We’ve made getting a student Tier 3 interventions too complicated, frustrating and laborious. We’ve misinterpreted the tiers of support. We’ve unnecessarily delayed providing the interventions that we can know students need. In the area of reading, we’ve (almost) deliberately allowed students to fall so far behind in reading that success in their current grade level is nearly impossible, and our supports for students with these significant reading needs has been neither adequate nor timely enough.
Students need not fail within core environments for six weeks and then receive core and more supports (Tier 1 + Tier 2) for six more weeks before they received intensive and targeted supports; students at great risk for experiencing failure and frustration immediately receive highly specialized (Tier 3) supports. When we identify a student with a significant deficit in foundational skills, must act with a sense of urgency and provide immediate intervention. Students can also be provided with highly specialized supports if core and more are proven insufficient; if students are not adequately responding to a combination of core and more supports, then we should strive to diagnose a likely cause and provide a targeted, intensive intervention. Student study teams should become involved earlier; they should not be the gatekeepers to a formal evaluation. These expert teams should collaboratively inform highly specialized supports. Students should not need to rely upon a specific teacher to advocate for their success. We have all the data that we need to identify students who are at grave risk of failure. We must act. And, documentation, or lack thereof, should never be the gatekeeper to a child receiving support.
We have gobs of data. Look at it. Do you see students who are scoring very poorly in reading? They need Tier 3 support right away. This afternoon. Tomorrow at the latest.
You don’t even need data. Systematically gather information from this year’s teachers (toward the end of the year) and use that info to provide First-Day-of-Schools Supports for students most in need.
Federal laws allow, and even encourage, schools to exercise flexibility in meeting students’ needs early and intensively. We need not have rigid processes in place. We just need a plan for hacking the Screening-Diagnosing-Prescribing-Monitoring process.
Get started right away with reading…the most common area of need
We believe it would be a mistake for a school to try to provide intensive interventions in all four foundational skill areas (reading, writing, numeracy, and behavior) from the very beginning of their RTI journey. Start with reading. Chances are the vast majority of students highly at-risk in your schools have a significant deficit in reading. Similarly, chances are that a very, very high percentages of students with IEPs have a goal or objective in an area of reading. And, when a student’s confidence and competence in reading improves, their performance in writing, behavior, numeracy, science, social studies, etc., improve as well.
At one of our schools, for example, in which we served as a principal, we only provided Tier 3 supports in reading for three years; it wasn’t until the fourth year that we added Tier 3 numeracy interventions to the plan. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t provide differentiated Tier 1 and 2 supports to students in other areas, but we did not have the staff or time to provide Tier 3 interventions in any other area than reading and we certainly had a large number of students with reading needs. So what were the results? As measured by high-stakes state assessments, student performance in mathematics and science grew at least as much as performance in English-language arts.
Allow yourself to focus. Get good at intervening in reading. We strongly discourage schools from splitting their limited staff and time between, let’s say, reading and numeracy. At least for the first year or so, focus on reading. There is another, practical reason to begin with reading. We estimate that there is 10 times the amount of free or low-cost resources (programs, materials, strategies, assessments) in reading as there are in numeracy, writing, and behavior.
So, let’s make a commitment to focus on providing our most intensive supports for students at-risk in the area of reading. Now we need to know who these students are so that we can initiative support immediately!