An Interview with Russell Gersten and Rebecca Newman Gonchar- Is RTI Delaying the Inevitable or Inevitably Assisting Students?

Dec 8, 2011 by

 

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

1) First of all, how do the two of you define “response to intervention”?

Response to intervention (RtI) is a systematic approach to identifying and addressing the instructional needs of students. It has been adapted from the field of public health. RtI often involves 3 tiers of instruction and intervention. Tier 1 involves prevention. It includes, for example, public and professional awareness of factors that might cause difficulties in mathematics. Examples of Tier 1 interventions are, in our view, increasing awareness that students must be able to automatically retrieve basic arithmetic facts in order to understand mathematical procedures and ideas, awareness that students need to build proficiency with a number line while they are learning arithmetic, and awareness of the reciprocal relationship between computational proficiency and conceptual knowledge and the need to include and integrate both in mathematics instruction. In other words, Tier 1 addresses ideas and guidelines likely to prevent unnecessary failure in mathematics. Tier 1 intervention is likely to benefit all students.

In contrast, Tier 2 is geared towards students likely to experience difficulty learning mathematics without additional support. Students in an RtI model are screened regularly (up to 3 times per year) to determine if they are at risk for difficulty in learning mathematics. Those who demonstrate some risk are placed in Tier 2, in which they receive small-group instruction. Instruction can be on either foundational skills and concepts or grade level material or a combination of the two. Progress of the students is monitored to determine if they are responding (i.e. response to intervention). If a student’s performance does not improve, the student is moved to Tier 3, a more intensive instructional support. Only students who do not respond to these instructional supports are evaluated for special education services.

2) I talk to a lot of teachers, and most understand RTI, but lament the lack of time to implement it with integrity and fidelity. How do you respond to these teachers?

Teachers are under a lot of pressure and there is no question that instructional time is important. We believe that RtI is best implemented at a school level, utilizing a wide array of resources for screening and small group instruction including part time personnel, Title I staff, paraprofessionals, and trained parent volunteers. It is great that teachers feel that it is important to implement RtI with integrity. We are less concerned with fidelity to exact wording in publisher’s manuals, etc.

3) Many English Language learners have difficulty with math due to abstract words like divide, subtract, etc. How can teachers help these students?

This is a great example of a potential Tier 1 intervention. Teachers can and should teach mathematics vocabulary using the best research we have on vocabulary instruction. Peer assisted learning can be an excellent venue for vocabulary work. Be aware that the meaning of mathematical terms often takes quite a while to evolve in all learners so work on vocabulary is essential. Use of visual representations also can promote understanding of mathematical terms.

4) Many teachers seem to be prepared to implement RTI- but complain of student absences, latenesses and the like. If a student is absent 30, 40 days a year- what’s a teacher to do?

Here the intervention needs to focus on attendance and needs to be schoolwide to prevent excessive absences.

5) Can teachers have Educational Assistants perform the actual intervention or do they have to do it?

Yes, one option is for a teacher’s assistant to conduct the intervention. Some research in reading suggests they can be as effective as trained substitute teachers.

6) What about the role of diagnostic testing such as KEY MATH and other math diagnostic tests- could they also be used?

We need good diagnostic tests, especially for students who receive Tier 3 interventions.

7) Tell us about some of the chapters in your book and the various topics that they cover?

Our book, Understanding RTI in Mathematics, includes 12 chapters, covering a variety of topics in response to intervention in mathematics, from a study of an early math curriculum to help students struggling with number sense to the mixed results of a double dose algebra program in Chicago to the importance of motivation in a RTI model. Our goal was to collect pieces from some of the best researchers in this area, to inform educators on current findings from research being done in the field. After the initial introduction to RTI in math chapter, four chapters cover screening, progress monitoring, a tier 1 curriculum, and tier 2 tutoring program for early elementary grades. The next five chapters cover issues in middle and high school mathematics, including instruction and interventions in word problems, ratios and proportions, and algebra, the use of visual representations, and effective instructional practices for tier 2 and 3. The final two chapters deal with practical issues of implementation: what role motivation plays in RTI and how RTI fits into the school structure. To learn more about Understanding RTI in Mathematics, please visit www.brookespublishing.com.

8) Let’s be specific in some instances- children with autism, who are blind, or have a head injury, brain damage and intellectual disability- should they be exempt from RTI? Who decides?

With RTI,it’s not about labeling students, it’s about identifying students who may be struggling and getting them the support they need.  For some students that support may mean small group instruction, for others it may mean one-on-one interventions and progress monitoring, and for others it may mean referring them to special education services.  It’s important to remember that no two students are alike.  RTI is a tool that teachers can use to identify their student’s abilities and then customize instruction as needed.

Whether or not a student should be exempt from RTI must be decided on a case-by-case basis.   No two students with Autism are alike; no two students with an intellectual disability are alike.  Just because someone has a disability or injury, doesn’t mean that they don’t have the ability to flourish in a general education or inclusive classroom.  For instance, consider a blind student.  They may be on grade level in math, or they may need interventions in order to get up to grade level, such as being provided with small group instruction to understand fractions, or being provided assistive technology such as a braille keyboard in order to answer math questions.

If a student has already been identified to have a disability, or if they already have an IEP, it’s important to follow the steps already in place and consult with the student’s existing support team for guidance.  However, if a student has not already been identified as having a disability ,the RTI process can benefit them by helping to identify if they need help in a specific area and, in somecases, identify that there may be a developmental delay or learning difference that requires further testing or more individualized support.

9) Let’s talk prevention for a while—shouldn’t teachers and school systems be doing a much more valid and reliable screening process in math- a sort of formative evaluation if you will?

Measures seem fine for the primary grades. However, we have a ways to go in terms of valid screening measures for grades 2 and beyond. We see technology and adaptive testing as one possible means to develop efficient, reliable screening measures for the upper grades.

10) Are there instances where a teacher, based on a formative evaluation could recommend that a student be returned to an earlier grade?

No. I could see a teacher seriously considering a Tier 2 and even a Tier 3 intervention though. I would want to double check any impression based on one informal formative assessment, though, to see how the student does on a valid screening measure and a more comprehensive, diagnostic measure.

11) What are some “high quality tools and measures” to help monitor student progress?

The National Center for Response to Intervention regularly reviews measure that can be used to monitor student progress. We recommend readers visit: http://rti4success.org/progressMonitoringTools for more information on available tools. We are aware of the limited nature of progress monitoring tools in mathematics at the current time. Valid progress monitoring measures should assess not only computation or facts, and sadly, that is all some measures do.

12) A lot of kids are visual learners- what should RTI in math encompass?

There are several chapters in the book on the use of visual representations and we see this as crucial for good mathematics instruction at all Tiers. Students can be taught to use visuals to organize the information in a problem and think through possible solutions.

13) Some kids have the well know LFT- Low Frustration Tolerance- does your book address these issues?

We don’t address this directly, but we do have a chapter on the importance of motivation.

14) One problem that teachers face is the fact that some students transfer in from other schools- what kind of testing should occur when a child transfers in, and what suggestions do you have for a student who may be found 3 years behind?

Transfer students should be screened to determine appropriate placement. Teachers should use the same screening measures they use to assess the rest of the class.

15) What have I neglected to ask about your book?

What surprised you in editing this book?

We were surprised and pleased to find that there was quite a bit of high quality research on the topic. This would not have been the case five years ago. Also, we were surprised by the lack of synergy in thinking about RtI in the mathematics education community and the special education/school psych community.

An Interview with Russell Gersten and Rebecca Newman Gonchar- Is RTI Delaying the Inevitable or Inevitably Assisting Students?

Michael F. Shaughnessy

Eastern New Mexico University

Portales, New Mexico

1) First of all, how do the two of you define “response to intervention”?

Response to intervention (RtI) is a systematic approach to identifying and addressing the instructional needs of students. It has been adapted from the field of public health. RtI often involves 3 tiers of instruction and intervention. Tier 1 involves prevention. It includes, for example, public and professional awareness of factors that might cause difficulties in mathematics. Examples of Tier 1 interventions are, in our view, increasing awareness that students must be able to automatically retrieve basic arithmetic facts in order to understand mathematical procedures and ideas, awareness that students need to build proficiency with a number line while they are learning arithmetic, and awareness of the reciprocal relationship between computational proficiency and conceptual knowledge and the need to include and integrate both in mathematics instruction. In other words, Tier 1 addresses ideas and guidelines likely to prevent unnecessary failure in mathematics. Tier 1 intervention is likely to benefit all students.

In contrast, Tier 2 is geared towards students likely to experience difficulty learning mathematics without additional support. Students in an RtI model are screened regularly (up to 3 times per year) to determine if they are at risk for difficulty in learning mathematics. Those who demonstrate some risk are placed in Tier 2, in which they receive small-group instruction. Instruction can be on either foundational skills and concepts or grade level material or a combination of the two. Progress of the students is monitored to determine if they are responding (i.e. response to intervention). If a student’s performance does not improve, the student is moved to Tier 3, a more intensive instructional support. Only students who do not respond to these instructional supports are evaluated for special education services.

2) I talk to a lot of teachers, and most understand RTI, but lament the lack of time to implement it with integrity and fidelity. How do you respond to these teachers?

Teachers are under a lot of pressure and there is no question that instructional time is important. We believe that RtI is best implemented at a school level, utilizing a wide array of resources for screening and small group instruction including part time personnel, Title I staff, paraprofessionals, and trained parent volunteers. It is great that teachers feel that it is important to implement RtI with integrity. We are less concerned with fidelity to exact wording in publisher’s manuals, etc.

3) Many English Language learners have difficulty with math due to abstract words like divide, subtract, etc. How can teachers help these students?

This is a great example of a potential Tier 1 intervention. Teachers can and should teach mathematics vocabulary using the best research we have on vocabulary instruction. Peer assisted learning can be an excellent venue for vocabulary work. Be aware that the meaning of mathematical terms often takes quite a while to evolve in all learners so work on vocabulary is essential. Use of visual representations also can promote understanding of mathematical terms.

4) Many teachers seem to be prepared to implement RTI- but complain of student absences, latenesses and the like. If a student is absent 30, 40 days a year- what’s a teacher to do?

Here the intervention needs to focus on attendance and needs to be schoolwide to prevent excessive absences.

5) Can teachers have Educational Assistants perform the actual intervention or do they have to do it?

Yes, one option is for a teacher’s assistant to conduct the intervention. Some research in reading suggests they can be as effective as trained substitute teachers.

6) What about the role of diagnostic testing such as KEY MATH and other math diagnostic tests- could they also be used?

We need good diagnostic tests, especially for students who receive Tier 3 interventions.

7) Tell us about some of the chapters in your book and the various topics that they cover?

Our book, Understanding RTI in Mathematics, includes 12 chapters, covering a variety of topics in response to intervention in mathematics, from a study of an early math curriculum to help students struggling with number sense to the mixed results of a double dose algebra program in Chicago to the importance of motivation in a RTI model. Our goal was to collect pieces from some of the best researchers in this area, to inform educators on current findings from research being done in the field. After the initial introduction to RTI in math chapter, four chapters cover screening, progress monitoring, a tier 1 curriculum, and tier 2 tutoring program for early elementary grades. The next five chapters cover issues in middle and high school mathematics, including instruction and interventions in word problems, ratios and proportions, and algebra, the use of visual representations, and effective instructional practices for tier 2 and 3. The final two chapters deal with practical issues of implementation: what role motivation plays in RTI and how RTI fits into the school structure. To learn more about Understanding RTI in Mathematics, please visit www.brookespublishing.com.

8) Let’s be specific in some instances- children with autism, who are blind, or have a head injury, brain damage and intellectual disability- should they be exempt from RTI? Who decides?

With RTI,it’s not about labeling students, it’s about identifying students who may be struggling and getting them the support they need.  For some students that support may mean small group instruction, for others it may mean one-on-one interventions and progress monitoring, and for others it may mean referring them to special education services.  It’s important to remember that no two students are alike.  RTI is a tool that teachers can use to identify their student’s abilities and then customize instruction as needed.

Whether or not a student should be exempt from RTI must be decided on a case-by-case basis.   No two students with Autism are alike; no two students with an intellectual disability are alike.  Just because someone has a disability or injury, doesn’t mean that they don’t have the ability to flourish in a general education or inclusive classroom.  For instance, consider a blind student.  They may be on grade level in math, or they may need interventions in order to get up to grade level, such as being provided with small group instruction to understand fractions, or being provided assistive technology such as a braille keyboard in order to answer math questions.

If a student has already been identified to have a disability, or if they already have an IEP, it’s important to follow the steps already in place and consult with the student’s existing support team for guidance.  However, if a student has not already been identified as having a disability ,the RTI process can benefit them by helping to identify if they need help in a specific area and, in somecases, identify that there may be a developmental delay or learning difference that requires further testing or more individualized support.

9) Let’s talk prevention for a while—shouldn’t teachers and school systems be doing a much more valid and reliable screening process in math- a sort of formative evaluation if you will?

Measures seem fine for the primary grades. However, we have a ways to go in terms of valid screening measures for grades 2 and beyond. We see technology and adaptive testing as one possible means to develop efficient, reliable screening measures for the upper grades.

10) Are there instances where a teacher, based on a formative evaluation could recommend that a student be returned to an earlier grade?

No. I could see a teacher seriously considering a Tier 2 and even a Tier 3 intervention though. I would want to double check any impression based on one informal formative assessment, though, to see how the student does on a valid screening measure and a more comprehensive, diagnostic measure.

11) What are some “high quality tools and measures” to help monitor student progress?

The National Center for Response to Intervention regularly reviews measure that can be used to monitor student progress. We recommend readers visit: http://rti4success.org/progressMonitoringTools for more information on available tools. We are aware of the limited nature of progress monitoring tools in mathematics at the current time. Valid progress monitoring measures should assess not only computation or facts, and sadly, that is all some measures do.

12) A lot of kids are visual learners- what should RTI in math encompass?

There are several chapters in the book on the use of visual representations and we see this as crucial for good mathematics instruction at all Tiers. Students can be taught to use visuals to organize the information in a problem and think through possible solutions.

13) Some kids have the well know LFT- Low Frustration Tolerance- does your book address these issues?

We don’t address this directly, but we do have a chapter on the importance of motivation.

14) One problem that teachers face is the fact that some students transfer in from other schools- what kind of testing should occur when a child transfers in, and what suggestions do you have for a student who may be found 3 years behind?

Transfer students should be screened to determine appropriate placement. Teachers should use the same screening measures they use to assess the rest of the class.

15) What have I neglected to ask about your book?

What surprised you in editing this book?

We were surprised and pleased to find that there was quite a bit of high quality research on the topic. This would not have been the case five years ago. Also, we were surprised by the lack of synergy in thinking about RtI in the mathematics education community and the special education/school psych community.

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