School District 65 administrators presented a draft plan for “Response to Intervention” (RTI) to the School Board on Oct. 20. The Illinois State Board of Education is requiring all school districts in the State to submit an RTI plan to the State Board in January and to implement RTI in September 2009.

“RTI is designed as an early intervention to prevent long-term academic failure, and it can replace and/or augment the discrepancy model in the identification of learning disabilities,” states the District’s draft plan. It continues, “RTI is primarily a general education initiative designed to address the needs of struggling learners early in their education experience.”

RTI heavily relies on data to identify struggling learners, to identify why a student is struggling, to develop an intervention plan targeted for the student’s particular needs, and then to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention. If a particular intervention is not helping a student, a new intervention may be used.

Assistant Superintendent Michael Robey said, “The core principle of RTI is that educators will intervene early so we are meeting students’ needs as soon as we assess that there is any kind of an issue, rather than waiting for children to fail. There are different interventions based upon the intensity of the need of a child.”

“This is not new,” Ellen Fogelberg, director of literacy said. “But what is new for some people is the addition of the data that is used throughout the process to help us think about whether there is a problem, and if so, what is the problem, how do we know what we are going to do about it, and then, how do we know that our interventions have been effective.”

The RTI model proposed by District 65 has three tiers. In the model, all students receive instruction from the general education curriculum.

Tier I

Tier I takes place in the regular classroom. “A highlight of Tier I instruction is differentiated instruction because there’s a range of learners in every classroom, and so to meet their needs we’re going to have to differentiate instruction,” said Ms. Fogelberg.

In Tier I a universal screening tool is used to screen all students at least three times a year to identify students who may be at risk of not making adequate academic progress. “Based on the results of those assessments and what we see in the classroom – it’s never just about a test, but also what we’re seeing in the classroom – students are identified for additional support,” said Ms. Fogelberg.

After grade-level teachers identify the needs of students, the classroom teacher, in collaboration with the grade-level team, develops an intervention plan that includes measurable goals for targeted academic and behavioral needs. The plan, which is approved by the principal, is implemented and monitored for 6 to 12 weeks.

“If students are being given additional support, then we do monitor their progress much more frequently,” Ms. Fogelberg said. “If we put an intervention in place, we have data to show if the intervention is being successful or if we need to make some changes or tweak something or provide more than what that six-week interval is designed to do.”

The draft plan says, “If instruction in Tier I is adequately differentiated and culturally responsive, approximately 80-90% of the students will be successful.”

Tier II

Students who do not make adequate progress under Tier I interventions proceed to Tier II. The District estimates that between five and ten percent of the District’s students may require supplemental instruction or interventions in Tier II.

Ms. Fogelberg said the District continues to provide classroom instruction to students in Tier II, but on top of that the District also provides supplemental interventions. These may be provided in small groups inside the regular classroom using co-teaching or push-in supports through a reading specialist or special education teacher. The intervention may also take place outside the classroom without the distraction of the classroom. She added, that the interventions are tightly aligned with classroom instruction, and “the interventions are targeted to support the students in their area of need.”

At the Tier II level, a problem solving team, composed of general education teachers, educational specialists (i.e., special education teachers, reading specialists or school psychologist) and the principal, designs and monitors the interventions for each student.

Tier III

If a student does not make sufficient progress with the Tier II interventions, the problem solving team may move to Tier III. The District estimates that between one and five percent of the District’s students may be identified as needing more intensive interventions under Tier III. The interventions may last 60 minutes or more each day in addition to instruction in the regular classroom, according to the draft plan.

Ms. Fogelberg said these are “typically individualized intervention plans. These interventions are often narrowly focused on specific skills identified as a result of frequent progress monitoring. We attempt to narrow it down so we can get to what it is the children need to be working on more intensively than in the other two tiers.”

The draft plan says, “If a student responds to increased interventions or only responds when provided intense individual instruction, a lack of progress may indicate a disability. A decision for special education may be considered at this time.”

Special Education

Last year 1,031 of the District’s students, or 16 percent of all students, received special education services and had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), according to the Opening School Report. Ms. Schultz quoted one researcher at the Board’s meeting who opined that RTI will reduce the number of students referred to special education and reduce the overrepresentation of students in special education by providing early interventions and designing appropriate interventions for students.

The three-year goals adopted by the Board on Sept. 22 contemplate that an indicator of success of increasing the use of co-teaching and push-in programs in the regular classroom will be to reduce the number of students referred to special education. Dr. Murphy explained this goal again on Oct. 20.

He said, “There are some students who actually belong with IEPs in special education. They are not thriving because of something that’s different about them. Even with those children on a continuum, there’s a continuum of support that ranges from not as intense to very intense, to profound kinds of intervention; and they always have to be in an instructional classroom or in a therapeutic setting if you’re using an inclusion model which gets into the tension between the resources you have to move into the regular classroom.”

“There’s another group of children who truly do not belong in special education,” he continued. “There’s what I’m calling an overrepresentation, rather than an overidentification, of racial ethnic minorities. They’re in special education, but they don’t need to be there. There’s nothing about them that’s different other than we haven’t constructed a learning intervention that may make up for some differences in their experiences.” He says if more effective interventions are implemented in the regular classroom, fewer children will be identified as needing special education services.

In a letter to Dr. Murphy dated Feb. 29, 2008, the Illinois State Board of Education noted that the District was determined to have disproportionality based on race and ethnicity in the identification of black students as having emotional disabilities for the 2005-2006 and the 2006-2007 school years. The State Board found that the disproportionality was not due to inappropriate identification, but urged the District to continue to implement and refine improvement activities.

Implementation

Administrators said the draft plan is a work in process and would likely be adjusted over time based on input and experience gained during its implementation. Dr. Murphy said, “We’re not trying to present this as if it’s etched in stone. At this point we’re trying to develop consensus around it and buy-in from our principals and teachers about the way to proceed and effective implementation.”

The RTI model will require an adjustment in the roles of principals, teachers and staff. On a big-picture basis, Geneva Oatman, director of special services said, “[RTI] says that we all believe that children can succeed; we all take ownership of children’s success; we all will sit at the table and work together until we resolve the issues of student learning.”