Response to Intervention (RtI) is a new service delivery system in the schools that has been receiving considerable attention in the field since the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). RtI, in a nutshell, is aimed at preventing academic and behavioral difficulties as well as identifying and teaching students with disabilities. It is a service delivery system that is designed to shift the focus away from waiting for students to fail such that they require special education to a preventive and early intervention focus. Who wouldn’t want that?
And yet, whenever I get a new journal with a special series on RtI, or an advertisement for a workshop on RtI, or a new article from a college, I become overwhelmed to the point of putting the materials in the “think about that later” pile. Theoretically, I think RtI is the best idea since sliced bread. Practically, it overwhelms me, because it is not a program, or a strategy, or something that can be taught to teachers in a weekend workshop. It is a subversion of the dominant teaching and learning paradigm of general and special education that involves collaboration among every educator and parent and student and support staff member and special educators and curriculum developers and administrators and school psychologists and…*hyperventilation ensues*
I am reminded of something a wise professor in graduate school once said to me: “Your feelings are sometimes diagnostic.”
How can we, as school psychologists begin to digest all of the components of RtI and then assist with implementation at our school sites without getting overwhelmed? I recently read an article about the 10 core components of RtI* and the researcher in me said “Yeah!” and the pragmatist in me said “Yeah right!” I think my feelings of being overwhelmed are shared by many in the field.
I finally gave into my overwhelmed feelings this weekend and read the “Special Issue” of the School Psychology Review on RtI, the stack-o-materials I have been collecting, and the dusty, yet still pertinent, RtI proposal I did many years ago when I was first entering the schools.**
After hour number 247 of reading (admittedly, interspersed with on-line shopping), I realized something. I don't have to try to implement RtI all at once, though I wish I could. At the same time, I shouldn't wait until the "higher-ups" finally get around to revamping the entire system. Maybe the on-line shopping got into my head while doing my RtI project, but it seems to me that the fabulous theoretical RtI that is presented in my journals is the “Prada Couture” of interventions: flashy, fancy, and amazing. Everyone wants it. But it’s expensive and not appropriate for all contexts (unless you are allowed to wear spiky coat and pumps with spazzed out hair to work).
The RtI principles that school psychologists bring to their everyday interactions are the “Ready to Wear” line. That is, we are guided by the original design, but have the doable version. So we don't have to wear the spiky coat, but we can wear a similar coat without the spikes. It still has nice lines. And we can always wear the shoes. It’s still Prada, it’s just accessible for the real world. Applied to RtI, we can make successive approximations of the big idea in small and realistic steps, such as introducing a universal screening measure at our elementary schools, infusing data collection into SST interventions, or educating ourselves on the curriculum-based measures that are used in the classroom.
Just don’t water down your intervention so much that it becomes the knock-off “Prado” one finds on the streets. It will fall apart!
*High-Quality classroom instruction, Research-based intervention, Classroom assessment, Universal screening, Continuously monitoring student progress in the classroom, Research-based interventions, Progress monitoring during interventions, Fidelity measures, Staff development and collaboration, Parent involvement. Responding to Change, The Special Edge, Autumn 2007. Also, check out NASP's RtI Resource Libraryfor more information.
**Prior to being punched in the face by the reality of working in a large urban school district.