By Alice Wellborn
Everyday Education 

RtI: Three Tiers Help Students Succeed

 


Does your child have a Personal Education Plan (PEP)? Have you ever been invited to a Tier 3 meeting? Does your child receive enrichment services? Have you received reports from school that are full of numbers and graphs about your child’s progress in reading and math skills? These are all part of an educational services model called Responsiveness to Instruction.

In North Carolina, Responsiveness to Instruction, commonly called RtI, is a team approach in which parents and teachers work together to figure out what an individual student needs to be able to grow and develop academically. Responsive-ness to Instruction is part of general education, not special education, and it is designed to help students who are academically advanced as well as those who struggle with grade level expectations.

RtI is based on academic skill assessments. All students K-8 are given a benchmark skills assessment three times a year, in the Fall, Winter, and Spring. If a student is significantly above or below grade level expectations on any of the skills, the problem-solving process begins. This process involves identifying the problem, discussing possible solutions/interventions, trying out these solutions/interventions, monitoring to see if the student makes progress, and making a new plan if necessary.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction calls this “using a problem-solving model based on data to address student needs.” It is also called “data-based decision-making.” The educational interventions that the team chooses must be “evidence-based.” This means that there is research that shows the intervention is effective in increasing academic achievement.

The Responsiveness to Instruction system has three tiers, based on whether or not the student makes progress. The interventions and services become more intense if the student is not showing good academic growth.

Tier 1 focuses on strengthening core classroom instruction for every student. Teachers work together in grade level teams to study the information from the benchmark assessments and figure out what needs to be done to provide appropriate instruction for all the children. This is called “differentiated instruction.” Differentiated instruction means that different students need different levels and kinds of instruction in order to grow academically, and the teacher provides that in the classroom. In other words, Tier 1 is just plain good teaching, and it works for about 80 percent of students.

Students move to Tier 2 when differentiated instruction in the classroom does not meet their academic needs. At Tier 2, the grade level team looks at the skills assessments for individual students who are still struggling and decides what to try next. At this point, the team develops a Personal Education Plan (PEP) and the parents are brought in to discuss the concerns and the plan for intervention. If the student has medical or psychological issues, the parents will be asked to share information. Parents are also given ideas about how they can help at home. The parent and the teacher sign the PEP.

Parents sometimes get confused about the difference between an IEP (Individualized Education Program) and PEP (Personal Education Plan). They are not the same thing! Students with an IEP are placed in special education, with all the legal rights and protections that are given to disabled students. Students with a PEP are receiving remediation services that are part of the regular educational program at school. A PEP is not a legal document.

The educational interventions at Tier 2 must be evidence-based (known to be effective) and student progress is monitored every 2-4 weeks. “Progress-monitoring” means that students are regularly given short “probes” (little one minute tests) to check out their growth on the specific academic skills the teachers are worried about.

Students at Tier 2 need help above and beyond what the classroom teacher provides through core instruction, so they receive supplemental instruction. Students can be in the Reading Mastery group, an SRA reading or math group, or in other teacher-led instructional groups that focus on specific skills.

About 5 percent of students do not make adequate progress with the Tier 2 supplemental instruction. Teachers look at their progress-monitoring data to see if students are on track to reach grade-level expectations. If a student is not on track after 4-6 weeks of supplemental instruction, the teacher refers the student to the Tier 3 team.

The first step in the Tier 3 referral process is vision and hearing screenings. After these screenings are completed, the teacher schedules a meeting with the Tier 3 team. The Tier 3 team is made up of the parents, the teacher, an administrator, a special education teacher, the guidance counselor, and other teachers from that grade level. The school psychologist is involved if possible. Tier 3 meetings are regularly scheduled one afternoon a week after school. Parents are invited, but the meeting takes place whether or not parents attend.

At the meeting, the Tier 3 team looks at the intervention plan and makes suggestions. These suggestions might involve getting more information, intensifying the interventions, or trying something new. The Tier 3 team can refer students to the special education department for evaluation if there is evidence that they might be eligible for special education placement.

Most students who struggle academically are not eligible for special education because they are not disabled. Many students need extra time and assistance throughout their school years, and these services are always available to them through the RtI system.

So let’s sum up. Responsiveness to Instruction is part of general education. The purpose of RtI is to ensure academic growth and success for all students. Students who do not make progress towards grade level expectations receive intervention services at varying levels of intensity. The Personal Education Plan (PEP) summarizes the intervention plan, but it is not a legal document. The RtI process can end with referral to special education, but that is not what usually happens, nor is it the purpose of RtI. Parents are an important part of the team, but their participation is not legally required. Students can receive educational services through the RtI system for as long as necessary.

If you have any questions about RtI, or if you don’t understand the information that is sent home, talk to your child’s teacher or the lead teacher. They will be glad to talk with you.

(Wellborn is currently a school psychologist in Transylvania County schools.)

 
 

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