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Response to Intervention for Tots

The tiered method of academic intervention known as "response to intervention" is taking off in schools around the country -- and now a group of experts is working on a way to bring that instructional model to preschoolers.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children, the Council for Exceptional Children's Division of Early Childhood, and the National Head Start Association are all working on a joint position statement for how RTI can work in an early childhood context. They're expected to take about two years to develop this framework.

Here's how response to intervention works:all students start off getting good-quality instruction. Students who are struggling take diagnostic tests that assess how well they're learning a particular subject (most often, we're talking about children in early grades who are having problems with reading.)

Based on the tests, teachers give directed, research-based lessons that should address the particular area of weakness. Supporters of RTI say that tiered interventions, successfully done, can prevent some children from being shuffled into special education programs, when what they really suffered from was bad instruction.

However, the research base for RTI and older students, as well as RTI for subjects other than reading, is still thin. And, early childhood experts say the same need for knowledge is present at the early childhood level. Virginia Buysse, a co-chair of the committee guiding this effort, noted that an education model called "recognition and response" is one way to do tiered interventions at the early childhood level. But that's just one model, she noted.

The potential benefits to RTI for younger children are obvious: if we can figure out the building blocks of knowledge that children are struggling with before they get to school, presumably teachers can do an even better job of helping them before problems become entrenched.

The challenges I see are figuring out just how much preschool should be devoted to academic issues versus social and emotional development. And then, how do you develop appropriate "interventions" for young children and train early childhood educators in their implementation? Schools are still struggling with translating RTI to older children and subjects other than reading.

The whole preschool context also presents a huge challenge. So many young children are cared for by people who are not teachers, or who have very little training on early childhood development. Is it asking too much to have those people be responsible for a tiered model of intervention?

If you're interested in reading more about preschool response to intervention, check out this document from the RTI Action Network put together by another group of experts, called Roadmap to Pre-K RTI. The document offers some good examples of what's already being done in this area.

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