The Forgotten Tier

It seems like every school in the country is in the midst of some form of RTI development.  Many highly qualified, well-educated people are finding themselves frustrated and concerned about their lack of proper supports for struggling students, especially at the high school level.  It seems as if there are institutional structures, real or perceived, that seem to stop any progress right in its tracks.

Response to Intervention has become one of the many educational phrases tossed around in recent years.  The three-tiered system of providing academic and/or behavioral support for students and documenting students’ response to those interventions is a great structure for doing what is best for all kids.  When done well, the RTI tiered intervention triangle allows schools to target the small population of students who need intensive support.  When implemented haphazardly or without effective leadership to confront institutional roadblocks head-on, many schools are left with another initiative that has fallen to the wayside.

In all of this rush to develop a proper system of support, have we forgotten about Tier 1?

The key to success starts, as it often does, with the beginning – Tier 1.  The RTI Action Network characterizes Tier 1 as “High-Quality Classroom Instruction, Screening, and Group Interventions.”  You can find any number of great resources and information on what constitutes high-quality classroom instruction (Danielson, Marzano, Saphier, etc…) and in recent years we have made significant progress in screening students using benchmarking and progress-monitoring assessments (thank you technology!). Where we continue to struggle is in our implementation of group interventions.

Teachers have traditionally been hard-workers; each dedicated to their kids in their classrooms; each providing their own individual level of support for their students.  From the professional side of education we have not yet fully maximized the power of team.  Professional Learning Communities have swept the nation; common planning time, team time, etc… have become common place in many schools.  This is a great start, please don’t get me wrong.  But in these conversations where has our focus been?  Typically these meetings center around content, lesson and test preparation, and at-times individual students.  We have yet to truly harness the power of team level interventions to help our kids.  The teams that have shown success in this endeavor have three commonalities:

  • A commitment to fellow teammates that all kids are my kids – teams are committed to program/grade-level/course success not simply individual classroom success.
  • Build time in their calendars for ‘flex’ days – Creatively group students according to assessment data to differentiate support and allow for both remediation and enrichment.
  • Courage and Commitment – Teams do not allow pre-determined calendars or course pacing guides to prevent them from providing meaningful group interventions.

What do you think?

  • As the first level of ‘defense’, how are we supporting our students?
  • As a team (content, grade-level, interdisciplinary), what interventions are we accepting ownership of?
  • As an educational leader, how can you develop that high level of ownership among your teams?

One final thought:

In all walks of life it is easy for us to focus our energy on areas of expertise, often neglecting those areas that need our attention.  In our teams we quickly talk about those tasks that are easily accomplished – lessons, tests, calendars, etc…  To be successful in achieving our mission of educating ALL students, we need to honestly and courageously address our collective weaknesses.  Team level interventions are the necessary first step in developing a school-wide system of support.  This week, in your team meetings commit to Tier 1.  Together, we can make a difference.

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