literacyEdweek reported on a study  which shows Response to Intervention (RTI) actually caused students performance to drop.

A study by the Nation Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance examined 20,000 students across thirteen states who received RTI for literacy, based on their scores on a single screening test and, to what should have been no one’s surprise any more, they found that their scores on future literacy tests actually dropped. The students identified as special needs actually did the worst.

Edweek explained RTI this way. “Response to intervention involves early identification of students’ learning problems and the use of focused lessons, or interventions—usually thought of as progressively more-intensive “tiers” of instruction—to improve learning.”

NCEERA actually found that the approach can hold back students in terms of growth. The completely unshocking conclusion was that a nationally promoted rigid system intended to address a wide range of student issues was neither flexible enough nor broad enough to actually help students at the point of implementation.

Schools have dutifully done as they were mandated and implemented RTI which was supposed to identify students as soon as they began struggling to read and provide support so that they would not fall behind their peers. According to Edweek, RTI’s goal was to eliminate the need for a lot of special education services which would be in line with the federal goal to dramatically reduce the number of children currently qualifying for special education. But the findings of the study indicated that those students who needed special services actually did the worst with RTI.

“We’re looking at this framework that has developed over the years and how it has really played out in classrooms… We weren’t expecting to see this pattern,” said Fred Doolittle, a study co-author and a vice president of MDRC. “We don’t want to have people say that these findings say these schools aren’t doing RTI right; this turns out to be what RTI looks like when it plays out in daily life.”

A study author admits that it isn’t that schools aren’t doing it right, so it isn’t an implementation problem. It is a design flaw that a majority of schools across the country (70%) are  incorporating in at least some classrooms.

Three research firms MDRC, SRI International, the University of Washington, and the Instructional Research Group provided investigators for the study which focused on RTI for reading instruction in grades 1 to 3. Some experts have weighed in on why they think RTI is producing these results.

“If interventions that are focused on a few skills take up more of the Tier 1 instruction, said Karen K. Wixson, a reading and literacy professor and a dean emeritus of education at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, “students are missing a lot of broader things that are going to make a difference in their ability to put it all together in functional reading.”

The general result was that students lost the equivalent of one-tenth of a year of learning, There were no significant differences in the results for students of different income levels, racial groups, or native languages.

Florence Thompson, a school psychologist with 40 years experience,  offered her own conclusion in the comments.

“The results of this study indicate that those children who just missed the cut for inclusion in remediation did much better by staying in the regular class. Instead of heading off learning problems, we are locking them in, for some children. (First, do no harm.)

RTI is basically a Behaviorist, Stimulus-Response model: (try something and see how it works). It is not diagnostic of the child’s learning processes, consequently, much time and effort is wasted. Because the RTI method delays or prevents some children from ever having a thorough psychological/intellectual evaluation, problems which could have been detected and corrected are missed, sometimes for a lifetime.”

Teachers might have looked for these other problems if they weren’t Rushed To Intervention. In the broader picture, however, they are locked in a framework of : Gather data through a standardized test, based arbitrarily on the scores do X, gather more data, move the child on. In reality there is very little time for thoughtful reflection, customization, or deeper understanding on the part of the learning community of the source of the student’s struggle.  Maybe if the teachers weren’t busy implementing the latest compassionate, forward thinking education theory, they would have time to actually do their job and teach.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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