The Response to Intervention (RTI) model identifies every student's academic and behavioral needs and provides personalized support to meet those needs. It consists of tiered intervention support, benchmark assessments, and frequent progress monitoring. This three-tiered model was originally developed to properly diagnose students with learning disabilities, but RTI has become more widely used among educators to better differentiate across all learners.
How to Identify Which Students Need Tiered Instruction
Charles R. Drew Charter School uses a universal screener -- a schoolwide Aimsweb Screening -- three times a year: in the first week of school, in December, and at the end of the school year.
According to India Kaufman, Charles R. Drew's math support teacher for third, fourth, and fifth grade, the screening "allows us to have data on every student in the building. And with that data," she adds, "we're able to formulate groups and target the students that will be in need of those interventions."
Generally, those who perform in the bottom 10 percent in literacy and the bottom 20 percent in math are in Tier 3. Those who perform in the bottom 25 percent in literacy are in Tier 2. All students are in Tier 1 instruction. This system also incorporates teacher feedback: what they know about their students and what they've seen in class.
Every student gets Tier 1 instruction, which is universal instruction for all students in their regular classroom.
Charles R. Drew Charter School uses two, grade-level-based methods of giving Tier 2 instruction:
Tier 2 Instruction K-2
Grades K-2 receive an hour-long intervention block in the mornings. These one-hour blocks are fixed into the schedule for lower elementary students, instead of regular instruction. During this time, the regular instruction teachers become Tier 2 intervention teachers, and students move from their homeroom teacher to an intervention teacher. Within each grade level, instead of providing a variety of interventions to numerous small groups, each teacher focuses on one intervention, like fluency or phonemic awareness.
During this block, the enrichment teachers -- P.E, visual arts, and music -- and their paraprofessionals assist the intervention teachers. "The certified teacher will provide instruction, and then the students will rotate through specific activities guided by each educator," explains Nicole Tuttle, Charles R. Drew's director of literacy. This practice creates a teacher-student ratio of about 1:5.
Lower elementary students who don't need Tier 2 instruction are grouped into independent projects that need little teacher supervision. For example, a group of students excelling in literacy might be formed into a book study group for independent reading and discussion.
Tier 2 Instruction 3-5
Grades 3-5 integrate Tier 2 instruction into regular classroom instruction. Grade-level teachers divide their students into small groups. Those who need more support do guided group work with the teacher. Those who have met or exceeded standards work independently in small groups, and the teacher checks in with them throughout the class.
"We are providing such intensive interventions at that K-2 level that students are getting caught up, and are not ending up in special education," says Tuttle. "We feel like the more interventions we can give kids in those early years, when they’re learning to read and not reading to learn, then we’re going to catch them before they get to third grade."
Tier 3: Creating Safe Spaces for Math and Literacy
All students at Charles R. Drew have two daily enrichment classes, such as art, music, and robotics. The staff uses this time to provide intensive interventions two to three times a week, pulling students from their enrichment classes instead of from regular classroom instruction.
"We did pull students from their grade-level [classes], and we saw tremendous gains," recalls Tuttle. "Students were going from reading 15 words a minute to 45 words a minute. We saw these kids make huge progress, and then when it came time for the students to take our state test, the CRCT, they didn't do well. We were frustrated. So we looked at what could we do to make sure that the students are still being instructed on those grade-level standards, but getting the interventions that they need."
To fix this, they began using one period of students’ enrichment time for interventions. Students got the intervention support they needed and were able to stay in their regular instruction to meet their grade-level standards. Since that change, close to 100 percent of their students -- and sometimes 100 percent -- have been meeting or exceeding the state standards each year.
Treating Tier 3 Like an Enrichment Class
By creating the Literacy Center and the Math Lab, the school made Tier 3 instruction as fun and engaging as an enrichment class.
"Our goal is to make it a different enrichment option for them. We recognize that yes, it's serious work, and they need to learn to read [and to understand math], but it also has to be fun," emphasizes Dawn Stephen, Charles R. Drew's literacy teacher. "It has to be engaging, and they do have to burn some energy because it is their time away from the general classroom. So there have to be opportunities for them to talk, to move, to get up and down, and to touch materials that they wouldn't generally touch in the classroom."
Create Engaging Activities
Among the Tier 3 specialists' engagement strategies in the Literacy Center and Math Lab, they use a program called Phonics Splits, a quick-paced game where fourth- and fifth-grade students move colored tiles around the classroom, stretch, and do other kinesthetic activities. Kindergarten students sometimes write in shaving cream, in sand, and on tables.
Provide Positive Feedback
Small group work increases students' opportunities to receive positive feedback from teachers and peers. Charles R. Drew teachers make a point to support, encourage, and praise their students. They also set up achievable goals to boost student confidence.
Give Your Students Responsibility
The students are in charge of things like tiles and markers. "Everyone has a job in the group. The kids love that," says Stephen. "It's the small things that people don't think fifth graders would like, but they love that, especially if they have a hard time reading. That's their time to shine and be the best at something. That's their time to feel safe and in charge."
Reduce the Stigma of Tier 3
Sometimes it can feel stigmatizing when pulled out of class. How does Charles R. Drew address this issue?
Make It Fun for Lower Grades
"For the little kids, it's not stigmatizing at all," explains Stephen. "They see coming to the Literacy Center and [the Math Lab] as another enrichment period. They get free books and stickers. They love coming."
Be Direct With Upper Grades
For students old enough to understand why they need RTI, it can be an uneasy experience at first. To ease them into Tier 3, Charles R. Drew educators initiate one-on-one conversations to help them recognize their current skill level and emphasize how extra support will help them. For example, if a student is reading 50 words per minute but needs to be at 120 words, the teacher can explain this. Once a student understands that he or she needs more support, the teacher can say, "I'm here to help you, and this will be a safe experience for you."
The Math Lab and Literacy Center Structure
Create Small, Targeted Groups
Small groups can easily focus on improving specific weaknesses. The Literacy Center is staffed with one teacher for every five students, and the Math Lab with one teacher for every seven. If needed, those groups are broken down even further.
"I have groups within groups," says Kaufman. "Even though I may have seven children at one time, within that group I may break it down to two students or three students or four, depending on whatever skill they need to work on."
Working with paraprofessionals offsets the cost of a small student-teacher ratio. The Literacy Lab has a staff of four and the Math Lab has three -- one certified teacher for each, and the rest paraprofessionals.
Utilize the Same Programs Across Tiers
Charles R. Drew uses Really Great Reading's Phonics Boost and Phonics Blitz as their upper elementary literacy programs, and Kendore Learning for lower elementary. Because the Literacy Center uses the same program that is used in regular instruction, students learn one methodology and get a double dose of their content to strengthen their learning skills.
According to Tuttle, "One thing that was so important, and has made our paras so successful, is that we choose programs that are easy to follow. They have a structured scope and sequence: lesson one looks like this, lesson two looks like this. And then we can come in and troubleshoot as we need, but they know what they're doing, from point A in the program to point Z."
Monitor Your Students' Progress
Charles R. Drew uses the benchmark screening results to set goals for each student and monitor their progress weekly using both Aimsweb's and the University of Oregon's DIBELS Data System progress monitoring tools. "That's how we know what we're monitoring, what skills and what strengths and what standards they need to master," says Kaufman.
"In kindergarten, we might do progress monitoring just on sound fluency," explains Stephen. "We might have them reading sounds for one minute, and then we'll graph how many sounds they're reading correctly as they get older. Or we might start with just letter fluency. As they learn to read, we'll move into reading. The older kids will note their own progress and chart their reading per minute."
The counselor, teachers, and intervention analysts, known as the Student Support Team, meet weekly to evaluate methods and results. They lay out the data, interventions used, and student progress. If the students aren't making progress, the staff adjusts the interventions. And if the students are making progress, they'll soon exit Tier 3 instruction.