So much is written these days about Response to Intervention (RTI), that if you work in education and you hadn’t heard of it, I might ask you which rock you’ve been hiding under. But how much do we all know about the definition and application of RTI in the everyday classroom? Up until the Fall of 2009, I considered RTI only as a process used in special education, to identify students for IDEA services. But, somewhere along the lines, we hit critical mass, the use case changed and we now see RTI being widely adopted as a systematic approach to school improvement and reform. In the past, when teachers identified students who were performing well below grade level, the tendency was to assume this was due to a learning deficiency or disability. What RTI has done for the education system is to open our eyes to the fact that just because students haven’t learned, doesn’t mean that they can’t learn.
Over the last 18 months, I have done a deep dive into what it means to implement an RTI process. According to the Response to Intervention (RTI) Adoption Survey 2011, released by Global Scholar (formerly Spectrum K12) last month, 94% of schools across the country are in some stage of RTI implementation, though only 24% have reached full implementation. And of those who report full implementation in one subject, the majority of adoptions are in the subject of Reading. Which explains why I’ve only recently become aware of the process as a solution to the epidemic of students struggling in Math and Science; and STEM. It didn’t take long, however, for me to understand how powerful it is to apply a systematic approach to this problem.
You see, I’m an engineer! And engineers solve problems. If we are good engineers, then we use a systematic process to look at problems , find an appropriate solution, and then test the potential solution. If the problem is solved, great, but more often than not our test results in additional information that can be used to get closer to the solution. This process, known as the engineering design process, is standard operating procedure for most engineers, as it provides a framework for solving even the most difficult problems.
As I dug into RTI, I began to realize how closely a true RTI Implementation follows this problem solving process. The Universal Screening is a way to Ask the right questions, identifying students at risk is Imagining solutions to the problem, grouping students and planning for research-based interventions is Planning the solution, implementing appropriate instruction for not only a whole class but also for Tier 2 and Tier 3 students is the Creation stage, and Monitoring Progress is the process of testing for success and modifying the solution as needed. All of a sudden, it all made complete sense to me and my question changed from “What is this RTI process?” to “Why isn’t everyone using data to determine instructional decisions for our children?”
So, as I began to research the tools available for teachers implementing RTI to impact Math achievement, it quickly became apparent that, with all the technology being used in schools today, there wasn’t a streamlined way to complete this analysis, “automatically”. Over the last year, I’ve worked with schools and districts all over the country who subscribed to the RTI methodology, and in some cases even had the tools to assess and diagnose their students’ learning gaps, but once their assessments were complete, they didn’t have the tools to properly address these gaps with appropriate targeted curriculum and instruction. Many teachers expressed the frustration in the universal challenge of RTI; “Now what?” (that is if they didn’t view the assessment / identification process as “just one more thing we have to do”)
Beginning in the spring of 2010, the development team at Learning made it their mission to eliminate this frustration: to streamline the RTI process for teachers to systematically address individual student learning needs in Math. And I am so pleased that beginning next month, all users of the Aha!Math supplemental math curriculum for grades K-5 will have the ability to assess and diagnose all students along the National Common Core or State Math standards, prescribe appropriate curriculum and instruction to address individual learning needs, to differentiate instruction based on ability groupings or by tiered intervention groupings, and to monitor student progress over time; all in ONE PLACE, through Learning.com.
As I continue to work with the Learning.com team to communicate and share the addition of this time-saving feature for teachers, I am just so amazed at what an example of engineering problem-solving is at work with RTI; in fact “Advanced Personal Learning” was recently identified as one of the worlds Grand Challenges of Engineering. And to some degree, this product will solve it for K-5 math teachers. Over the next several months, I look forward to working with schools around the country looking for the simple, streamlined way to improve student achievement!