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International Schools and the Response to Intervention (RTI) Model

April, 2009
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 At international schools, children are in a unique and sometimes daunting position. Most are living in a foreign country, learning in a second or third language, and have moved several times throughout their academic career. They are also attending schools with rigorous, college-preparatory programs. These factors are part of the expat experience, and can potentially contribute to difficulties in the classroom.

  Knowing all of this, what can your school do to support your children?rti-model-1

  Response to Intervention (RTI) is a model for providing special help to students who are having difficulty meeting the academic or behavioral standards of a school. The RTI model was developed in the United States as an alternative to another educational model that provides services to students, but only after they have been diagnosed with a disability. The problem with this older model is that, in cases such as reading, a learning disability was not diagnosed until a discrepancy appeared between a child’s scores on achievement tests and his or her scores on an intelligence test. This discrepancy often was not evident until a child had been in elementary school for several years. Thus, a child with a reading problem might struggle until the third or fourth grade before being diagnosed and becoming eligible to receive intervention. The delay meant that children often lost valuable time to improve their reading skills, risked developing an aversion to reading, and acquired a poor image of themselves as learners. Research has also shown that children who do not learn to read by the third grade generally have problems throughout their school life.

  The RTI model promotes early intervention for struggling students. To identify students whose skills fall below grade level, a program of universal screening is first implemented. This screening is short, fast, and targeted. Students who are identified as having difficulty in a particular area receive intervention in their area of weakness. Many students respond well to a focused approach, but some do not. If, after a period of intervention, a student does not progress, another intervention might be attempted. If the student continues to fail to respond, a comprehensive psycho-educational assessment might be recommended to the parents so the school can more fully understand the scope and nature of a child’s difficulty. rti-model-2

  In the RTI model, interventions are categorized in three tiers, with each subsequent tier becoming more intensive. Thus, in Tier One, first grade students might receive interventions that would be available to everyone, such as small group classroom instruction, partner reading, or reading fluency training. In Tier Two, students who are not making adequate progress might receive more intensive interventions, such as a small pull-out group to work on short vowel sounds, extra fluency practice, or time on the computer working on a literacy program. If the student still does not progress, he or she might have additional interventions such as tutoring by a peer or an adult. Tier Three interventions are reserved for students who have not responded to the previous interventions or who have responded, but will likely need indefinite support. Students may have an assessment by a school psychologist so their needs are better understood. The interventions in Tier Three are more intensive and may be written up in a formal plan such as an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

  In addition to the concepts of universal screening, early intervention, and increasingly intensive interventions to address student needs, the RTI model includes other critical components. In particular, instruction that is delivered in classrooms must be of high quality. If the classroom instruction is weak, many children will have trouble learning and will appear to have a learning disability. Another component of RTI is the use of collaborative, problem solving teams to develop interventions for students who are not progressing. The teams review data that is collected in order to monitor students’ progress. Data can include the number of words that a student is able to read correctly in a minute or the number of spelling words a student has written correctly. This process is labeled “progress monitoring” and is important in assuring that students are responding to the interventions that have been put in place to help them.

   Although the examples above refer mainly to literacy, an RTI model may also be used to address other academic needs, such as mathematics or student behavior problems. Just as all students need an effective academic program, all students need good classroom behavioral management. Students who do not respond to classroom management might need a Tier Two intervention, which could include a reward system for appropriate behavior in the classroom and group counseling with the school counselor. Similar to a student who needs a more intensive academic program, a few students might also need a more intensive and indefinite behavioral program.

  The RTI model suits international education well. Firstly, with an RTI model in place students who have difficulty in the classroom can receive assistance immediately. This is useful because it is often not clear whether international students’ difficulties are due to gaps in education, learning a new language, or a learning or behavioral disability.jan-sarah Second, internationals schools often do not have access to a psychologist, so it is practically difficult to obtain a comprehensive assessment for their students. An RTI model allows schools to provide support to students who have not had the benefit of a psycho-educational evaluation. And, when schools do have a psychologist on staff, an RTI model allows new students who are struggling to receive support and services while they have time to adjust to their environment. They do not need to wait for assistance until a psycho-educational evaluation can be completed. An RTI model thus provides help for international students in a timely, effective, and efficient way.

By Jan Cantrill and Sarah Pearlz

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