1. Adolescents are not simply bigger elementary school students – they have different needs, different lives, and sometimes have developed different learning styles since elementary school. RTI approaches used in primary education are not guaranteed to help secondary students.
2. The structure of middle and high schools is very different from that of elementary schools – this means that the structure of RTI, too, must be different. Students are no longer in one classroom for the entire day, allowing teachers the opportunity to give individual, differentiated instruction to those who need it through the course of the day. Instead, secondary students move from class to class, with each class being equally important, therefore not leaving much in-school time for interventions.
3. Secondary students are more socially aware – middle and high school students are much more reluctant to be pulled out of a class and singled out as a student who needs extra help.
4. High school students are required to earn a certain number of credits – If a student is in need of reading or math interventions that take away from his or her regular class time, the number of required credits may not be met in the typical four-year time period. It is important to consider the time student’s need to complete graduation requirements when planning how to structure your RTI program.
5. At the secondary level, before and after-school RTI instruction may be needed. Since students have so many requirements to graduate and may be reluctant to be pulled out of class, teachers and administrators must be flexible when finding time to help students outside of class. Just as teachers may offer extra help to students before and after school, a successful secondary RTI program may need to be implemented outside of the school day.
6. It is important that the interventions implemented in a secondary school be both age and developmentally appropriate for middle and high school students, as students are assessed on their mastery of grade-level content. If a student’s differentiated instruction does not help them to learn that grade-level content, they will not have the tools they need to succeed.
7. Identifying and implementing RTI strategies that work across the curriculum is very important at the high school level as students take many different classes in a variety of subjects. While RTI at the elementary level is typically used for students with literacy issues, it is not uncommon for secondary students to need interventions in other subject areas as well, such as math or science.
8. It is important to understand that the roles of both general and special education teachers change when RTI is implemented. Students that may have previously been assigned to special education will now be in the general classroom and need differentiated instruction. Depending on how your secondary school implements RTI, general education teachers may need to be trained in techniques that support more targeted instruction. Special education teachers, on the other hand, may find that they now need to team teach in a general education setting or provide professional development for their general education colleagues.
9. Every student can benefit from RTI strategies. Tier One, and even some Tier Two strategies can be used in the general classroom and will benefit those students in need of such instruction without hindering the progress of other learners. Even students who may not need RTI strategies can experience greater learning through differentiated and focused instruction.
10. Since high schools have departmental structures, the collaboration and coherence required by RTI models can often be challenging in a secondary setting. It is important to ensure that the various groups of educators have opportunities to meet and discuss student progress and intervention strategies across departments.
11. Professional development is critical to an RTI model’s success at the secondary level. It is important that all teachers, both general and special educators, have had introductions to RTI, as well as training in assessment processes, intervention strategies, effective teaching strategies, and methods of monitoring student progress.
12. Parents should be included. High schools implementing RTI should be sure to keep parents informed on what RTI is, how it will or will not affect their students, and what they can do to help. Parent and community support is very much needed for a newly-implemented RTI model to succeed.
For more information on differentiation and Response to Intervention, see Susan Fitzell’s book, RTI Strategies for Secondary Teachers.
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