A report released by the National Center for Educational Evaluation and Regional Assistance reports that RTI for literacy in grades 1-3 falls short of promise:
RTI is an educational model that is used extensively in schools throughout the country. It is designed to identify struggling students early to provide appropriate instruction and to prevent their difficulties from escalating to the need for special education. RTI uses a tiered approach to intervention. Tier I is the mainstream classroom instruction, Tier II provides specialized instruction for struggling readers and Tier III provides more intensive evidence-based instruction for readers having trouble.
Over 20,000 students in 13 states were studied. The findings of the study were alarming and quite surprising to researchers.
“First graders who received reading interventions actually did worse than virtually identical peers who did not get the more targeted assistance…moreover, students who were already in special education and those who were older than average for their grade (suggesting they had either entered late or failed a grade) performed particularly poorly if they received interventions…Students in 2nd and 3rd grades who were identified for Tier 2 had no significant reading benefits either, though unlike 1st graders, they saw no significant negative effects from the interventions.” There were no significant differences in the results for students of different income levels, racial groups, or native languages. Researchers found that many schools were blurring the lines between core instruction and interventions.
What does this mean for you as a parent?
It is difficult to know how to interpret these findings since there is such significant variability in how RTI is implemented in schools. In fact, I have never seen two programs that were the same. As Doug Fuchs, professor and chair of special education and human development at Vanderbilt University, pointed out, “we do not know the differences in quality of instruction, types of intervention, and the progress monitoring system used in each of the schools studied.”
If your child is a struggling reader it is important that you become involved in the educational decisions that are made on behalf of your child. It is essential that you monitor his reading program regardless of whether that instruction takes place in special education, Title I, or RTI. The results of this study highlight the need for parents to be active participants in their child’s education.
How do you monitor your child’s intervention services?
- Begin by asking what testing was completed that made your child eligible for RTI. Ask to see those test results. Did the tests include tests for phonological processing, pre-reading skills, decoding, reading comprehension, and reading fluency? Remediation for some of these skills is different than for others. For example, remediation for reading comprehension is quite different than remediation for decoding. This is not a case of one-size fits all. Make sure the remediation fits your child’s needs.
- Ask what reading intervention is being used to help your child. You want to know what curriculum is being used. Is this an evidence-based program? You also want to know if your child is receiving help in a small group or individually. Ask how this intervention differs from the core instruction used in the classroom.
- Ask what training and experience your child’s teacher has with the curriculum that your child receives. A teacher’s expertise is critical for the success of any reading program.
- Find out how your child’s progress is being monitored. Unfortunately, many independent evaluators report that informal progress monitoring in the classroom often over-rates a child’s progress. Consider having your child’s progress monitored by hiring an independent educational evaluator to check his reading skills. This does not need to be a comprehensive evaluation; you are just evaluating his reading progress.
- Remember, RTI cannot be used to deny or delay special education services. You can refer your child for a special education evaluation if you believe that RTI is not adequate for his/her needs.