By the time a fourth-grader falls behind his or her classmates, catching up becomes a difficult and labor-intensive task. That’s why the New York State Department of Education (NYSED) initiated the New York State Response to Intervention Technical Assistance Center, or NYS RtI TAC.
“RtI is a schoolwide prevention/intervention framework that seeks to prevent a child’s learning problems from becoming insurmountable learning gaps,” said Theresa Janczak, associate professor of exceptional education. “Prior to RtI, schools relied on a ‘wait to fail’ model before a student received additional support.”
Janczak, has been the director of the NYS RtI TAC since its inception. Janczak received initial, five-year funding in 2008 for the purposes of providing indirect technical assistance and professional development to NYS schools on topics related to RtI. The initial work of the TAC also involved a five-year demonstration project with 14 elementary schools that served as pilots for an elementary RtI process. Recently, NYSED entered into a memo of understanding with Buffalo State to continue the work of the TAC and initiate a RtI demonstration project with 15 middle schools across the state.
Three-Tier Model Identifies, Aids Students at Risk
“Before RtI, a student had to fail substantially in order to qualify for added assistance,” said Janczak. “Within an RtI process, students are provided supplemental support at the first sign of struggle. NYSED requires all public schools in the state to have a RtI process in place for all students in grades K through 4 in the area of reading."
A key feature of a RtI process, universal screening, takes place three times per year for the purpose of identifying those students who are performing below grade-level benchmarks. Universal screening involves the administration of several measures that are predictive of reading achievement. It is a quick assessment procedure designed to identify students who may be at-risk for academic failure. In recent years, schools have capitalized on the use of computers to make the screening process more efficient.
A typical universal screening task may involve having the student orally read a short passage for one minute. The number of words read correctly is recorded and compared against a normative sample. If a student’s performance falls below a predetermined cut point, supplemental intervention is provided. Once a student begins receiving additional support, their performance is monitored on a regular basis to determine if they are responding to the extra help. Results from universal screening cannot only identify students who may need additional support, but may be used to assess the efficacy of a school’s core reading program
“Ideally, 80 percent of students should be able to meet benchmark levels,” Janczak said. “If only 40 percent of students are performing at benchmark or grade level, schools are encouraged to evaluate the appropriateness of their core program.”
Another key feature of a RtI process involves multi-tiered intervention, which is typically and graphically depicted as a three-tiered pyramid. The bottom of the pyramid represents Tier One or core instruction which is provided to all students in a school. Tier One is considered the first line of defense against academic failure and should also be effective for about 80 percent of the school population. For students who are performing below grade level, supplemental support in the form of Tier 2 intervention is provided in small groups of 4 or 5 students.
“It’s important to understand that Tier 2 is considered supplemental and does not supplant Tier 1 or core instruction," said Janczak said. "That is, students who are considered at-risk will continue to receive Tier 1 or core instruction in addition to Tier 2 support.”
At the top of the pyramid is Tier 3, which is also supplemental but reflects a much more intensive type of intervention since students who require this type of support have significant and multiple needs.
New Demonstration Project Includes Middle Schools
This year, a demonstration project began in 15 selected middle schools across New York State. The demonstration project involves working directly with each middle school’s RtI leadership team to design and facilitate a multi-tiered intervention process that includes support in English language arts, mathematics, and behavior. A small cadre of faculty and practicing building administrators, NYS RtI TAC consortium, provide direct, on-site technical assistance and professional development to an assigned middle school on a monthly basis. “Seventy-five schools applied for this project, but our resources could only support 15," said Janczak said. "We are hoping that information and lessons learned from this project will benefit other schools in the state who are looking for ways to effectively and efficiently meet the needs of all middle school students."
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