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Resource: Research Brief on RTI for ELLs


Some school districts are trying to figure out how to apply Response to Intervention, an approach for providing help to struggling students that's gotten lots of attention in the field of special education, to English-language learners. The Center for Research on the Educational Achievement and Teaching of English-Language Learners, or CREATE, has published a brief summarizing the latest research on RTI for ELLs.

I previewed this brief in an earlier blog post featuring the work of Jana Echevarria, a special education professor at California State University who is examining how RTI can be used with ELLs. Now that the brief has been published, I can share it with you on this blog.

CREATE has also published a research brief on how to use sheltered English-instruction techniques in science classes for middle school students. The brief explores how to apply the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, or SIOP, a popular approach for tailoring instruction to ELLs, especially to science lessons.


Thank you for highlighting such important work in this area. In fact, I think that one of our main challenges is the fact that there is no common place that holds the information together. I would like to suggest that you look at my website www.bilingualspecialed.com or my article
English Language Learners and Response to Intervention in Teaching Exceptional Children, vol4 (5) pages 6-14. Which provides a similar model and a more specific case study of a school and student as they go through the referral to special education process. Thank you for sharing your resource.

Claudia Rinaldi, Ph.D.

I'm an Elementary Assistant Principal at Truckee Elementary a school that just eliminated its bilingual program and is currently implementing an ELD and RTI model for structuring the schools instructional program. There is a great deal of concerrn coming from our Latino population that the Enghlish language Learner will lose academic gains or will be lost as a result of the change in primary language support at our school. I would appreciate any summary reports and research that give information on the results at other Elementary schools that have implemented a new ELL/RTI model.
Danny Hyde

Thank you for this important research & work. It is wonderful to have a blog where in professionals may share thoughts and information.

L. Alcott

I'm on my school's SST (Student Study Team) that refers students for RTI and other services. A paragraph from the briefing.

Like Guillermo, many English learners have floundered
without appropriate assistance for a number of reasons, including low expectations for their academic performance (Artiles & Trent, 1994; McKown & Weinstein, 2007). In addition, because culturally diverse students have historically been both over- and underrepresented in special education, some schools restrict referral for special education services or assessment until English learners have been in school for some period of time. They hope this will reduce the misidentification of English learners as having learning disabilities.Often, teachers assume that English learners’ academic difficulties are related to language acquisition and give them additional time, ostensibly to learn English, before offering appropriate academic support.

The biggest issue I see is the reluctance to refer students because educators think they are giving students "time", when they are just letting them get further behind. What The brief has a nice focus on what educators should be doing as best practices, but I've found that you do need to focus on the individual student, and not just their status as a language learner. It's helpful to ask some questions about their language development vs. that of their class peers who are at a similar stage, etc. Are they plateauing or worse, dropping on their ELD assessment scores (like the CELDT we use in California)? Is there one area that they are experience particular difficulty in that is unusual? Asking parents if they are "losing" their ability to speak or communicate in their home language. If this is happening simultaneously with a lack of English acquisition, something is wrong, and their needs are not being addressed. What is really worrying is when I see primary kids who are given a lot of "time" but who are showing signs of language development issues that could be PDD-NOS or Autism Spectrum Disorder because those can become a much more serious disability when they are not addressed early.

While I very much appreciate both the discussion and the posting of the CREATE brief on RTI and ELLs, I think it's important to honor the concept of both/and, or additive programs for most ESOL students, even though many ELL programs are administratively within or under the agesis of Special Education departments in public school hierarachy--purely for economic reasons. Most ESOL students need bilingual education and assessments, ESL, and SIOP in the general education context. My fear is that we are moving the discourse to a "service delivery" model that will quickly morph into a norm for instruction for ELL students, just as SIOP has done. When one considers the variety of state norms in the training of teachers, or honoring of credits that students have earned in their countries of origin, nor lack of national standards of "achievement", I hope that RTI will be used with ELL students who have Special needs, and not seen as a pancea for all ESOL students. I hope RTI will not be seen as way to label ESOL students who are making progress in learning ESL, or as a way not to have credible programs for ELL students, including bilingual programs, where students can understand the curriculum they are being held responsible for. If a pull-out, "service delivery" method is only way, or the best way for some students, then it should certainly be tried. But RTI should not become the new normal for ESOL programs, in my opinion, anymore than it would for any standard curriculum program, such as English, Spanish, Math, etc.

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