Recently I was reading the latest Education Week when I ran across an article discussing Tier 2 interventions for reading in elementary classrooms. The article discussed a study which suggested that students in first grade, who were receiving intervention in Tier 2, were not only not making significant progress, but were actually losing ground. The results of the study were somewhat frustrating, but not surprising to me. For a while now, I have suspected that our tiered system of intervention was wounded and in need of support. So I wanted to unpack where I see the disconnects, and suggest some ways to rectify this situation.
Content alignment is a necessity for filling instructional gaps.
When students are not responding to core instruction that is differentiated, it is often because they have a “gap” in their content knowledge. Educators may identify this as “lack of background knowledge.” The Center for RTI suggests that quality core instruction that is differentiated ought to satisfy the need of most (approximately 80%) students. They recognize that some 10-20% will need an intervention that is targeted to fill the “gaps” or misconceptions that have occurred in learning. For these students, something additional is needed to supplement their core instruction. We need to focus on this idea that Tier 2 instruction ought to “fill a gap” that has occurred in instruction. In other words, Tier 2 instruction should supplement and support Tier 1 core instruction instead of replacing it, at least for most students. This means there is a need for alignment between the content that is addressed in both tiers.
Using a strength-based focus builds foundations for new skills that can close learning gaps.
According to the RTI center, the purpose of Tier 2 instruction is to focus on a small portion of a content that is missing or unclear, not replace the initial instruction. When we focus on “struggling students” then it is easy to overlook their strengths, therefore we consistently ask students to work harder and longer on things that are difficult for them, rather than finding an area of strength that the skills can be scaffolded onto. If we look at students’ abilities rather than their deficiencies then we are likely to design instruction that provides success instead of failures. We are likely to design instruction that fills the “gap” instead of adding to it. But, how can we achieve this?
Assessment can help identify gaps.
A quality assessment “toolbox,” one that contains a variety of tools that provide a comprehensive view of the student, can help improve the efficacy of an RTI program. This toolbox should include assessments that provide information regarding the students’ ability to master grade-level standards, as well as those that give teachers insight into whether students are performing below or above grade level expectations. These tools need to be able to identify where the student is strong and where they need support.
Data triangulation is a necessary component of the RTI process and should include summative assessment information.
Summative assessments provide the RTI team with knowledge of how a student is performing on state outcome measures that are correlated to grade level standards. Summative assessments are difficult to use for guiding instruction because they are generally done late in the year and are only focused on whether the student performed at grade level or not. These assessments can be used effectively during the triangulation phase of the data-based decision-making process, because they provide clues to the consistency of the student’s performance across environments and assessments
Interim assessment that align to state standards and assess a variety of grade level content can accurately identify gaps and provide a strong foundation for scaffolding new content.
Another type of assessment that is necessary for a quality toolbox is an interim assessment. These assessments identify a student’s current achievement level, and their growth over time. Interim assessments help the RTI team determine if there are gaps in learning that need to be addressed. MAP is an interim assessment that provides a comprehensive look at what a student knows and what they are ready to learn, based on state standards, but not limited to the student’s grade level. Not limiting questions to the student’s grade level is the key to identifying what it is that the student knows and what they need to learn. When interim assessment goes beyond the student’s current grade level, it has potential to identify learning gaps that could have occurred – and also areas of strength to build on. Interim assessments that isolate content to a particular grade level cannot identify gaps in learning, unless that gap happens to be occurring at the grade level content, so they do not alert the teacher to content that could bridge the gap in the student’s knowledge. Interim assessments that do not provide information beyond current grade level content cannot fully support quality differentiated instruction because they do not identify the zone of proximal development that detects the foundational knowledge to support scaffolding for new content.
Formative assessment provides information for differentiating instruction on a daily basis.
Formative assessment guides day-to-day instruction and is a necessity for a quality assessment toolbox. Formative assessments are questions and tasks that teachers have students do for the purpose of identifying misconception and the need for additional instruction regarding the specific content that is being taught. Formative assessment can directly support and guide differentiated instruction within the classroom, regardless of the RTI tier, because it is a direct reflection of whether or not the student has understanding of the content that is being taught. Because formative assessment is directly related to whether the student understands the content that is being presented, it can also serve as progress monitoring for interventions at the various tiered levels.
Progress monitoring measures need to align to standards and to the intervention.
Progress monitoring is mandated for intervention activities that are devised by RTI teams supporting struggling students and it is also an important element of a quality assessment toolbox. Progress monitoring is the data that is collected regarding a student’s progress in relation to a specific goal set forth by the RTI team. It helps to direct future goals and interventions that will support the students’ progress. Because progress monitoring is focused on closing gaps in learning, it must begin with a direct correlation to state standards that are grade appropriate for the student. Assessment tools such as Skills Navigator directly link discrete skills to grade level content strands. Progress monitoring tools that do not directly link to grade level content standards are much more difficult to interpret and identify as having direct impact on closing gaps for students in the RTI process. Progress monitoring tools that are loosely correlated to grade level content also have potential for focusing on the students’ deficits rather than their strengths when building new skills.
So, my response to the Education Week article would be a follow up question: What was the quality of the assessment tools that were being utilized for the students receiving RTI support in your study? To Teach, Learn, Grow readers, I would challenge you to assess your own RTI assessment toolbox to determine the quality and fluidity of your assessment tools.