Jadi Miller, EdD, is director of assessment for Elkhorn Public Schools in Nebraska. She has experience as a teacher and an administrator at the elementary, secondary, and district levels.

Response to Intervention: Start with Effective Tier 1 Instruction

As with most innovations in education, we start by questioning before embracing new ideas.  We think critically about the benefits that the change has to offer and will engage in vigorous debates as we begin the implementation process.  When changes start to become part of our school culture, we can often lose the rationale and core essentials of what is most important related to the new practice.  Response to Intervention is at risk of becoming one of those innovations that has become a verb (‘We RTI’d them to make sure they were making progress.’) that does not have the depth of understanding that we need to truly realize its impact.

Response to Intervention is defined as a system that “integrates assessment and intervention within a multi-level prevention system to maximize student achievement and reduce behavior problems” (www.rti4success.org). Chris Weber and Nathan Lang have a timely blog post about the trademarks of effective Response to Intervention processes (http://www.solution-tree.com/blog/1424-top-10-trademarks-of-rti/#more-1424).  They are excellent reminders for schools to analyze both their processes and why they have them.

We can connect one of these trademarks about the importance of quality Tier I instruction to the Assessment Tenets, and in particular one of the tenets that is often not addressed during the RTI conversations held by educators: Instructional Agility.  Far too often, the RTI process is dominated by conversations about which test and which tool is the best for Tier 2 or Tier 3.   We should spend an equal amount of time focusing on Tier 1 instruction and making sure that our teachers have the skills and strategies necessary to continuously gather information about student learning and use it to adjust instruction.

Instructional Agility is when teachers are able to collect and ultimately utilize emerging evidence to make those real-time adjustments to instruction.  (http://allthingsassessment.info/assessment-tenets/)  This should be the essence of effective Tier 1 instruction.  Teachers should collaborate to identify key concepts in the content and generate formative tasks, effective questions and other forms of meaningful evidence to student learning during instruction rather than spending all of our time and energy trying to find something to add later.  Response to Intervention conversations and professional development should start with helping to make sure teachers have the knowledge and ability to gather timely information about student learning and also know how to adjust instruction effectively and efficiently to address student needs, rather than just looking for interventions to add.

Educators should continue to engage in the professional collaboration that Weber and Lang describe to make sure that Response to Intervention produces the levels of student learning that we all seek.  A visual of a pyramid is often used to describe the RTI process.  That visual is an excellent reminder that the foundation of our conversations about student learning should be quality Tier 1 instruction that is available to all students.


Top 10 Most Telling Trademarks of Response to Intervention by Chris Weber and Nathan Lang, posted December 15, 2015.  http://www.solution-tree.com/blog/1424-top-10-trademarks-of-rti/#more-1424

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