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Core Beliefs of an RTI Approach

Taking an RTI approach to service delivery requires a major shift in the way education is provided in schools and can challenge educators’ beliefs about education. There are several core beliefs that provide the foundation for an RTI approach, and it is important for schools to acknowledge, consider, and discuss these beliefs and how they match their views on education before beginning to implement RTI. Without these beliefs, RTI can still be implemented, but it will be very difficult to sustain. It will also be important to continuously revisit these core beliefs with the entire school staff as schools work toward high quality implementation of RTI practices.
Beliefs About Students
Paramount to taking an RTI approach to service delivery is the belief that ALL children can learn. If we all think back to why we became educators, we would expect that this seems like an obvious foundational belief of any educator. However, we must really think critically about whether our practices align with the belief that all children can learn. Traditionally, when a student displays low skills or is struggling to learn a concept, it is often assumed that the child must have some sort of internal, physical or psychological problem. When taking an RTI approach, the focus is on alterable variables such as providing a continuum of instructional supports for students through the identification of children’s skill needs and matching instruction to meet their needs rather than on unalterable student variables such as poverty, race, ethnicity, and family history. In high quality RTI models, a schoolwide approach is taken to ensure that the instructional needs of all students are being met. Research has shown that academic achievement is a stronger predictor of whether students are identified as in need of extra instructional supports than demographic or economic factors (Hosp & Reschly, 2004). To provide students with the most effective services possible, we need to know their academic strengths and areas of need and not unalterable variables such as poverty, race, ethnicity, and family history. ALL children can learn if provided the right supports. In an RTI approach, we never stop when students “fail to respond” to an intervention. We continuously problem solve to determine what works to improve their skills.
Beliefs About Instruction.
Taking an RTI approach to service delivery requires rethinking the way that instruction is provided to students. High quality, effective instruction is the core of any RTI model, and several core RTI beliefs are related to instruction. It is important to prevent academic problems and intervene early. As discussed previously, the traditional approach to providing instruction to students, especially those who struggle, is to wait for them to display difficulties before ever doing something different. In an RTI approach, the focus is on providing high quality instruction to all students to prevent problems from occurring and to intervene as early as possible in the general education setting for students who struggle.

Intervention, doing something different, is the responsibility of all staff.
All teachers in an RTI model provide high quality whole group and small group instruction in the general education classroom. All teachers are also prepared to provide interventions for students depending on how the system for providing interventions is set up in a school. An RTI system should be created such that all of the educators share ownership for the successful outcomes for all students. It is no longer the case that struggling students become the responsibility of the remedial teacher only.

Student performance is influenced most by the quality of the interventions and instruction we deliver and how well we deliver them. Again, in an RTI approach, we are focusing on alterable variables such as the instruction being provided when thinking about student performance. While student characteristics will always influence their success, the variables that educators have control over must be the central focus.

What we have been doing is not working for ALL students. As educators, we often hear of the education crisis or the need for reform and know that not all children are struggling and can think of the many successful students we have seen throughout the years. This belief does not mean that what we have been doing has not worked for some; what it is really saying is that our traditional approach to service delivery has not been working for ALL students. We need to ensure that all students are successful and to do so will require changes to the instruction provided to students.

A variety of research on prevention and early intervention discussed above has lead to the need to consider these beliefs about instruction. These core beliefs about instruction are essential to consider when building an RTI model in a school. The focus is on providing a continuum of high quality instructional supports to prevent problems and intervene early when necessary.
Beliefs About the Use of Data
Finally, implementation of RTI requires using high quality, technically adequate data to inform instructional decision-making. Throughout the RTI process data are used to make a variety of decisions about instruction for all students, small groups of students, and individual students. Core RTI beliefs related to data include: Data focused on important student outcomes are needed to make instructional decisions, and we are ALL willing to change as the data indicate. With RTI, reliable, valid, and objective data are used for the purposes of determining students’ skill levels, matching instruction and intervention to students’ skill needs, and evaluating the effectiveness of instruction and interventions. Data are not used for the purpose of classifying and labeling students (Hosp & Reschly, 2007). When high quality, technically adequate data point to the need to make an instructional change, we must look at that data and do so.

Schools that have used data at the school level to make decisions about the instruction being provided to all students have improved the academic performance of students (Simmons et al., 2002). The typical approach to determining which students may need additional instructional supports in both general and special education settings has been to use a teacher referral process. However, research has highlighted some issues to consider with the teacher referral process and some ways to make improvements through including the use of data. Research has shown that the overall accuracy of teacher referral is problematic (Egyed & Shor, 2006; Klingter & Harry, 2006; Logan, Hansen, Nieminen, & Wright, 2001; VanDerHeyden, Wiitt, & Naqin, 2002). In other words, teachers do not always accurately identify the students who are in most need of extra instructional supports; the decision to refer students for extra support is typically very subjective. Male students are often over-referred as having concerns, and ethnicity also impacts teacher referral practices. Research has shown that teachers have treated identical information differently and made different recommendations when the only difference in student information presented was ethnicity (Elhoweris, Mutua, Alsheikh, & Holloway, 2005). Referrals for gifted education were more accurate for White and Asian students than African American and Hispanic students in another study (McBee, 2006; Plata & Masten, 1998; Pfeiffer et al., 2007; Forsbach & Pierce, 1999). Similar concerns have been found in research on economically disadvantaged students compared to non-economically disadvantaged students.

In another research study, a data-based gold standard was used to assess whether a child did or did not have an academic skill problem. When compared to this gold standard, teacher referral was accurately referred students who had academic problems only 19% of the time. When identifying which students did not have academic problems, teachers were less accurate than the data-based gold standard 89% of the time. Teachers tended to identify many students who ultimately did not have a valid academic problem and miss students who did. Other research has shown that using universal screening data with intervention data reduced the disproportionate representation of students from minority backgrounds (VanDerHeyden & Witt, 2005; Marston, Muyskens, Lau, & Canter, 2003), and using formative or ongoing assessment for progress monitoring benefits low achieving students (Black & Wiliam, 1998). Instructional consultation teams that focused on using data to help students learn have also lowered referral and placement rates for minority students (Gravois & Rosenfield, 2006).

This section was intended to provide some information and evidence for the importance of these core RTI beliefs. Not all educators share these beliefs, and it is crucial to take the time to think about why to implement RTI and how these beliefs align with your current perspective on education. Though RTI can be implemented without sharing these beliefs, it would be difficult to do so effectively.

Guiding Questions:

  1. How do these core RTI beliefs align with your beliefs about education?
  2. Based on these beliefs, do you think your school will be able to successfully implement RTI?
  3. Do other staff members in your school share these beliefs?
  4. How will you communicate these beliefs to other staff members in your school?
  5. How will you help staff members to consider these beliefs and their importance for taking an RTI approach?




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