intervention yo-yo effect by focusing solely on intervention and ignoring first instruction?
Two critical questions come to mind:
- Have we analyzed patterns in Tier I data to determine why so many students are in need of intervention?
- Have we identified which skills are most frequently taught in Tier II that should have been addressed in Tier I?
Ultimately, we have to question the rationale that the need for intervention is the fault of the student. Adjustments in Tier I content and instruction must be responsive to students, and we can use the patterns of skill instruction needed in Tier II to inform that response.
Consider this scenario for School Y:
Screening and diagnostic data indicate that 50 percent of students in grade 4 are in need of Tier II intervention for decoding. We know it is unlikely that 50 percent of fourth grade students in School Y have inherent decoding difficulties. It is much more likely that, for this fourth grade, the current Tier I curriculum is deficient in explicit decoding instruction or that insufficient time is devoted to that instruction. Additionally, if the pattern is particular to students from one class, we can use that information to monitor Tier I fidelity and continuity across a grade level.
Since many schools have implemented RtI for multiple years, we now have the opportunity to use patterns found in Tier II to improve Tier I. Identifying, planning, and implementing Tier II skill development not only inform what skills need to be taught in intervention but also dictate the changes that must be made in Tier I to keep students proficient and prevent the intervention/instruction yo-yo effect that currently exists.
Educators who implement RtI are discovering that it is not sufficient to have a research-based Tier I, even with good instruction, reteaching, and differentiation. Effective Tier I instruction consistently responds to the changing needs of students (Allain & Eberhardt, 2011).
We know the essential content outlined in reading research, but not all students have the same needs. Tier I must be responsive to students by adjusting how much, how often, and how explicitly we teach each reading/writing skill. We have to use all the information at our disposal to truly meet the needs of our students in Tier I at every grade level, and thus prevent the need for intervention with most students. Data from Tier II provides much of that information.
Let’s walk through an example of using Tier II information to inform Tier I instruction:
Based on assessment, a majority of seventh grade students in School Z requires vocabulary intervention. After determining the appropriate intervention for the students, we turn our attention to Tier I and ask the following questions:
- Is the vocabulary content and instruction in Tier I sufficient? If not, identify supplemental programs and/or adjust instruction to increase the focus on vocabulary. If yes, is Tier I being taught as designed?
- Is the current Tier I vocabulary instruction explicit enough? When choosing a supplement, attend to this distinction. If many students require intervention, perhaps first instruction should be more direct and explicit. More of the same instructional method does not support differentiation in Tier I and will not be sufficient to make a difference.
- Should we increase the daily time allotment for explicit vocabulary instruction in Tier I? How much time will be required to prevent the need for intervention?
- Should we change Tier I lesson pacing to allow more time for explicit vocabulary instruction? What pace will allow us to adequately teach high value standards while responding to the vocabulary needs of students in Tier I?
RtI relies on continuous problem solving to identify appropriate interventions, but the process should not stop with students. We must also use this process to problem solve and intervene with each school system. The effective implementation of RtI has much to teach us—about our students’ intervention needs and about our Tier I instruction. We just have to be willing to listen.
Joanne Allain, M.A., serves as a national consultant with 3T Literacy Group, where she specializes in the planning and implementation of RtI systems. She is the author of Logistics of Literacy Intervention: A Planning Guide for Middle and High School (2007), Logistics of Literacy Intervention: An RtI Planning Guide for Elementary Schools (2008), and coauthor with Nancy Eberhardt of RtI: The Forgotten Tier (2012). Joanne can be reached at joanne.allain@3Tliteracygroup.org or www.3tliteracygroup.org.
Books by Joanne Allain: The Logistics of Literacy Intervention