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An Illinois High School Uses RTI for English-Learners

A high school in a suburb of Chicago has implemented "response to intervention" first for its English-language learners and is now expanding the effort to involve all students. I learned about this school, Maine West High School, in Des Plaines, Ill., when Alan Matan, the head of the ELL and foreign-language department there, commented on a recent blog post about the implementation of the educational method for ELLs. Matan's comment is the third one on the post.

Response to intervention, or RTI, supports struggling students with interventions in an effort to reduce the number of referrals to special education. Maine West High School, where about 90 of 2,400 students are ELLs, is in its second year of carrying out RTI for ELLs. It's one of three high schools in the 6,500-student Maine Township High School District 207.

Matan explained to me that either ELL specialists or regular content teachers fill out a form that identifies particular academic or behavioral struggles that some students may be having, such as difficulty decoding words or making inferences when reading. He said the teachers are urged to be specific about what skills the students seem to be lacking. Those students then may receive one-on-one assistance for a particular intervention from either an ELL teacher or teacher's assistant for a short time two or three times a week. The high school considers that special help to be Tier 2 of the three tiers of RTI instruction. Tier 1 includes the regular comprehensive program that all ELLs receive, such as two or three periods of intensive English per day, if they are brand new to the country, or much less language help if they have high levels of English-proficiency. Tier 3 in the implementation of RTI at the school equals special education, Matan explained.

With the RTI approach, Matan said the school's staff has been able to be much more nuanced in determining academic skills that students may be lacking, rather than simply assuming that a student needs to be referred to special education.

"We do have more data [than before] that says we tried these interventions," said Matan, "while in the old days, it would be, 'They aren't understanding this,' so boom, it's a referral to special education."

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