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Categories: Assessment, Family, Funding, General Education, Literacy, Math, Positive School Climate, Professional Developement, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

RtI and the Common Core: Seizing the Golden Opportunity—Complementary, Not Competing, Initiatives Part 2

By Joanne Allain & Nancy Eberhardt

In our previous entry, we proposed that RtI and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiatives share a common goal: increased rigor for all students. The next step is to ensure that we seize the golden opportunity to use existing RtI structures and systems to facilitate the implementation of CCSS, the “new initiative on the block.”

Let’s take a look at a couple ways in which we can capitalize on the complementary aspects of these two initiatives.

Analyze and Improve Tier I

We know that without strong Tier I instruction, RtI will become a system of never-ending interventions rather than excellent first instruction. Given the importance of this strong foundation, a necessary component of a successful RtI system is to analyze and improve Tier I instruction. Part of that analysis will be to develop curriculum, instruction, and assessment based on the Common Core State Standards.

With a CCSS-based curriculum in place, assessment data will highlight student strengths and weaknesses. Through analysis of this Tier I data, the need for instructional adjustments will emerge. For example, if many students are referred to Tier II intervention in the primary grades for spelling deficits, then that instructional hole must be filled in Tier I to ensure that as many students as possible become proficient with first instruction. Assessment data based on the skills and concepts in the CCSS will help to identify opportunities to improve Tier I instruction.

For a comprehensive RtI system, the implementation of Common Core State Standards provides the impetus to focus on an effective Tier I to ensure that intervention isn’t a consequence of a weak foundation.  For emerging or fledgling RtI systems, the opportunity arises to integrate the new standards with the development of an RtI system designed to meet the needs of all students

Differentiate for All Students

In addition to using the CCSS as an opportunity to fine-tune Tier I content and instructional practices, we know that RtI requires that we serve all students within and beyond the parameters of the Tier I curriculum. In order to achieve this goal, we need to view the standards as having a range of accessibility and importance, much as students have a range of learning abilities and needs.

How students meet the CCSS expectations varies along a continuum according to a range of needs from concept development for students who also receive Tier II or Tier III intervention (what must they know) to enrichment (what could they know) (Allain and Eberhardt, 2011). As the following graphic illustrates, our response to instruction and intervention must consider the needs of the full range of learners.

Response to Instruction and Intervention

As we begin to implement the CCSS, we have an obligation to remember this full range of student needs. But, how do we do serve all learners with the Common Core? Let’s take a look at an example using a standard from the CCSS. The same standard can be addressed for all students but to different levels.

Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.*

Must Know

Students who also receive intervention

Should Know

Students who are proficient or close to proficient

Could Know

Students who are advanced or could be advanced

Describe how multiple or conflicting motivations of one complex characterdevelop over the course of a text, interact with another character, and advance the plot or theme.  Use supplementary materials as necessary. Describe how multiple or conflicting motivations of complex characters develop over the course of the text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.  Use grade-level materials. Describe and analyze the relationship of multiple or conflicting motivations of a complex character and other characters in the development of plot and theme. Use grade-level and above-grade-level materials.

*Grade 9-10 Common Core State Standards:  English/Language Arts

Note that at each point along the continuum, the intent of the standard is addressed. We differentiate the variables—product and process, such as the level of analysis and the difficulty level of the reading material—but stay true to the focus of the standard. In this way, students who are receiving instruction to improve reading skills at another time of the day (e.g., during Tier II intervention) are still receiving the benefit of instruction in the CCSS—but with accommodations at their skill level.

What we see in this example is the fact that no matter what defines the goal of instruction—be it the CCSS, a purchased curriculum, or local goals and objectives—the need to differentiate instruction on this continuum from “must” to “could” will always exist. Frankly, it isn’t about having RtI or CCSS. It is about understanding and using the power of the structure of RtI to facilitate the implementation of CCSS.

An Opportunity to Change

If we continue to view each initiative—new or not—as a separate entity, we are playing out the common silo-esque approach to implementing innovation. Our observation is that, rather than integrating a new initiative into the existing structures so that it has a multiplier effect on impact and efficiency, we all too often view new needs or initiatives as a linear process. A linear process works from a “limited capacity” mind-set—as the next initiative comes online, another must be bumped out of line. Tragically, when we do this, we throw the baby out with the bath water. We can and must change this trend. The implementation of RtI and CCSS provides the golden opportunity to have these initiatives complement each other rather than compete for our limited resources.

See our previous blog for a discussion on RtI and CCSS.

Joanne Allain

Joanne Allain, M.A., works with states, districts, and schools across the country to develop, implement, and coach customized RtI systems. Her career experience at both the classroom and district level provides the perspective of a practitioner in real schools with real students. She is the author of Logistics of Literacy Intervention: A Planning Guide for Middle and High School and Logistics of Literacy Intervention: An RtI Planning Guide for Elementary Schools as well as coauthor of RtI: The Forgotten Tier.  You can contact Joanne at

Nancy Chapel Eberhardt

Nancy Chapel Eberhardt works with districts and schools to implement RtI systems focusing on literacy instruction and intervention. Her career in education has included roles as a special education teacher, mainstreaming associate, and administrator. She also worked extensively, as editor and coauthor, on LANGUAGE! (Editions 2–4). Most recently, she coauthored RtI: The Forgotten Tier with Joanne Allain. Nancy can be contacted at

About Joanne Allain

Books by Joanne Allain: Logistics Of Literacy Intervention

Categories: Assessment, Literacy | 2 Comments

RtI and the Common Core: A golden opportunity, not just one more thing to do! Part 1

By Joanne Allain & Nancy Eberhardt

The implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is upon us—oh no! I guess we will have to put Response to Intervention (RtI) aside to make room for the focus and resources needed to implement the Common Core. Budgets are tight; something has to go. RtI or MTSS (Multitier System of Supports) will take care of itself. Does this sound familiar?

The reality is that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will replace and/or enhance individual state standards and change grade-level instruction in scope, sequence, and methodology. In order to implement the new standards and the assessments that will accompany them, districts have begun to shift the focus of professional development to Common Core.

CCSS professional development is essential because teachers must be trained on the changes that will be expected of them. What seems to be missing from both the CCSS professional development and implementation planning, however, is seizing the opportunity to address the Common Core State Standards within the framework of RtI. This approach pits these initiatives as competing rather than complementary.

The following quotes from RtI and CCSS experts point out the interconnectedness between the two initiatives.

In the article Response to Intervention—The Promise and the Peril, the Council for Exceptional Children maintains that “It (RtI) has the ability to transform how we educate students—all students. With RtI, students may get the support they need as soon as they show signs that they are having difficulty learning, regardless of whether or not they have a disability.”

Let’s pair the previous statement with the “promise” of the Common Core State Standards from the webinar by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO): “These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step. It is time for states to work together to build on lessons learned from two decades of standards-based reforms. It is time to recognize that these standards are not just promises to our children, but promises we intend to keep.”

Both initiatives urge educators to take the next step. RtI urges educators to meet the needs of all students—including those who are proficient and advanced. The implementation of CCSS urges educators to extend student learning of content and skills in Tier I to an application level. The common goal: increased rigor for all students.

The necessity and value of combining initiatives is further corroborated when we take into account what the CCSS do NOT define, yet the developers feel are important enough to identify as valuable instructional factors. Consider this list, provided by the NGA Center and the CCSSO, of things that the standards do not define:

  • How teachers should teach
  • All that can or should be taught
  • The nature of advanced work beyond the core
  • The interventions needed for students well below grade level
  • The full range of support for English language learners and students with special needs
  • Everything needed to be college and career ready

These instructional factors already exist within an RtI framework. They are, in fact, the heart and soul of RtI. Rather than viewing these initiatives—CCSS and RtI—as separate silos, we should view RtI as the structure within which to implement CCSS. How? The Common Core State Standards define what we should be teaching in Tier I; the other tiers in an RtI system exist to provide intervention when students need additional support.

In The New Meaning of Educational Change (2001), Michael Fullan stated: “Teachers and others know enough now, if they didn’t 20 years ago, not to take change seriously unless the central administrators demonstrate through actions that they should.”

If we push RtI to the side and treat CCSS as unrelated to RtI, educators will take that as a signal that RtI (MTSS) is one more reform that has fallen into the abyss.

Instead, let’s follow the example of those states, districts, and schools that have recognized the value of RtI and the importance of incorporating CCSS into RtI plans.  When citing in Wisconsin Response to Intervention: A Guiding Document the significant changes anticipated by the implementation of CCSS, Tony Evers, Ph.D., the state superintendent of Wisconsin in 2010, stated: “These initiatives are not separate of RtI; they are integrated in my vision of a high-quality RtI system.”

If we are to serve all students and prepare them for a 21st Century future, can we do anything less?

In our next blog, we will expand on how RtI and CCSS are complementary, not competing, initiatives.

Joanne Allain

Joanne Allain, M.A., is a national educational consultant specializing in the effective implementation of literacy intervention at the secondary level. She is author of Logistics of Literacy Intervention and a member of the National Council of LANGUAGE! Trainers.

Nancy Chapel Eberhardt

Nancy Chapel Eberhardt works with districts and schools to implement RtI systems focusing on literacy instruction and intervention. Her career in education has included roles as a special education teacher, mainstreaming associate, and administrator. She also worked extensively, as editor and co-author, on LANGUAGE! (Editions 2 – 4). Most recently, she co-authored RtI: The Forgotten Tier with Joanne Allain.Nancy can be contacted at

About Joanne Allain

Books by Joanne Allain: Logistics Of Literacy Intervention

Categories: Assessment, Literacy | 5 Comments

Choosing RtI Assessment Instruments Wisely

By Susan L. Hall, Ed.D.

When was the last time you heard either the term “Response to Intervention (RtI)” or “data-differentiated instruction”?  Most K-12 educators hear one or both of these terms weekly, if not daily. Everyone knows that data are essential to accomplishing differentiation and RTI, but there are widespread misconceptions about which assessment instrument to use for what purpose. Using the wrong assessment is like trying to flip a pancake with a spoon; you might get some chunks of edible pancake, but it’s messy and inefficient. In my work with schools, I find that the two greatest areas of confusion are about the appropriate uses of universal screener data, and the distinction between a universal screener and a diagnostic instrument.

The most commonly used universal screeners for academic skills are called curriculum-based measures (CBM). CBM is the name of a category of assessments that have particular characteristics that make them well-suited to be universal screeners. CBM is the generic category name, while DIBELS and AIMSweb are brand names. Have you ever noticed how more people ask for a “Kleenex” than a “tissue”?  It’s the same thing with CBMs.

Teachers tell me their school uses DIBELS, AIMSweb, or another CBM, yet they haven’t been provided training about what a CBM is and what it can and cannot do. CBMs are terrific universal screeners, especially in reading, because they are quick and efficient ways to assess a skill.  When administering repeatedly with alternate forms, it’s possible to see growth. Since universal screeners are supposed to be given to every student (or nearly every student) three times a year, it’s important that it not take longer than 10 or 15 minutes to administer. Yet many schools are using assessments that take 30 minutes per student; that’s a travesty because that’s shifting valuable time from instructing to assessing.  Why would anyone spend more than 10-15 minutes three times a year giving a universal screener to the school’s top readers? They’re better off reading during the time you’re spending assessing them.

CBMs are great for sorting students into two piles:  those who appear to be performing at benchmark, and those who aren’t. Yet there are limitations to what you can learn from CBM data. Except in all but a few areas, a CBM cannot tell you enough to appropriately place a student in an intervention group. Yet too many schools are trying to use the data to do just that, which doesn’t work very well. Once you find the students whose skills are below benchmark on the CBM, the next step is the most important: giving a diagnostic screener. You want your universal screener to be the most efficient and effective sorter possible and to point to which type of diagnostic screener to give to each student who is below benchmark. Stopping with just a CBM is like admiring the problem without knowing what to do about it.

Teachers need access to diagnostic instruments to figure out how to address below-benchmark issues. If your school has intervention groups and you aren’t using diagnostic assessments, here’s an opportunity to improve the process. Excellent diagnostic instruments in reading exist in the areas of phonological awareness and phonics; it’s difficult to find the kinds of tools needed for comprehension, and there’s nothing available at the current time that is a vocabulary diagnostic measure. Teachers should use diagnostic assessments to pinpoint the areas a student has mastered, as well as those that are lacking. The data from a diagnostic assessment gives information that allows grouping in a very specific skill area, such as phoneme segmentation, or long vowel silent-e.

The other thing that diagnostic assessments are well-suited for is progress monitoring. After a student participates in an intervention group for one to three weeks, it’s far more effective to give an alternate form of the diagnostic screener than to give a CBM indicator. If the student has been in a group to work on the long vowel silent-e pattern, how can you tell if he has mastered it by having him read an oral reading fluency passage? Perhaps only two out of one hundred words contain the focus pattern. Phonics diagnostic screeners allow teachers to deliver a short segment only on the pattern skill, and it takes less than one minute to progress monitor a single skill. If the student has mastered one skill, then you go on up in skills until she fails the next skill, and that’s her next group placement. A common issue with RtI assessment practices is to progress monitor with the wrong instrument. The CBM should be given from time to time, but rarely is it the best instrument for ongoing progress monitoring of students in intervention skills groups.

At this time, many schools are well into implementation of RtI. According to the 2011 Spectrum K12 adoption survey, 68 percent of respondents indicated they are currently either in full RtI implementation or in the process of district-wide implementation. If student achievement  is not as strong as hoped, then the first place to check is whether the assessments fit the purposes. Check usage of the CBM first; while it’s a universal screener to give to all students, it should not be used universally for all assessment purposes. Invest some time in learning about the benefits of phonological and phonics diagnostic screeners.

Susan L. Hall, Ed.D., is founder and president of 95 Percent Group, a company that provides professional development and materials to assist schools in implementing RtI. She is author of two books about RtI: Implementing Response to Intervention:  A Principal’s Guide, and Jumpstart RTI. She is also author of I’ve DIBEL’d, Now What? Susan is a National LETRS trainer and is coauthor of several books with Louisa Moats, including the Second Edition of Module 7, which is about phonics and word study. She can be reached at

About Susan L. Hall

Books by Susan L. Hall: LETRSI’ve DIBEL’d, Now What? Next EditionI’ve DIBEL’d, Now What?

Categories: Assessment, Professional Developement | 5 Comments

First Rule of Reading: Keep Your Eyes on the Words

By Linda Farrell

I’ve worked with hundreds of struggling readers ages 5 to 81. Almost all students I meet who have decoding weaknesses share a common behavior. Can you guess what it is? They look up from the page before they finish reading a word or sentence.

Many just glance at the word and guess what it is as they look at me for approval. Others may look at the word more carefully, yet they still look at me for approval after they say what they think the word is. A few look at the word before staring at the ceiling or somewhere in space while they try to figure out what the word is. Every elementary school teacher and every reading interventionist I meet recognizes these behaviors and can associate them with specific students.

Teachers often ask how to help their struggling readers. My first response is, “Make sure all students keep their eyes on the words the entire time they read.” I also suggest that teachers avoid saying things like “good job” or “nice work” when the student looks up for approval. The only time a student should look up from the page when reading is to say, “I need help with that word.” In that case, the teacher either helps the student sound out the word or gives the word if it is too difficult for the student to decode.

Many teachers tell us they need to give students, especially struggling readers, positive feedback for the student’s self-esteem and confidence. At first blush that seems reasonable because beginning and struggling readers want to know if they read correctly, and teachers want students to feel good about reading. In reality, teachers are training students to rely on them for affirmation rather than helping students develop confidence in their emerging skills. Instead of saying “good job” or “nice work” when a student looks up, the teacher can reinforce the importance of looking at the words by saying, “Remember to keep your eyes on the words when you read. I’ll let you know when I need to help you.”

Recently I was in a school to work with students, and the reading coach was with me all day. I started with four students in a low second-grade reading group who were working on phonics at the silent “e” level. These students had scored between 28 and 42 words-correct-per-minute on mid-year DIBELS Oral Reading Fluency (benchmark is 68). Their accuracy ranged from 76 to 91 percent. They were reading decodable text focusing on words with silent “e.” All four students had the habit of looking up for approval at the end of each sentence. And, not surprisingly, all four often misread the final words in the sentence. I had them practice keeping their eyes on the words for all four or five sentences that were on the page. Their habit of looking up was not easy to change. By the end of 25 minutes, albeit with conscious effort on the students’ part, all four were keeping their heads down and their eyes on the words while they read. Just this small change in behavior noticeably increased their accuracy.

The reading coach and I spent the afternoon working one-on-one with four third-grade and fourth-grade students who had the lowest reading scores in their grade. They were all receiving decoding intervention. We assessed the students’ decoding skills by having them read words in isolation. None of the students did more than glance at words and look up before saying the word, and none read more than 18 of 30 decodable and high-frequency words accurately. It was apparent that these students weren’t looking at the words long enough to apply any decoding strategies. We worked with each student for about 20 minutes, reviewing the short vowel sounds and encouraging them to keep their eyes on the words. After this short time, they were all able to read with greater accuracy and more confidence. None had fully overcome their habit of taking their eyes off the words before finishing reading, but all were catching themselves every time they did look up.

Early in the day, the reading coach remarked that she was surprised at my “fixation” on teaching students to look at the words until they finished reading. At the end of the day, she told me she fully understood why I was such a zealot about insisting students keep their eyes on the page. Yes, I am fixated on having students look at the words when they read because we can only read when we look at the words.

I implore all kindergarten, first-grade, and second-grade teachers—as well as reading interventionists—to teach students to keep their eyes on the words so that they do not have to later struggle with breaking a habit that hampers effective, efficient reading. After all, the first step good readers take is to look at the words they are reading. In my experience, many struggling readers have difficulties partly because they never mastered this first step.

Linda Farrell is a founding partner of Readsters, an Alexandria, VA-based firm that helps schools implement research-based reading instruction. She is committed to helping struggling readers become strong readers and to helping strong readers achieve their full potential. Linda is a former English teacher and has coauthored several publications and videos on effective reading assessment and instruction, including Teaching Reading Essentials (2006), DIBELS: A Practical Manual (2006), and Colleague in the Classroom (2003). She can be reached at

About Linda Farrell

Books by Lindar Farrell: Teaching Reading EssentialsDIBELS: The Practical ManualColleague in the Classroom

Categories: Assessment, Literacy | 10 Comments

It Takes a Village

By Sopris Learning

It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a community to teach one. At Sopris, one of our key objectives for the 2011–2012 school year is to build a community of educators online that reaches across borders and boardrooms to explore the issues that are important to increasing student achievement—across the board.

With most of the country adopting Common Core State Standards, we find ourselves in an environment where educators are putting progress above politics and agreeing to work together to establish common ground on which to build—or rebuild—a successful K–12 education system. Districts and states across the nation have used the principles of response to intervention (RtI) to create their own multitier systems of supports (MTSS) for increasing student outcomes.

Within this framework of unity, we believe that educators can learn from one another’s successes with evidence-based academic and behavioral interventions. Educators and administrators are reaching out to one another on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets to find professional support and practical strategies that translate into success in the classroom.

In addition to connecting educators, researchers, and authors on Facebook and Twitter, Sopris is launching a blog that will provide a forum for discussion around today’s education issues titled EdView360. We will hear first from Sopris’ own Stevan Kukic, Ph.D., about the “end of an ARRA” and whether this economic boost has actually stimulated positive, sustainable change. Kukic is a past president of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), formerly served as Utah’s state director of At-Risk and Special Education Services, and has been instrumental in MTSS efforts across the country.

We hope you will tune in to EdView360 to hear from Kukic and other education leaders who will share their opinions, experiences, frustrations, inspirations, and big-picture insights on a variety of topics that are important to you and, ultimately, your students.

We look forward to hearing your viewpoints as well and fostering an open forum of communication and collaboration toward a common goal—empowering all students to rise to their full learning potential. You work hard 365 days a year, and we hope that your efforts come full circle this fall! Best wishes for a successful school year!

Written by Kathy Lee Strickland, marketing editor for Sopris, a member of Cambium Learning Group. She earned her Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia, has worked as a newspaper and magazine editor, and has taught at the high school and adjunct university levels.

Categories: Assessment, Family, Funding, Literacy, Math, Positive School Climate, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

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