RTI2: Raising the Bar

by Mark Wittman, kindergarten teacher in Shelby County and member of the Tennessee Teacher Ambassador Network

Over the past three and a half years, Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI2) has been implemented statewide at the middle school level. I am a classroom teacher in Shelby County Schools and have taught kindergarten/first grade for the past 24 years. This year, I am also a part of the inaugural Tennessee Teacher Ambassador Network (TTAN), and I’ll be working with the RTI2 division. As a classroom teacher, I understand the importance of RTI2 and ensuring that we are getting it right. As a Teacher Ambassador, for the next few months I’ll take a peek inside the work of educators to learn about practices that have been successful in their schools and key principles that have worked for their students. Here is my first RTI2 highlight!

  • District: Bartlett City Schools
  • School: Elmore Park Middle School
  • Student enrollment: 828
  • Educator: Emily Underwood
  • Role: Teacher/ RTI2 Coach

In Bartlett City Schools, their RTI2 work is clearly aligned with their philosophy of accountability. We learned that student buy-in, a thoughtful instructional model, and a culture of high expectations have helped them achieve notable success with their students.

Student Buy-In

When I asked Emily about student growth, achievement, and engagement, it was clear that all truly means all. In her eyes, supporting students’ ownership of their learning is crucial to the success of his/her intervention. 

For example, she and her team involve students in the process by ensuring they know the “why” behind decisions and communicate clear expectations of what is required to transition from Tier II and III interventions. Intervention providers are expected to have regular, face-to-face conferences help students understand their individual performance data including classroom assessments, universal screening benchmark data, and progress monitoring data.  Students are aware of how they are performing and parents are provided support from coaches and teachers to understand that RTI2 is not a negative or punitive thing. All students are made aware of their goals and students in Tier II and Tier III intervention and are involved in tracking their progress.  When asked, students described the RTI2 block as: “exciting”, “challenging”, “changing,” “helpful,” “groups”.  This type of student buy-in has improved student morale and is motivating students to take responsibility for their learning. 

Beyond Intervention

According to Emily, RTI2 is not something that is just done for compliance, but it is an instructional model that is getting results. The goal is not to simply exit students out of intervention, but to fluidly meet the needs of the whole child in ELA and Math.

Communication around intervention is shared by setting a positive climate of the school’s intervention block as one of “academic exploration,” allowing students to work at their specific instructional levels. During the academic exploration block, all students are engaged in rigorous instruction, including research, project-based learning, teacher-led direct instruction, and computer-based activities. This transforms the “intervention block” into an expectation for every student to receive instruction at his/her level and helps eliminate the mindset that only students who struggle need additional instruction. 

High Expectations

High expectations lead to academic excellence for all students, including those receiving intervention. The phrase “high expectations” is frequently discussed at Elmore Park Middle in regard to standards alignment, teacher evaluation and effectiveness, individual educator and student goals, and the school and district mission statements. These high expectations are key to their students’ success. 

For example, Emily and her team saw that students were being exited out of interventions too early, and those students would often later need intervention again. To combat this issue, the schools’ RTI2 team decided to actually raise the performance expectation for students exiting Tier II intervention.  Emily shared, “There are multiple factors, including current intervention, class performance, core content instruction performance, and progress monitoring data with a target score closer to the 45th percentile that may lead to a student exiting from Tier II intervention.” Holding students to this higher expectation allows them to exit with stronger foundational skills and decreases the number of students lingering in intervention.  And maintaining high expectations for students in intervention is paving the way for all students. According to Emily, their high expectations are leading to a decline in the number of students needing interventions and an increase in proficiency rates for all.

These takeaways highlight some of RTI2’s effective practices. Hearing how RTI2 is implemented in Elmore Park Middle School has shed new light on what RTI2 policy looks like in practice, and is a great example of how we can do a better job of providing the right intervention for all kids.  

As my learning journey continues, I will utilize these practices to improve my own classroom instruction by holding students accountable to high expectations. I have already begun to refine my practice by comparing my district’s universal screener and progress monitoring assessment results to think about the right percentiles for students to exit intervention. I have also shifted my mindset from a short-term goal of wanting my students to simply exit intervention to a long-term goal of wanting them to be proficient readers, writers, and mathematicians. For my students’ sake I want to ensure that we are getting it right.  

Be sure to check back next month where I’ll be featuring elementary RTI2 facilitators and the work they are doing with intervention at the elementary level.