Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

A Comprehensive Approach to RTI: Embedding Universal Design for Learning and Technology

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

A Comprehensive Approach to RTI: Embedding Universal Design for Learning and Technology

Article excerpt

Abstract. Response to intervention (RtI) provides tiered levels of supports to all students and allows for increasingly more intensive and individualized instruction. Similarly, universal design for learning (UDL) addresses needs of students by proactively planning for instructional, environmental, and technology supports to allow all students to effectively access and engage in instruction. Although these two frameworks are widely accepted as structures for supporting students with diverse learning needs, the relationship between them has not been adequately developed. This article describes how an ecological RtI framework that integrates scientifically based instructional strategies, proactive instructional design, and purposeful technology use can provide a more seamless support system for all students.


Now more than ever, the field of education, including special education, is being called on to educate and provide meaningful outcomes for all students, regardless of disability or learning need. Highlighting this call to action, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) conceptualized response to intervention (RtI) as a means to achieving high-quality instruction for all students and, as needed, provide more intensive and structured intervention to ensure that students attain success both academically and behaviorally. As a framework, RtI moved away from the practice of allowing students to continually fail prior to receiving more support and intervention. This proactive approach to providing services for all students was a specific intent of the law following recommendations by key groups (e.g., President's Commission on Special Education).

Since first launched, RtI practices have become more common and widely implemented. A recent report (Spectrum K12, 2010) indicated that 43 states have RtI practices written into state rules, and over 60% of school districts use some level of RtI implementation.

Although the research literature continues to include discussions on differing approaches to RtI implementation (e.g., Fuchs, Fuchs, & Stecker, 2010; Marston, 2005), specific interventions and results (e.g., Klingner & Edwards, 2006), and how to approach eligibility within RtI practices (e.g., Fuchs et al., 2010), it is clear that there is substantial research demonstrating the effectiveness of RtI (e.g., Burns, Appleton, & Stehouwer, 2005). Moreover, the RtI concepts and practices are unmistakably reflected in Institute for Educational Practice Guides for reading and mathematics instruction (Gersten et al., 2009; Gersten et al., 2008).

Having an established literature base on RtI is important to understand various perspectives, move the field forward, and provide guidance for implementation. To date, there is a lack of literature on a wider ecological approach to RtI that considers the merit of instructional strategies as well as variables such as purposeful instructional design and technology to support all learners. Through the use of UDL and technology, schools can provide more accessible, meaningful, and engaging learning environments for all students, especially those with diverse learning needs (Rose & Meyer, 2002).

The purpose of this article is to introduce an ecological framework of RtI that incorporates UDL and purposeful technology use with evidence-based strategies to support the needs of all students. After establishing a common foundation to develop the framework that embeds the needed ecological elements, we introduce the ecological RtI framework and provide considerations for adoption and implementation. Finally, we discuss how this framework has implications for practice, personnel preparation, research, and policy.


As a leading organization in the field, the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (Batsche et al., 2005) defines RtI as "the practice of providing high quality instruction and intervention matched to student need, monitoring progress frequently to make decisions about changes in instruction, and applying child response data to important educational decisions" (p. …

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