Universal Design, Technology, and RtI

Last summer, I had the privilege of participating on a panel of national experts on universal design for learning (UDL) and the integration of technology in education. The occasion was the annual project directors’ meeting of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the U.S. Department of Education. A theme of the 3-day meeting was promising models for implementing Response to Intervention (RtI) frameworks in our nation’s schools. On the particular panel that I served, our focus was how UDL and technology complement RtI, and, in fact, how they should be integrated into any school initiative to implement an RtI framework.

RtI originates in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 04), which is the reauthorization of the original IDEA (IDEA 97). Per IDEA 04, schools will “not be required to take into consideration whether a child has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability …” (Section 1414(b)). The “discrepancy” model is traditionally used to determine a student’s eligibility for special education services. While well-intentioned, one of the unintended consequences of this model is that a student must often fail before being provided with the accommodations or modifications needed to receive an equitable education. It’s a reactive approach.

RtI, on the other hand, is a proactive framework for providing interventions and supports, designed to prevent students from failing. Although written into special education law, RtI is an “all education” initiative. And, not unlike universal design, the implementation of a successful school RtI program will result in improved instruction for all students.

Although not prescribed, RtI is typically described as a framework of three tiers, with Tiers 2 and 3 designed to deliver increasingly strategic and intense interventions. Tier 1 is delivered in the general education classroom, which is why RtI is led by general educators. Tier 1 means “providing high quality instruction/intervention matched to student needs that has been demonstrated through scientific research and practice to produce high learning rates for most students” (NASDSE, 2008 – Blueprint Series). The RtI model works by ensuring that general education teachers have the skills and knowledge necessary to support the achievement of the widest possible number of learners. Once it is confirmed that a student is struggling for reasons beyond the quality of the curriculum, Tier 2 interventions to support that student are identified and implemented, followed by Tier 3 strategies, if necessary.

Aside from its systematic nature, the concept and approaches behind RtI are consistent with existing school initiatives, including differentiated instruction, data-driven instruction, formative assessment, best practices for integrating content and pedagogy, and student progress monitoring. Its intersection with UDL can’t be denied. Both are:

  • Led by general education
  • Research-based
  • Integrated across professional development priorities
  • Models of prevention and data-based decisionmaking
  • Models of continuous improvement for both teaching and learning
  • Designed to be flexible and fluid to support varied student readiness levels (e.g., moving among the tiers of instruction)

Technology is another critical partner of successful RtI implementation. With support from their local school districts and the MLTI, increasing numbers of Maine educators are learning how to use technology to more successfully meet the needs of diverse learners. Our teachers and students now have more tools and resources available than ever before, and many have witnessed firsthand how the use of teaching and learning technologies contributes to student motivation, individualized and learner-controlled instruction, positive attitudes, collaborative behavior, and active learning experiences. The more ways that students can independently access the curriculum, the more likely they are to be fully engaged and successful learners.

So, as your district and school implement an RtI framework, consider the intersection with universal design and technology.

To learn more about RtI:

Maine’s “parking lot” of links to policies, models, and resources

RTI Action Network

RTI: New Ways to Identify Specific Learning Disabilities

International Reading Association: Focus on RTI

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  1. […] the original here: Universal Design, Technology, and RtI Tags: curriculum, education, learning, math, models, office, picture, research, rti, security, […]

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