Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Educators Embracing Tenets of RTI Promote Equity in Quality

       On September 26, while standing behind a lectern previously used by Lincoln during delivery of the Gettysburg’s Address, Pope Francis delivered remarks with the potential to revitalize the American conscience.  To this writer, limiting the pontiff’s address as a homily regarding freedom of religion would be short-sighted.  During his Ground Zero Memorial address, Francis suggested, “Together we are called to say “no” to every attempt to impose uniformity and “yes” to a diversity accepted and reconciled.”  Collectively, the two addresses remind any audience of the benefits resulting from an embrace of multi-pluralism.  Francis’s remarks at Independence Hall cited a previous pontiff: “The ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenseless ones” (John Paul II Farewell Address, 1987).
            Passing this test is crucial for every educator.  This writer believes education is the endeavor that strengthens a mind, frees a spirit, and enriches a society.  Teaching utilization of tools that promote success, empowering diverse learners’ imagination and innovation, and providing equity in quality, promotes the mission of learning for all.  To optimize this endeavor, educators will benefit from increased understanding of the correlates of Effective Schools Research (ESR) and tenets of an effective Response to Intervention (RTI) program.
            In collaboration with a multidimensional team of stakeholders, including parents or guardians, the ability to crosswalk the correlates of ESR and tenets of an RTI program results in a more efficient and effective system.  This promotes the equity in quality that is essential for schools committed to the pursuit of learning for all.  While there is a danger to prescribing interventions in a limiting fashion, anthologies have the potential for providing a RTI clearinghouse of research-based and success-proven strategies and interventions.
            Subsequent alignment of the district's non-negotiable goals with individual school needs and experiences (Marzano & Waters, 2009) should expand rather than limit the district's access to a clearinghouse of research-based and success-proven strategies and interventions.  Promoting such a clearinghouse of identified successes ensures professional development is available.  This optimizes access, review, and implementation of a range of interventions, thereby enriching teachers through defined autonomy.  However, this approach requires a cultural change in how adults currently work together to educate children.
            Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) have emerged as perhaps the best, most agreed upon means of continual improvement in instruction and student performance.  PLCs are evidenced in a single school or online.  Models include study groups, action research teams, communities of practice, or conversation circles.  The essential focus of any PLC is for educators to work together, with a shared focus on learning and accountability to help all students learn at high levels.
            The core competency required for effective implementation of RTI interventions is the ability to correctly collect, analyze, and utilize data.  For many teacher candidates and in-service teachers, data evaluation equates to math.  Unfortunately, too many teachers are uncomfortable with mathematics.  This lack of comfort with math also translates to this country's math scores that results from too many teachers being over reliant on the text book rather than proficiency in "thinking mathematically” (Edelmuth, 2006).
            Therefore, Schools of Education and Alternate Route Teacher Preparation Programs need to ensure graduates are able to collect data, evaluate results, and be an honest consumer of the resulting data.  This becomes possible through better statistics and data analysis objectives for teacher candidate coursework.  Effective districts will need to complement this evolution through in-service professional development on collecting data, evaluating results, and being an honest consumer of the resulting data.
            Frequent monitoring of student progress, and adjusting instruction or interventions based on results, is a correlate of continuous school improvement within Effective Schools.  This correlate requires teacher competency in collecting data, evaluating results, and effectively consuming the data.  When teachers identify and prescribe an intervention, they often have difficulty accepting the need to adjust when the prescribed intervention proves ineffective.  Too often, a teacher erroneously perceives the intervention’s failure as a personal failure of the teacher’s initial prescription.  Thus, defensiveness rather than professional awareness delays the necessary adjustment.  For this reason, teacher preparation programs as well as districts or schools need to consider the following six ideas for successful development of an effective RTI system:

  1.   Encourage participation by key stakeholders during planning and implementation.
  2.  Elicit strong administrative support in staff development, instructional integrity, and data collection.
  3.  Provide in-depth staff development with mentoring, modeling, and coaching.
  4.  Begin follow-up trainings at the beginning of each school year.
  5.  Distribute a manual outlining procedures and materials.
  6.  Build Problem Solving Models including RTI into school schedules and the student improvement process (Lau, Sieler, Muyskens, et al, 2006).

            Given increased awareness, effective implementation of the RTI system can begin.  However, potential problems will be omnipresent without administrative support and ongoing professional development.  The following identify the essential eight core principles for implementing RTI.   

  1.  Effectively teach each and every student.
  2.  Provide early intervention.
  3.  Use a multi-tier model of service delivery.
  4.  Use a problem-solving method to make decisions within the multi-tier model.,
  5.  Use research-based validated interventions/instruction.
  6.  Monitor student progress to inform instruction.
  7.  Use data to make decisions.
  8.  Use assessment for three purposes: screening, diagnostics, and progress monitoring.

            The vast majority of teacher candidates and in-service teachers admit to the difficulty of monitoring student progress to inform instructional decisions.  The inter-relationship between the identified core principles makes the pursuit of a hierarchy subjective at best and futile at worst.  The correlate of frequent monitoring and subsequent adjustment drives the core principles for implementing RTI.  The ability to collect data, evaluate results, and be an honest consumer of the resulting data promotes the correlate of frequent monitoring and subsequent adjustment.  Teacher proficiency with data must therefore become a professional competency. 
            Just as public schools needed to establish metrics for accountability of their teaching and learning mission, so too do institutes of higher education (IHE) and teacher preparation programs need to establish better metrics for measuring the competencies of their teacher candidates, including knowledge of systems and the ability to think systemically.  To address this, IHE and other teacher preparation programs must recognize the aim for graduating “instruments of systems change” rather than merely preparing individuals to administer curriculum.  Basile and Nathenson-Mejía (2003) suggests the process for problem-based learning creates a healthy environment for reflection, discussion, and problem solving, which provides a valid system for enculturating teacher candidates into schools and the profession of teaching.  The result will be educational systems that provide equity in educational quality, which promotes the mission of learning for all. 

To cite:
Anderson, C.J. (September 30, 2015) Educators embracing tenets of RTI promote equity in quality
               [Web log post] Retrieved from
Basile, C., Olson, F., & Nathenson-Mejía, S. (2003). Problem-based learning: reflective coaching
for teacher educators. Reflective Practice, 4(3), 291.
Edmonds, R. (1979). Effective Schools for the urban poor. Educational Leadership, 37,15-24.
Lezotte, L. W. (1991) Correlates of Effective Schools: The First and Second Generation.
Lezotte, L. W., & Snyder, K. M. (2011). What effective schools do: Re-envisioning the
               correlates. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press
Lau, Sieler, Muyskens, Canter, VanKeuren, & Marston (2006).  Perspectives on the use of the
               Problem-Solving Model from the viewpoint of school psychologist, administrator, and
               teacher. Psychology in the Schools, 43 (1), 117-127.
Marzano, R. & Waters, T.(2009).  District leadership that works. Bloomington, In: Solution
               Tree Press
Schmoker, J, (1999) The Key to Continuous School Improvement (2nd edition) ASCD