When I attended school some of my peers were promoted from grade to grade despite not meeting academic expectations. I recall some students failing all their classes, receiving no interventions, and annually promoted to the next grade level.
Federal laws have instructed schools to focus more on helping all children learn by addressing problems earlier, before a student falls too far behind. These laws include the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004. Both laws highlight the importance of providing high quality, scientifically-based instruction and interventions (SRBI), and hold schools accountable for the progress of all students in terms of meeting grade level standards.
SRBI is the practice of providing high-quality instruction/intervention matched to the individual students’ needs and using learning rate over time and level of performance to make educational decisions. SRBI seeks to eliminate a “wait to fail” situation since students can get help promptly within the general education setting.
Core curriculums are analyzed through universal common assessments which determine the percentage of students that are and are not meeting benchmarks. Universal Screening is a step taken by school personnel to determine which students are “at risk” for not meeting grade level standards. Universal Screening can be accomplished by reviewing recent results of state tests, or by administering an academic screening test to all children in a given grade level. Those students whose test scores fall below a certain cut-off are identified as needing more specialized academic interventions.
SRBI refers to specific curriculum and educational interventions that have been proven to be effective as reported in scientific, peer-reviewed journals. The SRBI framework has three “tiers.” Each tier provides differing kinds and degrees of support.
Tier 1. Differentiation of instruction is essential to address the wide range of achievement levels that can be found in any classroom. Differentiation of instruction is an approach to teaching that emphasizes ways to meet the varying needs of a group of students rather than a reliance on a “one size fits all” approach that expects all students to accommodate to a single style of teaching. The essential components are; monitoring and measurement of student progress in response to the instruction and interventions; and use of these measures of student progress to shape instruction and make educational decisions. The use of flexible small groups can help in this differentiation, with various groupings providing opportunities for additional practice or explicit instruction in specific areas.
Tier II. Students who fail to attain important benchmarks despite adequate differentiation of instruction, receive Tier II interventions. Interventions must be research‐based, and accurately target the student’s area(s) of difficulty. These interventions are supplemental to the core academic instruction that is delivered in the classroom by the teacher or other specialists. These interventions do not replace core instruction, and do not remove responsibility for the child’s learning from the classroom teacher; rather, students receive support both in Tier I and Tier II. If appropriately matched to individual student’s needs and implemented with fidelity, interventions should result in growth for most students receiving Tier II interventions. Interventions can occur on a one‐to‐one basis or with small groups of students (e.g., four to six) who exhibit the same pattern of difficulty and who are functioning at similar levels.
Tier III. For students making inadequate progress with Tier II interventions, intensification of intervention is implemented. Educators also may consider different, more specialized interventions in some cases. The key difference between Tier II and Tier III interventions involves the intensity and/or individualization of the intervention. Greater intensity of intervention can be achieved with a smaller teacher‐student ratio (e.g., no more than one teacher to three students), a longer duration of instruction (e.g., an hour daily versus 30‐45 minutes three to four times per week in Tier II), and more frequent progress monitoring.
The hallmarks of effective home-school collaboration include open communication and involvement of parents in all stages of the learning process. There are many specific issues that must be addressed in order to effectively implement SRBI approaches. Schools must be prepared to offer a variety of proven instructional strategies; staff must be trained to measure student performance using methods that are sensitive to small increments of growth; parents must be kept informed of these new procedures and made partners in the process.