RTI and Assessment: How Much is Enough?

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“Response to Intervention (RtI) is the practice of providing high-quality instruction and interventions matched to student need, monitoring progress frequently to make decisions about changes in instruction or goals and apply child response data to important educational decisions.

The RtI assessment process relies on identifying the components that are essential for a comprehensive assessment system:

  • Standards-based assessments determine if students are making progress toward grade-level standards
  • Screens (reading and/or math) determine if a student is eligible for intervention; for literacy, fluency is usually the measure of choice in grades K-2, while comprehension comes into play more significantly in third grade and above
  • Diagnostic/Skill Inventories determine skill deficits that can be targeted through intervention and instruction
  • Progress Monitors determine whether students are learning the skills and concepts being taught in each tier of instruction/intervention

Nearly everyone agrees that a thorough assessment system is essential to the success of RtI and that we always use multiple data points to determine if a student requires services offered in Tier II or Tier III.  However, there is not much direction on how much data is enough. As a result, some have adopted the notion that more must be better.

Assessment is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It is the catalyst by which we are able to develop specific prescriptive instruction and intervention designed to meet student needs. Instruction and intervention are the vehicles that improve student skills. Assessment measures the need and the progress. Consequently, we must look closely at our RtI practice and determine if our system is out of balance.

If you suspect that you might be assessing too much, a cost/benefit analysis can help scrutinize your RtI assessment system. The cost in this case is not money, but rather instructional time. The benefit is the impact that the data have on educational decisions. An analysis will determine whether the lost instructional time is worth the information gathered by various assessments. Some simple questions can help you evaluate your current system to determine if any changes are necessary. These questions can also help new implementers of RtI design a streamlined but effective assessment system.

1. How much time is spent on assessment to determine need for and type of intervention?

a. Calculate the time spent on standards-based periodic assessments, screening, skill inventories, and progress monitoring measures

2. How much time does this take away from instruction and intervention?

a. Include lost instructional time if only one or some students are being assessed and the rest of a class or group lose instruction

3. What information is gathered from each assessment? What is the educational benefit?

a. How is the information used?

b. Is all the information used, and to what degree?

c. Are the data gained from the assessments worth the time spent?

4. Do all students need screening, or do we have historical data at some grade levels that can serve as an initial indicator?

a. Do we already have historical evidence that students are consistently performing at grade level? If so, do we need to screen them?

5. Are we using multiple assessments that keep telling us the same thing?

a. Is our system redundant?

6. Are the assessments we use subjective or objective?

a. Do the data still keep you “guessing” because they are not definitive?

7. Do we keep using “favorite” assessments at the school and classroom level?

a. Could those assessments be used more sparingly or put aside?

With questions and thorough analysis, determine which assessments are essential for an RtI system and which are supplementary. Then, examine the time spent vs. the benefit of each assessment. Do you assess more than needed? Is every piece of information gathered being used? To what end?

Time is a precious commodity during the school day. Streamlining your RtI assessment system will help you use it wisely.


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