Response to Intervention

Response to Intervention (RtI) is a new service delivery system in the schools that has been receiving considerable attention in the field since the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). RtI, in a nutshell, is aimed at preventing academic and behavioral difficulties as well as identifying and teaching students with disabilities. It is a service delivery system that is designed to shift the focus away from waiting for students to fail such that they require special education to a preventive and early intervention focus. Who wouldn’t want that?

And yet, whenever I get a new journal with a special series on RtI, or an advertisement for a workshop on RtI, or a new article from a college, I become overwhelmed to the point of putting the materials in the “think about that later” pile. Theoretically, I think RtI is the best idea since sliced bread. Practically, it overwhelms me, because it is not a program, or a strategy, or something that can be taught to teachers in a weekend workshop. It is a subversion of the dominant teaching and learning paradigm of general and special education that involves collaboration among every educator and parent and student and support staff member and special educators and curriculum developers and administrators and school psychologists and…*hyperventilation ensues*

I am reminded of something a wise professor in graduate school once said to me: “Your feelings are sometimes diagnostic.”

How can we, as school psychologists begin to digest all of the components of RtI and then assist with implementation at our school sites without getting overwhelmed? I recently read an article about the 10 core components of RtI* and the researcher in me said “Yeah!” and the pragmatist in me said “Yeah right!” I think my feelings of being overwhelmed are shared by many in the field.

I finally gave into my overwhelmed feelings this weekend and read the “Special Issue” of the School Psychology Review on RtI, the stack-o-materials I have been collecting, and the dusty, yet still pertinent, RtI proposal I did many years ago when I was first entering the schools.**

After hour number 247 of reading (admittedly, interspersed with on-line shopping), I realized something. I don’t have to try to implement RtI all at once, though I wish I could. At the same time, I shouldn’t wait until the “higher-ups” finally get around to revamping the entire system. Maybe the on-line shopping got into my head while doing my RtI project, but it seems to me that the fabulous theoretical RtI that is presented in my journals is the “Prada Couture” of interventions: flashy, fancy, and amazing. Everyone wants it. But it’s expensive and not appropriate for all contexts (unless you are allowed to wear spiky coat and pumps with spazzed out hair to work).

The RtI principles that school psychologists bring to their everyday interactions are the “Ready to Wear” line. That is, we are guided by the original design, but have the doable version. So we don’t have to wear the spiky coat, but we can wear a similar coat without the spikes. It still has nice lines. And we can always wear the shoes. It’s still Prada, it’s just accessible for the real world. Applied to RtI, we can make successive approximations of the big idea in small and realistic steps, such as introducing a universal screening measure at our elementary schools, infusing data collection into SST interventions, or educating ourselves on the curriculum-based measures that are used in the classroom.

Just don’t water down your intervention so much that it becomes the knock-off “Prado” one finds on the streets. It will fall apart!

*High-Quality classroom instruction, Research-based intervention, Classroom assessment, Universal screening, Continuously monitoring student progress in the classroom, Research-based interventions, Progress monitoring during interventions, Fidelity measures, Staff development and collaboration, Parent involvement. Responding to Change, The Special Edge, Autumn 2007. Also, check out NASP’s RtI Resource Libraryfor more information.

**Prior to being punched in the face by the reality of working in a large urban school district.

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Comments on Response to Intervention

  1. TAGCBLOG says:

    What is the role of the school counselor in Response to Intervention planning? Do you even see them having a role?

  2. I definitely see the school counselor as instrumental in the RtI movement. . Counselors are usually the first ones to hear if a student is having a problem, not the psychologist. At least at my schools, the counselor was usually in charge of pre-referral interventions and/or Student Success Teams (SST). As such, counselors are the ones who can a) generate excitement for RtI, b) offer the student a menu of RtI interventions, and c) help collect data about the efficacy of the interventions.

    So basically, I think the school counselor and the school psychologist should be BEST. FRIENDS. when it comes to RTI. If they work together with administration to generate this “menu” of interventions, and divide the responsibility for data collection/follow up, then everyone is on the same page.

    Nothing is more frustrating for me then to have two members of the same school giving the parent two different courses of action for helping their child. I think RtI could help to bridge this gap, if the school psych and school counselor have a good working relationship.

    I’d love to hear a counselor’s perspective on RtI, if there are any readers who have direct experience on this topic!

  3. TAGCBLOG says:

    I am a middle school counselor in three different middle schools. We are in different stages of implementing problem solving at each school. We do have one terrific school psychologist in one of the schools who does partner with us very well. In that school, I am the main observer to collect data on behaviors so that we can write effective plans.

    We do have a suggested list of interventions we have drawn up to work on the targeted behaviors. We have shared that with my other two schools.

    It seems like our district would like the teachers to take over the problem solving and intervention process. We have already been cut from three counselors in each of our six middle schools to two. I split between the three largest so that is very interesting.

  4. Wow, it sounds like you are spread just as thin as school psychologists. That’s a shame. Counselors are such a great resource. It makes sense that the district would want to shift the focus to the teachers, but I have concerns about treatment fidelity with how busy they are too. Plus, how does a person observe their own class? Not very objective.

    The reality is that RTI is a general education function that will impact special education, so there has to be collaboration. I’d hire special “RTI Psychologists” or RTI Counselors to do it full time, especially because if you have teacher turnover like my schools do, all your training goes out the window when staff leaves.

    Keep up the good work though, you are fighting the good fight!!!

  5. EED says:

    What are the primary roles of the school psychologist in implementing RTI?

  6. Rebecca says:

    There are so many roles, and it really depends on the school site and the district's level of involvement. We have a psych in charge of RtI at the district level, and then a few pilot schools where psychs are involved in educating staff about RtI, engaging in data collection, and sometimes doing interventions. I think most psychs are involved in translating data results and trying to increase treatment fidelity. At my schools though, RtI is voluntary, as our district really hasn't adopted it yet. I train undergrads to do interventions with the students and take data on effectiveness in my "free time". Until there's more psych time at my school, that's about all I can do in RtI.

    Check out RtI Wire though–it's a website with resources. Hope that helps!

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