- Improving Academic Achievement: Can a Response-to-Intervention (RTI) Model Help?
In the seemingly neverending conflict between equity and excellence in American education it is clear that the emphasis has shifted to excellence in the first years of the 21st century. More than half of our states now require some form of high-stakes testing for promotion and/or graduation. The No Child Left Behind legislation mandates rigorous, scientifically-based instruction and assessment of progress by grade-level testing at the school, school district, and state levels, with results disaggregated by gender, racial/ethnic status, family income, and disability. Major specified goals include the expectation that by 2014 all third-grade children will be proficient readers and that all schoolchildren, with very few exceptions, will document achievement at grade level. All children, including deaf students, should be taught and tested through the regular education curriculum of a particular school, school district, or state.
Progress, of course, has been uneven, but expectations clearly are higher in elementary and secondary education and the effects have spilled over into higher education. Admission criteria have been raised in many colleges and universities, frequently including standards for students seeking to transfer from community colleges and other 2-year institutions. Part of the reason for this is the placement of caps on enrollment. This impacts both deaf and hearing students in regular higher education environments. The same situation is occurring in universities and institutions of higher education that traditionally serve deaf students. For example, Gallaudet University recently has raised its entrance requirements significantly and students who might have been accepted in recent years may no longer meet the new criteria.
There are many deaf students for whom the new requirements do not present an obstacle and who will continue to matriculate into higher education programs. However, the new standards will constitute a barrier for a significant and probably growing number of deaf students. These are students with ability but who, for one reason or another, have not achieved their full academic potential. If we are to meet these students’ needs, new strategies must be developed and new systems of instruction must be implemented. If not, their development will be curtailed.
I am proposing that we consider a variation of the Response to Intervention (RTI) model that was presented in the Individuals With Disabilities Educational Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004. Most readers are aware that RTI was proposed as an alternate or supplement to the ability/achievement discrepancy paradigm traditionally used with children classified as learning disabled. It involves early identification and assistance to children who may be having difficulty learning under the regular education curriculum. The goal is to prevent failure and ensure success through early identification, progress monitoring, and research-based instruction.
RTI has been presented most commonly as a multitiered process starting with the regular curriculum in a regular classroom entailing regular classroom instruction with grade-level expectations (Tier I). An essential component is school-wide screening and ongoing progress monitoring. Tier II involves identification of children not making adequate progress in the regular curriculum, followed by the development and implementation of a supplementary diagnostic instructional trial. Ongoing progress monitoring is an essential component of Tier II as well as in Tier I. If responsiveness to the supplementary instructional trial is not satisfactory, it may be concluded that children who have not responded may have more fundamental problems, leading to Tier III, the development and implementation of an individualized education plan (IEP).
Of course, the deaf and hard of hearing children we are concerned with already have an IEP and many of these children have been diagnosed with additional disabilities. In many cases these may have been misdiagnoses due to inadequate educational, psychological, and neuropsychological assessment, but that is a topic for a later editorial. My focus here is on those deaf children for whom the gap between grade placement and academic achievement grows every year. These are children, for the most part, who have been [End Page 347] exposed to a regular education curriculum in an inclusive or integrated setting or to a regular education curriculum or a variation of it in a self-contained classroom or a day...