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Considerations When Using RTI Models with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students . Janette Klingner University of Colorado at Boulder National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems. Response to Intervention Models.

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considerations when using rti models with culturally and linguistically diverse students

Considerations When Using RTI Models with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students

Janette Klingner

University of Colorado at Boulder

National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems

response to intervention models
Response to Intervention Models
  • In the newly reauthorized IDEA, eligibility and identification criteria for LD have changed [614(b)(6)(A)-(B)]:
    • When determining whether a child has a specific learning disability
      • The LEA is not required to consider a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability.
      • The LEA may use a process that determines if a child responds to scientific, research-based intervention as part of the evaluation.
early intervening services
Early Intervening Services

LEAs can use up to 15% of their federal IDEA funds to provide academic and behavioral services to support prevention and early identification for struggling learners in K-12 (with a particular emphasis on K-3 students) who are not currently identified as needing special education or related services, but who need additional academic and behavioral support to succeed in general education [P.L. 108-446, §613(f) (l)].

early intervening services4
Early Intervening Services
  • LEAs can also use up to 50% of any increases in Title I funds for early intervening services.
  • Funds may be used for professional development of non-special education staff as well as for RTI-related activities.
eis and disproportionality
EIS and Disproportionality

Any LEA identified as having significant disproportionality based on race and ethnicity must reserve the maximum amount of funds under section 613(f) of the Act to provide comprehensive coordinated early intervening services to serve children in the LEA, particularly, but not exclusively, children in those groups that were significantly over-identified [300.646(b)(2)].

response to intervention a three tiered model
Response to Intervention: A Three-tiered Model
  • Intensive assistance,
  • as part of
  • general education
  • support system
  • Special
  • Education



in general education


rti models
RTI Models
  • The 2 most common RTI models are:
    • Standard Treatment Protocol
    • Problem-Solving
  • What model is best for culturally and linguistically diverse students?
standard treatment protocol model
Standard Treatment Protocol Model
  • The same empirically validated treatment is used for all children with similar problems and achievement is measured against benchmarks (NASDSE, 2006).
  • The interventions are chosen from an approved list.
how appropriate is the standard protocol model with cld students
How appropriate is the standard protocol model with CLD students?
  • Proponents argue that this is the most research-based of the RTI approaches, and leaves less room for error in professional judgment (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006).
  • Yet the standard protocol model requires research-based interventions and there are only a few programs that have been researched specifically with CLD students and/or students in low SES communities.
  • For example, a program may not provide enough focus on oracy and vocabulary for English language learners.
problem solving model
Problem-Solving Model
  • The problem-solving model is a more individualized or personalized approach.
  • Interventions are planned specifically for the targeted student and are provided over a reasonable period of time.
  • This approach maximizes problem-solving opportunities by allowing teams to be flexible.
  • Professional expertise is valued.
how appropriate is the problem solving model with cld students
How appropriate is the problem-solving model with CLD students?
  • The problem-solving model appears to be more appropriate for use with CLD students IF the focus is on understanding external or environmental factors that affect the child’s opportunity to learn in addition to within child factors.
  • For this model to work, team members must have expertise in cultural and linguistic diversity and be knowledgeable about interventions that have been effective with CLD students with different needs.
“Some… have suggested that multi-tier systems might use either a problem-solving method … or a standard treatment protocol approach. This is an artificial distinction. All RTI systems must consider implementing the best features of both approaches” (NASDSE, 2005).
changing roles
Changing Roles…
  • “These roles (with RTI) will require some fundamental changes in the way general education and special education engage in assessment and intervention activities” (NASP, 2006).


rti is fundamentally different
“High above the hushed

crowd, Rex tried to remain

focused. Still, he couldn’t

shake one nagging

thought: He was an old

dog and this was a new


The Far Side

RTI is Fundamentally Different…
  • What is needed for RTI to be effective, appropriate and equitable for all students, including culturally and linguistically diverse students?
Assumptions Underlying RTI that May Be Problematic with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students
Assumption 1: “Evidence-based instruction” is good instruction for everyone. English language learners who have been taught with generic evidence-based interventions have been provided with sufficient opportunities to learn.
what do we mean by evidence based
The RTI model is based on the principle that instructional practices or interventions at each level should be based on scientific research evidence about “what works.”

However, it is essential to find out what works with whom, by whom, and in what contexts—

What Do We Mean by “Evidence-based”?

One size does not fit all.

Many approaches recommended as being evidence-based have not been validated with ELLS or in school contexts similar to those in which many ELLs are educated.

The National Reading Panel report “did not address issues relevant to second language learning” (2000, p. 3).

Research can only help us make an educated guess about which practice is most likely to be effective with the majority of students, not which practice will work with everyone.

Schools should select evidence-based interventions shown to be effective with students similar to their population.

Assumption 2: Learning to read in one’s second language is similar to learning to read in one’s first language; therefore instructional approaches that have been found to be effective with mainstream English-speaking students are appropriate for serving ELLs.
Although the developmental processes are similar when learning to read in a first or second language, there are important differences that must be taken into account when planning for instruction and assessing student progress.
  • Most teachers are not adequately prepared to teach ELLs.
  • Districts and schools should provide professional development in teaching reading to ELLs, and teachers should do all they can to learn about working with ELLs.
Assumption 3: Students who fail to respond to research-based instruction have some sort of learning problem or internal deficit, and perhaps even a learning disability.
There are many reasons a child may not respond to instruction.
    • The method is not effective with this child, and a different approach would yield better results.
    • The level of instruction might not be a good match for the child.
    • The environment might not be conducive to learning.
  • It is important to look in classrooms and observe instruction, and also to try different approaches, before determining that a child may have a disability.
rti at marble mountain elementary
RTI at Marble Mountain Elementary
  • Marble Mountain Elementary School has just begun to implement RTI. Their student population is 92% Latino (of whom 53% are ELLs).
  • North County School District selected Marble Mountain as a pilot school for RTI because of concerns about the high % of ELLs receiving special education services (31%) and the school’s low performance on state tests.
    • The district carefully collected research about RTI and felt confident that they were recommending the most effective RTI model.
    • They provided 3 days of professional development on how to implement RTI (e.g., do progress monitoring).
  • Yet no sooner had the year begun than the educators at Marble Mountain began to experience challenges…
Challenge 1:According to progress-monitoring data, more than half of the ELLs in each first-grade class are not reaching benchmarks. It is not feasible to provide Tier 2 instruction to all of these students.
When many students are not progressing, the first step should be to change the instruction:
    • Examine the program to determine if it has been validated with students like those in the class;
    • Determine whether instruction is at an appropriate level for students and the program is well-implemented; and
    • Establish whether teachers are sufficiently differentiating instruction to meet diverse student needs.
  • Determining whether a program is well-implemented necessitates observing in classrooms.
    • The program might be an appropriate one, but the teacher is not using it with fidelity.
    • The teacher might be struggling with classroom management and/or creating a supportive learning environment.
    • The teacher may not know how to differentiate instruction.
Challenge 2: Teachers and other school personnel are not clear how the RTI process is similar to and different from the Pre-Referral Process they used in previous years. Their RTI meetings look very much like the Child Study Team Meetings of old.
Discussions still center on possible reasons for a child’s struggles from a deficit perspective.
    • There still seems to be a push to place students in special education.
  • It is natural that it will take time for school personnel to shift their thinking from one of figuring out what is wrong with a student to one of looking more broadly at the instructional context and at how to provide support for all students who need help, regardless of label.
    • During this transition period, try focusing on ways to improve Tier 1 and Tier 2 instruction and interventions to be more appropriate for ELLs, and for all students.
  • Make sure someone on the team is well-prepared in how to work with ELLs and in how to distinguish between language acquisition and a learning disability.
Challenge 3: School personnel are confused about Tier 2 interventions. They wonder: (a) whether ELL services "count" as a secondary intervention, and (b) whether a special education teacher can provide Tier 2 interventions.
Only those small group interventions that are supplementalto the core curriculum and based on students’ needs as assessed by universal screening and progress monitoring can be considered Tier 2 interventions.
  • English language development should be part of Tier 1, though a multi-tiered model could be applied for supporting students’ language acquisition.
  • Although the special education teacher can serve as a consultant regarding Tier 2 interventions, and may even provide Tier 2 interventions from time to time, this should not be her primary role, and she should not be the school’s main Tier 2 intervention provider. Tier 2 is the domain of general education.
What does it look like when teachers who lack preparation in teaching ELLs apply generic “evidence-based” practices?
  • Note: All examples are from real classrooms with English language learners, most at beginning levels of English proficiency.
tier 1 example
Tier 1 Example
  • This excerpt is from a 1st grade classroom.
The whole Class is sitting in a circle (on the A-B-C rug), with the teacher seated at the head. Teacher says, “Yesterday, how many of you knew your sight words? One student speaks out, “One?” Another, “Three?” Teacher replies, “You are right. Three students were able to tell me their sight words. We need to practice these words; we are really behind. Every one of you should know these sight words by now. You need to practice these at home. Don’t you practice these at home?” Teacher says this with frustration in her face and voice. Teacher states, “Only those 3 students will be able to pull from the treasure chest.” … Teacher begins sight words practice and holds up index cards with-Big, My, See, Like, I, At, This, And, Up, Have, Too. Students repeat sight words as Teacher holds up index cards. This is a repetitive process. She holds up the word “Big” without saying anything. One student says the word “Big.” She holds up a another. “See.” The same student says the word again. She holds up the word “see” again and tells the student who knew the previous answer not to say anything. Pause. Another says “see.” She continues to go through this process with all the words, and says, “Okay guys, you need to practice these at home, you are not paying attention, you should have known these words by now.” (Orosco, 2007)
tier 2 example
Tier 2 Example
  • The literacy teacher provides Tier 2 interventions. In the following excerpt, the literacy teacher reinforcing a previous literacy lesson that the homeroom teacher had started on Zebras.
Literacy teacher: “This book is called Zebra Play.” She starts singing, “One little Zebra went out to play, on the savanna one fine day. (He) had such enormous fun. He asked another zebra to come.” Literacy teacher prompts one student to take off running like a Zebra. One student runs around the classroom (acting like a zebra). Literacy specialist picks another student to do the same. She then picks another and so forth. Literacy teacher is doing choral singing of “Zebra Play” as students run around the classroom. “…They grew tired as they ran around. Therefore, they all lay down…” Students are running around; however, they are not singing or chanting the Zebra Play; they are just playing and running into each other. (Orosco, 2007)
tier 3 example
Tier 3 Example
  • The teacher has a master’s degree in special education and has been teaching for 20 years. She noted, “I teach LD by the book.”
  • She is teaching 4 second-grade English language learners, all determined to have learning disabilities.
Teacher: “Boys and girls, we need to read our story, ‘Polar Bears’. We need to listen to see what color they are, where they live or what they eat.” Teacher directs students to look at the title page, asks what they think the book is about. No response. Teacher asks, “Are polar bears nice?” No response. Teacher begins to read: “Polar Bears live in the Arctic at the North Pole. The polar bear is a marine mammal… Polar bears are carnivores…” [OC: I wonder how many students know what a marine mammal is, or a carnivore.] As she reads this story, she has no dialogue with the students. Teacher, “…Polar bears are covered with heavy fur. The color can vary from pure white to a more yellow hue...” As she is reading students are beginning to check out; one student is playing with the drawstring in his hooded sweater. Another two are whispering to each other. …
Teacher continues: “The white fur is important camouflage for the bears as they hunt their prey on the ice…” [OC: What is camouflage? This story uses tough words for ESL students at this level. I wonder if the teacher knows whether these kids really understand this.] Teacher: “Okay let’s talk about the story now. So what do they smell?” No reply. Teacher, “Anyone?” One student, “People.” Teacher, “Good.” [This was not in the story.] Teacher, “Do polar bears live hear in Colorado?” Students, “Yes.” Teacher, “Good. They could if they lived at the zoo.” [Colorado was not in the story.] … Only one student is responding, with one word answers. [OC: I wonder if this book is too difficult for them. However, it would work for these kids if the language was modeled and sheltered for them...] (Orosco, 2007)
Are the teachers implementing evidence-based instruction? Why do you think this?
  • What do you conclude about these students’ opportunity to learn?
  • What would you do?
rti models in diverse schools
RTI Models in Diverse Schools
  • What would RTI models look like that foreground language and culture and are responsive and appropriate for all students?
A Culturally & Linguistically Appropriate RTI Model
  • Special
  • Education
  • Intensive assistance
  • as part of
  • general education
  • support system,
  • ongoing monitoring



by a collaborative

team with relevant

expertise; focus on

instruction as

well as



and linguistically

appropriate instruction in

GE, with progress


RTI requires a “shift from a within-child deficit paradigm to an eco-behavioral perspective” (NASP, 2006).
an rti framework for culturally and linguistically diverse cld students
An RTI Framework for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) Students
  • RTI models for CLD students should include:
    • culturally and linguistically appropriate quality instruction at each level
    • a systematic process for examining the classroom context
    • a systematic process for examining background variables that impact academic achievement
      • (e.g., first and second language proficiency, educational history including bilingual models, mobility, socioeconomic status)
    • progress monitoring as well as informal assessments to guide instructional and intervention planning
1st Tier
  • The foundation of the first tier should be culturally and linguistically responsive, quality evidence-based instruction with on-going progress monitoring.
  • Tier 1 includes these essential components:
    • a supportive, motivating learning environment;
    • research-based, appropriate core instruction (validated with similar students, in similar contexts);
    • knowledgeable, skilled, caring, culturally responsive teachers; and
    • differentiation to meet students’ needs.
tier 1 guiding questions
Tier 1 Guiding Questions
  • When a child shows signs of struggling, the first step should be to observe in her classroom.
    • Is instruction targeted to and appropriate for the student’s level of English proficiency and learning needs?
    • Is the teacher implementing appropriate research-based practices with fidelity?
    • Does the classroom environment seem conducive to learning?
    • Are the student’s true peers succeeding?
The next step should be to collect student data:
  • Has consideration been given to the child’s cultural, linguistic, socioeconomic, and experiential background?
  • Have authentic assessments been used in addition to progress monitoring?
  • What tasks can the student perform and in what contexts?
  • Does the student differ from true peers in rate and level of learning?
  • Has the child’s family been asked for their input?
This tier is characterized as providing a level of intensive support that supplements the core curriculum and is based on student needs as identified through progress monitoring and other means by a problem-solving or intervention team.

2nd Tier

the problem solving team
The problem-solving team may become involved during Tier 1 or Tier 2.

The make-up of the team should be diverse and include members with expertise in culturally responsive instruction, and, if appropriate, expertise in English language acquisition and bilingual education.

The Problem-Solving Team
This tier might be considered special education.

Interventions are tailored to the individual needs of the student.

Interventions are more intensive and of a longer duration than at previous tiers.

Due process procedures apply; parental permission is required for special education.



  • How will we know when we are there (i.e., we have succeeded)?
rti models represent a new beginning
RTI models represent a new beginning and a novel way of conceptualizing how we support student learning: along a continuum rather than categorically.RTI Models Represent a New Beginning
need for ongoing dialogue
Need for Ongoing Dialogue…
  • At the same time, if we do not engage in dialogue about critical issues, RTI will simply be like old wine in a new bottle, just another deficit-based approach to sorting children.
  • It is our responsibility to make sure this does NOT happen.
for more information
Janette Klingner

University of Colorado at Boulder

School of Education

249 UCB

Boulder, CO 80309-0249

E-mail: [email protected]

For more information: