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TN Highlights Progress of Academic Framework that Personalizes Support for All Students

New Report Details How RTI2 has Increased Equity, Reduced Number of Students Identified with Specific Learning Disabilities; Offers Recommendations
Monday, February 05, 2018 | 11:43am

NASHVILLE—The Tennessee Department of Education released a report today that analyzes the outcomes of a statewide model that has focused on addressing students’ individual learning needs, called Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI2). Most notably, since implementing RTIin 2014-15, the state has seen the number of students identified with specific learning disabilities drop by a third, and the identification gaps between students with different genders or from different racial groups have mostly disappeared. This indicates that more students are having their instructional needs met in the classroom, and there is more equitable identification of students with specific learning disabilities.  

RTI2 is a framework for teaching and learning that includes regular screenings to identify student areas of need and a tiered model for additional support. At its core, it aims to ensure that every student receives personalized, differentiated instruction that can address their individual learning needs. The framework promotes the use of research-based, high-quality instruction and interventions and provides an integrated model that supports student progress at every level. 

“The RTI2 framework continues to be the right approach for our state to make sure that every child is receiving personalized support to be successful now and in the future, and this report shows encouraging progress for this initiative,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. “The report also highlights that we need to better support our educators in personalizing instruction, and that is why we have requested $13 million in funding to provide at least one position in every district to be focused on RTI2 and ensure that all students receive the support they need.”

The initial RTI2 framework was developed several years ago as the state worked to address a two-part problem. First, there was ample evidence that lower-performing students were not making the progress they needed to reach grade-level expectations. Second, data suggested that a large contingent of struggling students were being identified with a specific learning disability for reasons that were just as likely to be related to unmet instructional needs as they were to any definite learning disability. Under the previous model, poor, minority, and male students were highly overrepresented in the special education population, and they were disproportionately likely to receive a disability label that would then stick with them through their school career.

The RTIinitiative was then launched statewide in elementary schools during the 2014-15 school year and is now being used in across all schools in Tennessee. Today’s new report, Assessing Progress: Four Years of Learning from RTI2 Implementation in Tennessee, is the first to reflect on several years of RTI2 implementation in the state and acknowledge both successes and areas for further improvement.

Findings by the department show that before the 2014-15 school year, the identification rate of students with specific learning disabilities was 1.5 times higher for minority students than non-minority students and twice as high for male students. Following the implementation of RTI2, minority and non-minority students have been identified with nearly equal rates statewide, and male and female rates have moved closer together. Additionally, though there is some evidence to suggest a positive impact on overall student achievement, more information is needed to determine the impact of RTI2 on the pace at which students are improving.

Tennessee is committed to providing support for students through RTI2 but recognizes there are areas to improve these practices to be more effective and efficient. The report notes three recommendations to increase the successful implementation of the framework:

  1. Easing the burden of RTI2 guidelines with a more simplified framework that aims to clarify the requirements and flexibilities at all grade bands in order to reduce challenges across schools.
  2. Enhance support and resources for district RTI2 implementation, including a funding request to provide RTI2 staffing in all districts and additional resources, trainings, and tools for districts to assess the strength of their practices.
  3. Differentiating RTI2 for high school by developing new guidance and resources specifically for high school implementation.

Also in response to these findings, over the next few months, representatives from the department will tour the state to gather feedback in regional meetings, discuss potential revisions to the RTI2 framework, and respond to concerns from educators. Feedback from these meetings will help directly inform the decisions made by the department moving forward.

For more information on RTI2, visit the department’s website or contact Karen Jensen, director of RTI2, at Karen.Jensen@tn.gov. For media inquiries, contact Sara Gast, director of communications, at (615) 532-6260 or Sara.Gast@tn.gov.