Connecting PLCs and RTI
The fundamental purpose of the Professional Learning Community process is captured in Big Idea #1:
When a school or district functions as a PLC, educators within the organization embrace high levels of learning for all students as the reason the organization exists and the fundamental responsibility of those who work within it. (DuFour et all, 2016)
Achieving this goal will require schools to effectively respond when students struggle. While every school offers interventions, few have created a multi-tiered system of support. A multi-tiered system of interventions—also commonly called Response to Intervention—is designed to address four essential outcomes needed to ensure all students learn at high levels.
1. If the ultimate goal of a learning-focused school is to ensure that every student ends each year having acquired the essential skills, knowledge, and behaviors required for success at the next grade level, then all students must have access to grade-level essential curriculum as part of their core instruction.
2. At the end of every unit of study, some students will need some additional time and support to master this essential grade-level curriculum.
3. Some students will enter each school year lacking essential foundational skills that should have been mastered in prior years—skills such as foundational reading, writing, number sense, and English language. These students will require intensive interventions in these areas to succeed.
4. Some students will require all three of these outcomes to learn at high levels.
A multi-tiered system of interventions is designed to address these four realities. Often captured visually with the shape of a pyramid, the base of the pyramid represents the school’s core instruction program. The purpose of this tier—Tier 1—is to provide all students access to essential grade-level curriculum and effective initial teaching. When the core is taught well, most students should succeed most of the time without the need for additional help.
There will be a point in every unit of study when most students have demonstrated mastery of the unit’s essential learning outcomes, and the teacher will need to proceed to the next topic. But because some students may not master the essential curriculum by the end of the unit, the school must dedicate time to provide these students additional support to master this essential grade-level curriculum without missing critical new core instruction. This supplemental help to master grade-level curriculum is the second tier—Tier 2—in a multi-tiered system of support. Because this support is focused on very specific essential standards and learning targets, placement into Tier 2 interventions must be timely, targeted, flexible, and fluid.
And for students who need intensive remediation in foundational skills, the school must have a plan to provide this level of assistance, too. Intensive remediation is the purpose of the third tier of interventions—Tier 3. Students can only develop these skills over time, so schools must provide intensive interventions for targeted students as part of their instructional day, and by highly trained staff in the student’s targeted area of need.
This approach is called a multi-tiered system of interventions because students are not moved from tier to tier; instead, the tiers are cumulative. All students need effective initial teaching on grade-level essential standards at Tier 1. In addition to Tier 1, some students will need additional time and support in meeting grade-level essential standards at Tier 2. And in addition to Tier 1 and Tier 2, some students will need intensive help in learning essential outcomes from previous years.
Equally important, this tiered approach can be equally beneficial when applied to extending student learning beyond grade level. Students in honors/accelerated coursework also require highly effective core instruction. Because all students, including those in advanced coursework, do not learn the same way or at the same speed, Tier 2 can provide these students the additional support needed to meet more rigorous expectations. Viewing a multi-tiered system of support this way will best help a PLC school answer the fourth critical collaboration question—How will we respond when our students do learn?
Based on his meta-analysis of over eighty-thousand studies relating to the factors inside and outside of school that impact student learning, researcher John Hattie found that RTI ranks in the top three educational practices proven to best increase student achievement. When implemented well, Response to Intervention has an exceptional average yearly impact rate of 1.07 standard deviation, (Hattie, 2012). To put this in perspective:
- A one-standard deviation increase is typically associated with advancing student achievement by two to three years (Hattie, 2009, Page 7).
- Based upon longitudinal studies, the yearly typical impact rate of a classroom teacher’s instruction ranges between 0.15 and 0.40 standard deviation growth (Hattie, 2009, Page 20). This means a school that successfully implements RTI will leverage a process that is multiple-times more effective than a school that leaves it up to individual, isolated teachers to meet the instructional needs of their students.
- The greatest home/environmental factor that impacts student learning is a family’s economic status. Students that come from more affluent homes—defined as middle-class or higher—gain a yearly academic benefit of 0.57 standard-deviation growth per year (Hattie, 2009, Page 298). This home support has contributed to an achievement gap on standardized tests between affluent households and students of poverty that has grown over 40% since the 1960s (Reardon, 2011), while the college graduation rate gap has increased over 50% since the late 1980s (Bailey and Dynarski, 2011). RTI’s impact rate of 1.07, twice as powerful as what some students might receive at home each night, provides educators a proven, powerful tool to close our nation’s largest achievement gap.
Creating this level of support cannot be done effectively by an individual teacher in his or her own classroom. Instead, it requires a schoolwide collective effort, utilizing the specialized training and unique talents of each staff member. This collaborative approach can only be achieved if a school is functioning as a Professional Learning Community. And if a PLC school wants to effectively answer the third critical question of the PLC process—How will we respond when students don’t learn?—RTI is the best way to achieve this outcome.
Bailey & Dynarski, “Gains and Gaps: Changing Inequality in U.S. College Entry and Completion,” NBER Working Papers, 2011
DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., Many, T & Mattos, M. (2016). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work (3rd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York: Routledge.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.
Reardon, “The Widening Academic Achievement Gap Between the Rich and the Poor: New Evidence and Possible Explanations,” in Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances, 2011