Showing posts with label RtI. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RtI. Show all posts

Thursday, July 28, 2016

How to Screw Up Student Learning Under RtI

I am a classroom teacher (grade 3) and a follower of your blog.  I also have an M.A. in Reading. Last year our new principal told us that our RtI students do not need to be in the classroom during grade level instruction. I strongly disagree. I think that these students benefit from scaffolded grade level instruction and benefit from the kind of thinking and reading the class is being asked to do during this time.  

Am I wrong to insist my students be in the room during regular reading instruction? If so, please set me straight.  

Dear Perplexed:

The point of RtI is not to REPLACE classroom reading instruction, but to supplement it.

RtI is used to help determine if a student might be suffering from reading/learning disabilities. The reason that student would be referred for intervention support would be because of some concern about the student’s daily progress.

Consequently, we ADD a targeted intervention to the teaching the student is receiving in order to determine whether it promotes greater progress.

If you use the intervention to replace regular instruction then that student would not receive a more intensive and extensive learning experience than what was already provided. All you would be doing is just trading one treatment for another. Not the idea of RtI and not an approach that has been successful in raising reading achievement.

Using the brief intervention to interrupt or replace the longer classroom instruction means that you won’t find out if the student would respond to the extra tuition, because no extra teaching is offered.

Big mistake to pull kids out of their classroom instruction for an intervention unless it has already been determined that they child requires a special education placement (in other words, the student hadn’t responded to the regular teaching plus the intervention). However, even special education programs—depending on how serious the learning problem—may be used as additional teaching rather than replacement teaching.

I definitely side with you in this. I think your principal is making a big mistake—both undermining kids’ learning progress and making it impossible to determine whether the student has a learning problem.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Is It Fair to Expect the College Bound to Read?

            I know I’m supposed to write that tests and testing are bad things. I’m in education, and we all hate testing, right?

            Lately, there has been much to hate about it, of course. More and more school hours are devoted to testing and test preparation. Weighing the pig more frequently doesn’t make it any fatter.

            But what about SATs and ACTs, the college admissions exams? This is the time of the year when there are lots of news articles about them. Especially this year with the new SAT upon us.

            Unlike so many of my colleagues, generally I’m a fan of these exams. Research has consistently found that their use in college admissions improves those decisions (fewer kids are selected who fail out freshman year). The improvement is not great, 5% sticks in memory, but with 18 million kids going off to college that’s a lot of kids who won’t be sent off to schools likely to drop them after obtaining those hard earned tuitions.

            Although there is a lot of interest in the cultural bias in testing, it has never been found as great as the cultural bias of college admissions officers who for years kept out blacks, Jews, women, Asians, etc. It is harder to argue that a black kid won’t make it given the crummy high school he went to, when he scores a 25 on the ACT.

            This week the New York Times weighed in with an article about the new SAT. They wrote that, “educators and college admissions officers fear that the revised test will penalize students who have not been exposed to a lot of reading.” Straight-faced.

            To me that sounds like a testament to the new SAT’s validity. Students who don’t read should be at a great disadvantage in college. Weird ideologies about fairness are tripping us up here. It is unfair that schools vary in quality, so that students may get more reading opportunities in some schools. It is unfair that not every child has parents who will switch off the TV, and ask questions about reading at the dinner table.

            But, it is definitely not unfair to require high-level reading ability to get into higher-level education.

            Last week, I spent several days working with students and teachers at a middle school in Montana. I taught several lessons in which I required 7th and 8th graders to read their math and science textbooks. The kids admitted that they had never actually done reading in math, and they were a bit reticent about it. But they stuck with it and were able to figure out a lot more than their teachers assumed they could.

            Part of the problem was that these were excellent teachers whom I was working with. They could explain anything exceedingly well. They were skilled at anticipating what would trip students up and could avoid every stumble. If you’re that good at conveying information about math properties, coordinates and balanced chemical equations, why would you ever take a chance on kids reading the material on their own?

            The problem with that, of course, is that the kids end up knowing some math and science, but they don’t develop any of the skills needed to be an independent scholar in a field of study. As one of the math teachers related to his students, “when I was in college the math professors didn’t “teach” the way that we teach you… they assigned problems and we would come back and ask questions.” In such an environment, if you couldn’t make sense of math text on your own, apply it to problems, and ask legitimate math questions, you simply would not succeed.

            I had the kids working through 2-5 pages of math and science text, slower coverage than the teachers would have obtained had they just told the kids what it said. And yet, the amount of math learning was high—given that they were figuring out not just how the distributive property worked, but how to figure out how the distributive property worked as well.
            If the teachers, and those who follow, were to require that kind of work 1-2 days per week through 12th grade, these kids would have 500-1000 pages of pre-college reading experience in those technical subjects alone; and if these students were telling me the truth, that would be 500-1000 pages more technical reading than they are doing now. And, yes, teachers could require even more than that.

            I grew up in a working class community, in which most kids did not go to college. There were a few “college prep” courses available at my high school, but I didn’t even come close to qualifying for any of those. I definitely wasn’t going to be asked to read books like, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, as those students did.

            But I was hungry to go to college. At the time, I found a list of books that college-bound students should read; the canon. Read them I did. I’m not claiming that I got as much out of reading Moby Dick or Microbe Hunters on my own at 16 as I would have under the tutelage of a good teacher (or as I have upon rereading them as an adult), but trying to understand such touchstone texts pays dividends.

            Given that, it is good to see that the SAT has aligned itself with such reading. That is the kind of reading that should enable one to do well in college. It may be fun to read Tina Fey’s Bossypants (the American Library Association actually recommends it for college prep), but such reading isn’t likely to help one to succeed in Introduction to the Theory of Literature.

            The Times might be right that educators are worried that college entry is going to become biased against those not prepared for college. I think it’s about time.

Plain Talk 2016 presentations:  Surprises and RtI

Monday, November 9, 2015

RtI: When Things Don't Work as You Expected

          When I arose today I saw lots of Twitters and Facebook entries about a new U.S. Department of Education study. Then I started getting emails from folks in the schools and in the state departments of education. IES Study on RtI

          “What’s going on here?” was the common trope.

          Basically, the study looked at RtI programs in Grades 1 through 3. The reports say that RtI interventions were lowering reading achievement in Grade 1 and while the RtI interventions weren’t hurting the older kids, they weren’t helping them to read better.

          The idea of RtI is a good one, but the bureaucratization of it was predictable. You can go back and look at the Powerpoint on this topic that I posted years ago.

           I’m not claiming that I predicted the failure of RtI programs. Nevertheless, we should be surprised that research-based interventions aimed at struggling readers, with lots of assessment monitoring harmed rather than helped kids. But I’m not.

          In fairness, this kind of thing can go either way: on the one hand the idea of giving kids targeted instruction generally should improve achievement… and yet, on the other hand, this assumption is based on the idea that schools will accurately identify the kids and the reading problems, will provide additional instruction aimed at helping these kids to catch up, will offer quality teaching of the needed skills (meaning that usually such teaching will have positive learning outcomes), and that being identified to participate in such an effort won’t cause damage in and of itself (if kids feel marked as poor readers that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy with 6-year-olds just trying to figure things out). 

          When RtI was a hot topic I used to argue, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, for a 9-tier model; the point was that a more flexible and powerful system was going to be needed to make a real learning difference. If the identification of student learning needs is sloppy, or the “Tier 2” reading instruction just replaces an equivalent amount of “Tier 1” teaching, or the quality and intensity of instruction are not there… why would anyone expect RtI to be any better than what it replaced?

          Unfortunately, in a lot schools that I visit, RtI has just been a new bureaucratic system for getting kids into special education. Instead of giving kids a plethora of IQ and reading tests, seeking a discrepancy, now we find struggling readers, send them down the hall for part of their instructional day, and test the hell out of them with tests that can’t possibly identify whether growth/learning is taking place and moving them lockstep through “research-based” instructional programs.

          In other words, the programs emphasize compliance rather than encouraging teachers to solve a problem.

          First, there is too much testing in RtI programs. These tests are not fine-grained enough to allow growth to be measured effectively more than 2-4 times per year (in some places I’m seeing the tests administered weekly, biweekly, and monthly, a real time waster.

          Second, the tests are often not administered according to the standardized instructions (telling kids to read as fast as possible on a fluency test is stupid).

          Third, skills tests are very useful, but they can only reveal information about skills performance. Teaching only what can be tested easily is a foolish way to attack reading problems. Definitely use these tests to determine whether to offer extra teaching in phonological awareness, phonics, and oral reading fluency. But kids need work on reading comprehension and language as well, and those are not easily monitored. I would argue for a steady dose of teaching in the areas that we cannot test easily, and a variable amount of teaching of those skills that we can monitor.

          Fourth, the Tier 2 instruction should increase the amount of teaching that kids get. If a youngster is low in fluency or decoding, he should get additional fluency or decoding instruction. That means students should get the entire allotment of Tier 1 reading instruction, and then should get an additional dose of teaching on top of that.

          Fifth, it is a good idea to use programs that have worked elsewhere (“research based”). But that doesn’t mean the program will work for you. Teach that program like crazy with a lot of focus and intensity, just like in the schools/studies where it worked before—in fact, that’s likely why it worked elsewhere. Research-based doesn’t mean that it will work automatically; you have to make such programs work.

          Sixth, don’t put kids in an intervention and assume the problem is solved. The teacher should also beef up Tier 1 teaching, should steal extra instructional moments for these students in class, and should involve parents in their programs as well. What I’m suggesting is a full-court press aimed at making these struggling students successful—rather than a discrete, self-contained, narrow effort to improve things; Tier 2 interventions can be effective, but by themselves they can be a pretty thin strand for struggling readers to hang onto.

          I hope schools don’t drop RtI because of these research findings. But I also hope that they ramp up the quantity and quality of instruction to ensure that these efforts are successful.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Re-thinking Reading Interventions

Ever wonder why we teach kids with a one-size-fits-all anthology in the regular classroom, but are so careful to teach them at their “reading levels” when they are in a pull-out intervention program?

Me too.

In reading, students need the greatest amount of scaffolding and support when they are reading hard texts, and they need less support when reading easy materials.

But we do the opposite. We have kids reading the hardest materials when there is less support available. And, then when we go to the expense of providing lots of support, we simultaneously place the kids in easier texts.

I’ve written before that research has not been supportive of the idea that we need to teach students at their “reading levels” (except for beginning readers). And there are studies that show students can learn from harder texts, at least when they receive adequate instructional support.

What if we turned the world on its head? What if we worked with harder texts when students were working in small heterogeneous groups with a special teacher, and eased off on the text demands in whole class situations? What if struggling students got more opportunities to read and reread grade-level materials—such as taking on such texts in the interventions and then reading them again in the classroom? I suspect kids would make more growth, and would be more motivated to make growth than in the upside-down approaches that we are now using. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

To Special Ed or not to Special Ed: RtI and the Early Identification of Reading Disabilities

My question centers on identifying students for special education. Research says identify students early, avoid the IQ-discrepancy model formula for identification, and use an RTI framework for identification and intervention. 

That said, I have noticed that as a result of high stakes accountability linked to teacher evaluations there seems to be a bit of a shuffle around identifying students for special education. While we are encourages to "identify early", the Woodcock Johnson rarely finds deficits that warrant special education identification.  Given current research  on constrained skills theory ( Scott  Paris)  and late emerging reading difficulties (Rollanda O’Connor), how do we make sure we are indeed identifying students early? 

If a student has been with me for two years (Grades 1 and 2) and the instructional trajectory shows minimal progress on meeting benchmarks, (despite quality research-based literacy instruction), but a special education evaluation using the Woodcock Johnson shows skills that fall within norms, how do we service these children? Title I is considered a regular education literacy program. Special Education seems to be pushing back on servicing these students, saying they need to "stay in Title I."  Or worse, it is suggested that these students be picked up in SPED for phonics instruction, and continue to be serviced in Title I for comprehension. 

I am wondering what your thoughts are on this. The "duplication of services" issue of being service by both programs aside, how does a school system justify such curriculum fragmentation for its most needy students? Could you suggest some professional reading or research that could help me make the case for both early identification of students at risk for late emerging reading difficulties, and the issue of duplication of services when both Title I and SPED service a student?

This is a great question, but one that I didn’t feel I could answer. As I’ve done in the past with such questions: I sent it along to someone in the field better able to respond. In this case, I contacted Richard Allington, past president of the International Reading Association, and a professor at the University of Tennessee. This question is right in his wheelhouse, and here is his answer:

I know of no one who advocates early identification of kids as pupils with disabilities (PWDs). At this point in time we have at least 5 times as many kids identified as PWDs [as is merited]. The goal of RTI, as written in the background paper that produced the legislation, is a 70-80% decrease in the numbers of kids labeled as PWDs. The basic goal of RTI is to encourage schools to provide kids with more expert and intensive reading instruction. As several studies have demonstrated, we can reduce the proportion of kids reading below grade to 5% or so by the end of 1st grade. Once on level by the end of 1st about 85% of kids remain on grade level at least through 4th grade with no additional intervention. Or as two other studies show, we could provide 60 hours of targeted professional development to every K-2 teacher to develop their expertise sufficiently to accomplish this. In the studies that have done this fewer kids were reading below grade level than when the daily 1-1 tutoring was provided in K and 1st. Basically, what the research indicates is that LD and dyslexics and ADHD kids are largely identified by inexpert teachers who don't know what to do. If Pianta and colleagues are right, only 1 of 5 primary teachers currently has both the expertise and the personal sense of responsibility for teaching struggling readers. (It doesn't help that far too many states have allowed teachers to avoid responsibility for the reading development of PWDs by removing PWDs from value-added computations of teacher effectiveness).

I'll turn to senior NICHD scholars who noted that, "Finally, there is now considerable evidence, from recent intervention studies, that reading difficulties in most beginning readers may not be directly caused by biologically based cognitive deficits intrinsic to the child, but may in fact be related to the opportunities provided for children learning to read." (p. 378)

In other words, most kids that fail to learn to read are victims of inexpert or nonexistent teaching. Or, they are teacher disabled not learning disabled. Only when American schools systems and American primary grade teachers realize that they are the source of the reading problems that some kids experience will those kids ever be likely to be provided the instruction they need by their classroom teachers.

As far as "duplication of services" this topic has always bothered me because if a child is eligible for Title i services I believe that child should be getting those services. As far as fragmentation of instruction this does not occur when school districts have a coherent systemwide curriculum plan that serves all children. But most school districts have no such plan and so rather than getting more expert and more intensive reading lessons based on the curriculum framework that should be in place, struggling readers get a patchwork of commercial programs that result in the fragmentation. Again, that is not the kids as the problem but the school system as the problem. Same is true when struggling readers are being "taught" by paraprofessionals. That is a school system problem not a kids problem. In the end all of these school system failures lead to kids who never becomes readers.

Good answer, Dick. Thanks. Basically, the purpose of these efforts shouldn’t be to identify kids who will qualify for special education, but to address the needs of all children from the beginning. Once children are showing that they are not responding adequately to high quality and appropriate instruction, then the intensification of instruction—whether through special education or Title I or improvements to regular classroom teaching should be provided. Quality and intensity are what need to change; not placements. Early literacy is an amalgam of foundational skills that allow one to decode from print to language and language skills that allow one to interpret such language. If students are reaching average levels of performance on foundational skills, it is evident that they are attaining skills levels sufficient to allow most students to progress satisfactorily. If they are not progressing, then you need to look at the wider range of skills needed to read with comprehension. The focus of the instruction, the intensity of the instruction, and the quality of the instruction should be altered when students are struggling; the program placement or labels, not so much.