How does the RTI Framework intersect with the Common Core State Standards Initiative?

Question: How does the RTI Framework intersect with the Common Core State Standards Initiative? 

Winsome Waite: So, the CCSS and RTI really in simple terms is a connection between what students ought to be able to know and do in order to be college and career ready – that is your common state standards.  And RTI is really the how states go about providing that addition support that students need in order to close those learning gaps that they might have.  For these two initiatives to work really well together, obviously teachers need to know the Common Core State Standards that they teach and they need to know their students really well, knowing their strengths and knowing their needs, knowing the gaps that they have.  Needless to say, districts, schools, school personnel need to work together so that they can utilize data, provide training for teachers, and support teachers both in the Common Core and in RTI. 

The Common Core State Standards are what we call rigorous and ambitious standards.  They have high cognitive demands for all students and these are expected to place every child on a trajectory so that they can be successful in college and careers.  The standards require really deep learning of concept and skills and also the application of those.  So therefore, schools must respond, likewise, and must have rigorous, robust support systems in place really both for the teachers and the students.  That is really where RTI comes in. It is what we call a very comprehensive, research-based approach, framework if you will, that allows schools and allows teachers to identify where those learning gaps are.  So to help schools transition successfully teaching these standards, a variety of support systems must be in place and we think RTI is one of these systems.

Implementation of the essential components of RTI, (screening, progress monitoring, data-based decision-making, and a multi-level prevention system), provides schools with this approach.   The goal of RTI is to help every student access the grade-level standards in a very strong and effective core instructional program that is standards-based, data-driven, and responsive to student needs.  Effective use of data from multiple assessment measures allows teachers to make good decisions about what they are teaching their students so that they don’t necessarily teach students what they already know, but they really focus on the things they don’t know, and identify, especially with struggling students, students who are not accessing grade level content well, helping teachers identify where those gaps or holes are in their needs. 

I’m going to give a couple of examples.  For example, we know that for students to respond critically to what they read, or view, or hear, they have to be able to apply other reading skills.  So students, for example, have to be able to read fluently, in order to comprehend, in order to think critically about what the author is saying.  So those are the type of foundational skills, if you will, that teachers must know that students actually need in order to be able to target those specific skills to help them better access grade-level content.  In the Common Core State Standards, disciplinary literacy is really a major focus.  It requires students to apply very specific literary skills in their science, in their social studies, in their math and other subject areas.  In other words, the common core requires students to be able to read and think like a scientist in science, for example, or a mathematician in mathematics.  So this means that there is a need to provide a rigorous curriculum in disciplinary literacy, starting at the early grades.   This might mean then a need to focus intervention efforts that are targeted to those needs in specific disciplinary areas, in terms of how students access content in a more disciplinary approach, so again, science thinking and science reading.  In math for example, a student that is in seventh grade will be asks to solve a multi-step, real-life mathematical problem and assess, maybe, the reasonableness of their answer.  But they have to be able to read and understand that mathematical language first along with learning the concepts in math.  They also have to be able to read and understand the vocabulary and the terminology in math.  So those are the areas where teachers would want to know where the gaps are. 

Breaking down a standard and assessing the skills that students must have to master that standards really helps teachers identify and target gaps in order to close them.  In RTI, universal screening and progress monitoring provides ongoing, current data to drive effective change in an instructional program.  Additionally, other formative assessments such as classroom assessments and benchmark assessments provide avenues for multiple data sets, and that is necessary to determine truly where gaps are.  These data can be used to determine the level of support and interventions that a student or group of students might need to close a learning gap in a specified amount of time.  In RTI, this support is provided in what we call a multi-level prevention system. 

So the National Center on Response to Intervention defines the multi-level prevention system as primary level, which is your core instruction or first instruction in the general classroom, secondary level, which is your supplemental instruction, and the tertiary level, which is your more intensive and individual supports for students.  Within each of these levels, teachers provide multiple and varying tiers of supports to students.  This is really not a linear process.  It is a very cyclical process using data.  The ongoing data collection and analysis helps teachers to really feel confident about what they are teaching, feel confident in knowing that they are really focusing their efforts on the needs of their students within a classroom.  And that is why differentiated instruction, for example, is so important in a core classroom, because that is one way of ensuring that once we are providing all of the standards to all of our students we are really differentiate so we can target the gaps that some students may have. 

Principles key to RTI implementation, identified by the National Center on RTI, include research-driven instruction practices and strategies, use of multiple-measures, both formal and informal data, to determine the current skill level of students or groups of students.  So depending on the intensity of the gap that students have, then schools using the RTI framework can respond with more intensive levels of support and really close the gap in a timely manner.  And that timely manner is certainly important in terms of the common core because we know that these learning progressions from grade-level to grade-level are so important in ensuring that students graduate ready for college and careers. 

The RTI framework, implemented effectively and consistently, helps make it easier for teachers to know when their students are behind and in what specific areas they are experiencing this gap in learning.  With the new and rigorous demands of the Common Core State Standards, I think it is imperative that schools identify the gaps and help students be successful.  Utilizing the RTI framework, with fidelity, with some understanding of the approach, and with fidelity I think can close the gap, or most of the gaps, and help our students succeed really well on the Common Core State Standards.