By Sarah Dixon, December guest blogger
Say what you will about No Child Left Behind, it has shown us two things: a stubborn achievement gap between students of color and white students and the value of data in helping students achieve. It has also taught us that one assessment at the end of the year is too little, too late — a "wait to fail" culture that often leaves students too far behind to catch up. I am convinced the next great step in education is a model that meets the needs of struggling and at-risk learners proactively, long before students take that spring high-stakes test.
This model is Response to Intervention (RTI), and it's been around for a few years. According to a 2008 study by the University of Colorado-Boulder, every state in the U.S. and the District of Columbia "indicated some emphasis on RTI either in current practice or in development." In Minnesota school districts, some are in year one, two or three of implementation and are just starting to see results.
What is RTI?
Put simply, the RTI model is an educational approach that provides a standards-based curriculum to all students and additional, progressive help (interventions) to students that are falling behind. While this sounds a lot like the way education has been delivered for generations, it differs in two ways:
- It's about constant monitoring. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, parents and school staff agree that RTI's student progress monitoring techniques provide more instructionally relevant information than traditional assessments.
- It's about effective help. The interventions used in RTI have been demonstrated to work in randomized controlled trials.
How does RTI work?
RTI has three basic components: school-wide screening, progress monitoring and tiered service delivery, and fidelity of implementation.
Every student is tested at the beginning of the school year to find out where they are at in relation to the curricula. Additional monitoring of student progress on assignments, quizzes and exams occurs constantly. When students show signs of lagging behind, teachers and other staff provide extra help. If progress isn't made, more frequent, more intense help is provided, sometimes including special education services. Critical to student success is the fidelity of implementation — or the commitment to having the RTI program in place and the teachers' ability to use the process in his or her instruction.
But it's hard. Implementing RTI in a way that becomes ingrained in the culture of a school, where teachers understand how to read the data and then apply a menu of interventions with individual students takes training, coaching and time. In addition, cash-strapped schools face major hurdles when proper implementation means hiring extra staff.
Some organizations, including the one I lead, Minnesota Alliance With Youth, are offering schools assistance in implementing RTI. The Alliance facilitates an innovative community approach to provide support to students falling behind that complements what the school is doing. We place AmeriCorps Promise Fellows in schools that meet a number of criteria in a competitive grant process. The AmeriCorps members build capacity by involving community members — something schools don't have time to coordinate. This partnership encourages student achievement through service learning and civic engagement opportunities, stressing high quality in- and out-of-school activities. The essence of our approach is this: providing the right support to the right youth at the right time, with the right scale, intensity and duration.
Later this month I'll post another blog that delves deeper into the benefits of community engagement in the lives of our youth. If you are interested in helping youth reach their full potential, please let us know at www.mnyouth.net.