Since semester breaks are the time that I set aside to “catch up” on all of the reading that I have missed during the semester, last week, I sorted through the professional journals stacked neatly on my desk. As I flipped through the journals, I stopped to take a closer look at the May 2015 issue of Teacher Education and Special Education. Looking through the article titles, I came upon the Barrio and Combes article titled: General Education Pre-Service Teachers’ Level of Concern on Response to Intervention (RTI) Implementation. Because I teach pre-service teachers and I have always been a proponent of RTI (even before it was called RTI), this article had my attention. I must say, as I read the words on the page, I felt a knot begin to develop in my stomach.
Teacher preparation is key to effective RTI implementation
The article described a recent study of pre-service teacher candidates that were in general education preparation programs in the Southwest region of the US. Barrio and Combes began by saying, “one consistent finding is that teacher preparation is key to effective implementation and positive student outcomes related to RTI”. They went on to say that “the roles of general and special education teachers have begun to blur,” and that “RTI significantly impacts how general education teachers instruct students and manage their classrooms.” Neither of these “facts” were a surprise to me. In fact, the lines between special education and general education have blurred to the point that my current pre-service teachers are dual certified; they receive a general education certification along with their special education certification, but the content that followed was the cause of the ever-growing knot in my stomach.
Barrio and Combes use a seven-stage rating scale to identify pre-service teachers’ perception and understanding of the RTI model. The scale is below:
||The practitioner has little knowledge or interest regarding the innovation
||The practitioner wants to learn more about the innovation
||The practitioner is concerned about his or her own ability to implement the change and possible personal costs
||The individual starts to experiment with innovation and concerns focus more on the logistics of the implementation
||The individual is focused on the impact of change on the student
||The practitioner wants to work with others to improve the implementation
||The practitioner focuses on making major adjustments to the innovation
Their findings suggested that “general education pre-service teachers may perceive knowledge of RTI as an important aspect of their teaching, [but] if knowledge is low, concerns about the implementation of RTI may increase. Specifically, the Collaboration Stage may be primarily affected by the lack of pre-service teachers’ knowledge” of the RTI process. This rocked my world. If pre-service teachers’ knowledge of the RTI process is impacting their ability to collaborate with others in the RTI process, then how can students benefit from the process? How can we provide the interventions that students need to close achievement gaps and demonstrate growth? Collaboration among professionals is critical to student success. At this point, I was holding my breath, hoping to read that pre-service teacher knowledge of the process was high, but that was not the case.
Do teachers feel that the RTI process in a superhighway to special education?
As I continued to read, my heart began to sink and the knot in my stomach grew even larger. “Some focus group participants related RTI to the evaluation of students with disabilities and not as an early intervention method for students at risk of failing… These findings suggest that pre-service teachers, like many in-service teachers, view the interventions and supports provided by RTI as a reactionary measure, rather than a preventive measure,” wrote the authors. Reading these words made me wonder, do my pre-service teachers feel this way? Do they think that the RTI process is an expressway to special education? I certainly hope not, but this is something that I plan to investigate further.
I feel a strong sense that additional formative assessment will provide me with the information that I need to know, so that is shaping my plan for next semester. I must admit, I do teach the RTI process and how to effectively construct, monitor, and adapt an intervention as part of the content in one of my special education courses. It makes me ask if this is excluded for those pre-service teachers who are not receiving a special education certification. I am asking myself where this fits and how it ought to be framed for all teachers. There is nothing like a dose of reality to make you question your own pedagogy.
Teachers need to develop an understanding and have appropriate supports for the RTI process
Pondering this study has made me realize that first-year teachers (even my previous pre-service ones) are going to need support when they are faced with implementing the RTI process. They will need professional development to improve their understanding of the process. They will need coaching to help them implement the process in their classrooms and schools. They will need quality tools, such as Skills Navigator and MAP, to help them understand where their students are starting from, and what kind of gaps need filling – all to ensure that their students make growth and are not just placed into RTI as a fast-track to special education services.
As you may be able to tell, this is a topic for which I hold great passion and I would love to hear about your experience as a pre-service teacher with the RTI process. Help me improve pre-service teachers’ understanding of this process by sharing your experience. Tweet your thoughts to us at @NWEA, or share them on our Facebook page.