Tiers without tears

Response to Intervention (RTI) is a process aimed at preventing pupils from falling behind in class and is arranged by hierarchy: Tier 1 referring to general class instruction, Tier 2 to small-group tutoring and Tier 3 to more individualised help. However, there are few guidelines for schools who are interested in implementing RTI, no quality standards that schools must meet and no monitoring systems in place. Based on their experience with researching RTI, MDRC has released a research brief offering some practical guidance for schools who are thinking of adopting a tiered system. These include:

  • Scheduling. Should extra support be during or after school? Will extra staff time be required? MDRC looked at this situation in depth in a 2016 report.
  • Duration and intensity. The number of pupils in an intervention and the amount of time they receive it affect both academic achievement and staffing requirements.
  • If a school adopts a curriculum to help struggling pupils, it should align with the current curriculum while being different enough to meet the needs of the pupils who are struggling. Proper use of the supplemental curriculum might require teacher training and new materials.
  • Staffing. Some programmes use only certified teachers, whereas others use paraprofessionals or volunteers. Some train before the programme starts, while others provide training before implementation followed by coaching as the programme continues. This latter method is most effective but requires more resources.
  • Intervention content. Pupil screening can help identify pupils who need extra help, although no specific curriculum is recommended for RTI.
  • Balancing Tier 2/Tier 3. Tier 2 pupils need less than Tier 3 pupils, but scheduling demands can push both sets of pupils into the same intervention at the same time of day. Tier 2 should be seen as an opportunity to prevent the pupils from needing to enter Tier 3. For Tier 2 to be effective, it must clearly be seen as separate from Tier 3. Pupils must be assigned to the proper tier, otherwise they will receive too little or too many services.

Source: Tiered systems of support: practical considerations for school districts (May 2017), MDRC

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