In Tenn. Schools, A New Attempt To Help Struggling Students Without Special Ed

The RTI2 (or "RTI-squared") model divides students into three "tiers." Credit: TN.gov

The RTI2 (or “RTI-squared”) model divides students into three “tiers.” Credit: TN.gov

Metro Nashville Public grade and middle schools are starting a new initiative this year to identify students that are struggling to keep up with math, reading and writing.

Response to Intervention and Instruction, or RTI2 (“RTI-squared”) for short, is part of a statewide effort to intervene before placing students in special education.

After taking a screening test, students will be divided into three levels: Kids in the top 80 percent, the bottom 15 percent and the bottom 5 percent. The lower tiers will work in small groups for 30 to 60 minutes a day to catch up.

Jared Bigham with Tennessee education advocacy group SCORE says the program will also help determine which students around the state really need to be placed in special education classrooms.

“Many students we were referring to special ed in the past really didn’t belong there, but we didn’t have any other type of intervention or remediation programs to try to help them or support them,“ he says.

RTI2 will require schools to plan their schedules to allow for “intervention” time. Bigham says elementary schools around the state already have a similar model, making the new one easy to implement. But this will be a bigger burden for high schools.

“Trying to find, number one, space for that can be a challenge, and number two, just that 30 minutes within the school day — it doesn’t seem like much, but it can be a challenge.”

Tennessee high schools were able to request a waiver from RTI2 this year.

At a Metro Nashville School District meeting Tuesday, one parent asked Dottie Critchlow, the district’s executive officer for instructional support, how teachers will avoid stigmatizing students who will have to leave class for “interventions.”

“We’ve asked them to put a different name to it and not call it ‘intervention time,’” Critchlow said.

That word is, of course, still in the name of the program.

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