Response to Intervention in the Middle School: Examining One Middle School s Readiness to Implement an RTI Framework

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St. John Fisher College Fisher Digital Publications Education Masters Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. School of Education Response to Intervention in the Middle School: Examining One Middle School s Readiness
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St. John Fisher College Fisher Digital Publications Education Masters Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. School of Education Response to Intervention in the Middle School: Examining One Middle School s Readiness to Implement an RTI Framework Cindy Blair St. John Fisher College How has open access to Fisher Digital Publications benefited you? Follow this and additional works at: Part of the Education Commons Recommended Citation Blair, Cindy, Response to Intervention in the Middle School: Examining One Middle School s Readiness to Implement an RTI Framework (2011). Education Masters. Paper 44. Please note that the Recommended Citation provides general citation information and may not be appropriate for your discipline. To receive help in creating a citation based on your discipline, please visit This document is posted at and is brought to you for free and open access by Fisher Digital Publications at St. John Fisher College. For more information, please contact Response to Intervention in the Middle School: Examining One Middle School s Readiness to Implement an RTI Framework Abstract This study was conducted to determine the readiness of one middle school to implement an RTI framework under the AIS provision of the state education regulations. The study took place amongst the ELA department of a suburban middle school and data collected included teacher questionnaires and interviews as well as an observation of a department meeting. The data showed that assets and barriers existed. The primary asset was the knowledge and expertise of the teaching staff and their willingness to make changes. The barriers included scheduling, communication, and lack of a clear vision for curriculum and pedagogical practices. Document Type Thesis Degree Name MS in Literacy Education Department Education First Supervisor Joellen Maples Subject Categories Education This thesis is available at Fisher Digital Publications: Response to Intervention in the Middle School: Examining One Middle School s Readiness to Implement an RTI Framework By Cindy Blair Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree M.S. Literacy Education Supervised by Dr. Joellen Maples School of Arts and Sciences St. John Fisher College August 2011 READINESS TO IMPLEMENT RTI IN THE MIDDLE SCHOOL 2 Abstract This study was conducted to determine the readiness of one middle school to implement an RTI framework under the AIS provision of the state education regulations. The study took place amongst the ELA department of a suburban middle school and data collected included teacher questionnaires and interviews as well as an observation of a department meeting. The data showed that assets and barriers existed. The primary asset was the knowledge and expertise of the teaching staff and their willingness to make changes. The barriers included scheduling, communication, and lack of a clear vision for curriculum and pedagogical practices. READINESS TO IMPLEMENT RTI IN THE MIDDLE SCHOOL 3 Response to Intervention in the Middle School: Examining One Middle School s Readiness to Implement an RTI Framework In this paper, I investigated a middle school s ability to implement a Response to Intervention (RTI) framework to provide Academic Intervention Services (AIS) to students not meeting standards at the intermediate level (grades 6-8) according to the current New York State Standards. Many adolescents, for one reason or another, have not been able to adopt school house literacies which would allow them to demonstrate success on state assessments. While the value of the literacies privileged on the state assessments may be questionable, the failure of certain students to meet these expectations has several repercussions. First, students not meeting standards in the intermediate grades are at risk for not graduating high school. Failure to achieve this distinction then prevents them from being accepted into communities and institutions typically associated with socioeconomic success (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004). Second, not meeting standards year after year marginalizes these students, leaving them with a sense of inferiority. These judgments are often internalized, thus creating an endless cycle whereby students are prevented from being able to meet standards in the future because of a loss of confidence and a feeling that they are somehow lacking in intelligence or ability (Brozo, 2009). Third, the repeated failure of students of marginalized or underprivileged communities, which may be seen in the high incidences of learning disability classifications for members of those communities (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006), may serve to strengthen perceptions of weakness in those communities. Finally, unless the dominant perspective is questioned from within, it does not stand much chance of changing in any significant way. Those who possess literacy have an advantage and may be able to challenge dominant views of literacy and language (Street, 1993). READINESS TO IMPLEMENT RTI IN THE MIDDLE SCHOOL 4 According to The University of the State of New York, State Education Department (2000), Academic Intervention Services (AIS) are defined as services designed to help students achieve the learning standards in English language arts The intensity of such services may vary, but must be designed to respond to student needs as indicated through State assessments results (p. 4). Response to Intervention (RTI) approaches have recently been added as an option for AIS service in New York State (NYSED, 2010). The framework relies on three tiers of intervention as well as both formative and summative assessment. Tier 1 students receive research based instruction and reading progress is measured. Students who fall below an acceptable level of performance then move into Tier 2 interventions. Non responders to those interventions would then move onto even higher levels of intervention (Tier 3). Students who persistently fail to respond to interventions are categorized as non responders and special education classifications are then considered (NYSED, 2010). Students receive explicit strategy instruction at all levels but the intensity increases as students move up the RTI pyramid. RTI can be a useful tool a variety of levels; however, it requires a significant shift in the typical practices of middle schools. While the state seems to have been heading this way for a number of years (The AIS model is framed upon such a system), districts will have to rethink many of the practices and policies currently in place. Based on this framework, I wondered how ready our current ELA staff was to implement AIS under this new intervention system. I questioned teachers regarding their perceptions of their current AIS practices, recent professional development, and district and building READINESS TO IMPLEMENT RTI IN THE MIDDLE SCHOOL 5 administration s leadership. To develop an understanding of their perceptions, I administered a questionnaire to all of the teachers in the ELA department and any Special Education teachers responsible for ELA instruction. I then interviewed key responders to gain a deeper understanding of their current practices and recent professional development. I also wanted more information about their perceptions of district and building administration s leadership. Additionally, I videotaped a department meeting focused on new curricular materials for AIS delivery. Teacher responses demonstrate three priorities which should be addressed. First, teachers need time and space to learn from each other to improve instruction at tiers 1 and 2. Second, administration needs to look at the schedule and staffing to better group students. Finally, a clear vision needs to be developed and communicated to maximize fidelity of implementation. Overall, the school has many assets which can positively impact the RTI framework. Theoretical Framework Oral and literate ability are often used as indicators of general intelligence. While judgments based on race are now seen as misguided appropriations of stereotypes and generalizations, judgments based on a person s perceived oral or literate class (made by observing variations from the mainstream way of speaking, reading, writing, etc.) are still used to withhold privilege and status. In other words, judging a person based upon perceived oral or literate ability is one of the last acceptable ways of categorizing people as members or nonmembers of society. Literacy has come to be associated with crude and often ethnocentric stereotypes of other cultures and represents a way of perpetuating the notion of a great divide between modern and traditional societies that is less acceptable when expressed in other terms (Street, 1993, p. 430). If a person s language use does not reflect the values, norms, and READINESS TO IMPLEMENT RTI IN THE MIDDLE SCHOOL 6 practices of the mainstream, they are considered inferior and lacking in intelligence and ability. This judgment is then used among mainstream America to explain a person s lack of material success: people fail to achieve upward mobility, not because of societal and institutional flaws, but because they do not have the same natural ability or intelligence (as reflected in their literacy and oral performances) as those who have achieved. In fact, many students may fail to learn and display mainstream language or literacy practices and will be seen as unintelligent or inferior because the atmosphere in which they are taught is not compatible with the original atmosphere in which students have developed these oral and literate behaviors. Therefore, an intervention framework would be a necessary component of a student s literacy education if only to help that student adopt more mainstream literacy practices. Students would be able to adopt these literacy practices and demonstrate mastery of them on state assessments through the improvement of the classroom environment, the intervention environment or a combination of both. Standardized tests have been developed as a way of testing language and literacy ability to ensure that all students have opportunities to achieve socioeconomic equality. Patterns of language use valued by schools are generally reflective of the dominant, white, middle-class culture and Discourse (Gee, 1989; Heath, 1982a; Meier, 2003). Gee (1989) uses the term Discourse to refer to the identities that people claim, either consciously or subconsciously as a result of membership in these cultures. As a child, an individual is born into a Discourse community. He gradually becomes a more able participant in the community, but at every point of his development he is accepted by the community despite errors he may make as he acquires the values, dispositions, and behaviors of his home Discourse community. This period is the only time that a person is accepted as a member of a Discourse community without full mastery of the Discourse. Gee calls this home Discourse community the Primary Discourse. READINESS TO IMPLEMENT RTI IN THE MIDDLE SCHOOL 7 Shirley Brice Heath (1982a, 1982b) found that the primary Discourse acquired may impact a person s academic performance as they attempt to become literate in a secondary Discourse (school). She found that children experienced difficulty because the new Discourse of school was either not compatible with the primary Discourse, or worse, was in direct contradiction to the primary Discourse. School activities such as questioning, reading, and interacting are not universally defined. Instead, such practices are affected by the culture one lives in; the Discourse community of the child may view an activity such as reading quite differently than the school Discourse community does. Thus, students whose language development occurred within this dominant culture are prepared for the specific literacy demands of the school culture, while students whose development occurred outside of this community, must adapt to meet the demands of the same school culture. This reality results in a disparate level of performance on specific literacy tasks such as standardized tests. Students who have not been exposed to schooled literacy practices appear to be less able or intelligent and are placed in different settings such as AIS to address these deficits. In fact, these students are simply not practiced in the literacy activities of school; therefore, AIS may be needed to assist students to adopt these literacy behaviors but not to remedy any deficits per se. The framework of RTI would allow these literacy needs to be addressed without necessarily seeing the child as deficient. Another complicating factor in the study of adolescent language and literacy is the number of content areas students encounter during the school day. Each of these areas may represent a different Discourse; for students who struggle to adopt the basic school-house literacies in the younger grades, the increasing number and complexities of secondary school Discourses may be more than they can reasonably navigate. Further, students who may not have READINESS TO IMPLEMENT RTI IN THE MIDDLE SCHOOL 8 had to adopt new discourses to access elementary school language and literacy practices may not be able to adopt the language and literacy practices of specialized areas such as science or literature studies. Therefore, teachers of students at the higher grades may be dealing with a number of students who fail to demonstrate facility with their content area for a variety of reasons. Historically, schools have often looked to the student to explain lack of success by believing: Whichever the deficit, the remedy is located in the individual child s remediation to make him fit the expectations and processes of schooling. In these ways, the process of schooling that enfranchise particular groups while disenfranchising others escape interrogation and are understood to be innocuous, impartial and beyond suspicion. The impetus is to reform the child rather than the curriculum, since the source of the trouble is seen to lie outside the parameters of schooling as usual. (Alloway& Gilbert, 1997, p. 53). Further, Kucer (2005) contends that schools have failed to recognize home literacies and acknowledge instruction as a possible (if not probable) cause of difficulties with literacy instruction. The question, therefore, becomes: how do we create conditions to help our schools to acknowledge, value, and build on the literacy knowledge that children bring from their primary Discourse community in order to gain acceptance into the dominant culture while recognizing and respecting other Discourses? Fortunately, the concept of RTI may be a useful framework for incorporating a respect for a variety of ways of using language while allowing students spaces to experience apprenticeship opportunities in multiple Discourses including, READINESS TO IMPLEMENT RTI IN THE MIDDLE SCHOOL 9 obviously, the dominant culture as represented by standardized tests. Because Tier 1 (meaning the general classroom environment) is the focus under an RTI framework and students progress is monitored, it may be possible for institutions to begin to consider that there may be instructional issues that need to be addressed rather than assuming deficits exist only with the child. Differentiation is also an expectation at Tier 1, giving educators room to acknowledge multiple patterns of language use. Tier 2 environments would provide teachers opportunities to create workshop environments to apprentice students in the dominant Discourse and the specialized Discourses of secondary content areas. Most promising when considering the literature regarding multiple ways with words, is the replacement of the IQ-achievement discrepancy model which has been argued by some to provide little more than a label (Mceneaney, Lose & Schwartz, 2006) and has possibly allowed some institutions and classrooms to ignore the intelligences many students who are not meeting standards display. Research Question Students failing to meet standards on the state s measurement tool bring a variety of literacy skills and language uses into the classroom. The RTI framework can be used as both a method of acknowledging and adapting to students multiple ways of using language and as a program endorsed by the New York State Education Department as a way of making necessary academic progress. However, adopting a RTI framework would require significant change on the part of institutions and individuals. Therefore, I considered one middle school s readiness to implement RTI by investigating three areas. First, what are the current AIS practices of this middle school? Second, what recent professional development opportunities have shaped or influenced these practices? Third, how have district and building administration supported and guided these practices? By looking at these three areas I was able to answer my main question READINESS TO IMPLEMENT RTI IN THE MIDDLE SCHOOL 10 which was how does one middle school prepare for implementing the RTI framework and what additional steps do the ELA department and the district and building level administration need to take for successful implementation? Literature Review Response to Intervention: The Program and its Possibilities Response to Intervention (RTI) is an academic construct theorized to identify and monitor at-risk students for the purposes of addressing reading weaknesses of all students through responsive teaching. Further, RTI also positions students response to quality instruction or interventions as a test to determine special education classification (Fuchs& Fuchs, 2006). RTI is generally based on three or four tiers of intervention. The first tier is the general classroom environment and the highest tier is special education instruction based on low response to the less intense interventions at lower tiers (Fuchs& Fuchs, 2006) Based on the model, all students are initially screened either using the previous year s scores or an early screening tool. Students deemed at-risk for reading issues are then frequently monitored for progress. Students are placed in Tier 2 interventions if they fail to make adequate progress in the Tier 1 environment which would cause them to not make end-of-year benchmarks. Students whose initial screening shows weakness and who do not grow at the expected rate even under the intense interventions of Tier 2 are given intervention at Tier 3. These students are considered dually discrepant and hard to remediate (Speece& Case, 2001). READINESS TO IMPLEMENT RTI IN THE MIDDLE SCHOOL 11 There are two methods currently being used and studied for Tier 2 interventions. The first is the problem solving approach. This approach relies on the expertise of practitioners to analyze student performance and design interventions based on individual reading profiles. It is a recursive process. The second method is a standard treatment protocol. For some, this means a scripted approach. Fuchs and Fuchs (2006) contend that this standard treatment method eliminates the weakness of the previous approach in that it requires high levels of expertise (p. 95). The standard treatment model also helps to diminish the possibility that lack of student growth could be attributed to lack of appropriate instruction. Fuchs and Fuchs (2006) explain that researchers seem to prefer this method of intervention while practitioners seem to prefer a problem solving approach (p. 94). There are several benefits argued to be associated with the use of RTI. First, Fuchs and Fuchs (2006) argue that RTI s dual discrepancy model for identifying students in need of intensive remediation is far superior to the previously endorsed IQ-achievement model (p. 96). Many have called the latter model a wait to fail system and criticize its lack of utility in achieving anything more than a label (New York State Union of Teachers, 2008). In contrast, the dual discrepancy model of RTI analyzes s
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