A Cultural, Linguistic, and Ecological Framework for Response to Intervention with English Language Learners
Brown, Julie Esparza, Doolittle, Jennifer, Teaching Exceptional Children
Response to Intervention (RTI) has been heralded by many as the long-awaited alternative to using a discrepancy formula for special education eligibility decisions. Use of the discrepancy formula for eligibility decisions has commonly been called a "wait to fail model" (Donovan & Cross, 2002; Fuchs, Mock, Morgan & Young, 2003; Mellard, 2004) because in this paradigm, students proceeded through long pre-referral, formal referral, and assessment processes prior to getting help in special education programs. By the time students received assistance, they were often too far behind to ever catch up, even with individualized support.
RTI instead focuses on intervening early through a multi-tiered approach where each tier provides interventions of increasing intensity. It includes the practice of screening all children early in their education to identify those who are not responding to classroom instruction and providing support through the use of research-based interventions at each tier while monitoring progress frequently (Batsche, Elliott, Graden, Grimes, Kovaleski, Prasse, et. al., 2005). RTI has the potential to affect change for English language learners (ELLs) by requiring the use of research-based practices based on individual children's specific needs. All ELLs, however, need culturally and linguistically appropriate instruction no matter the educational setting. In other words, instruction and interventions must consider a student's cultural background and experiences as well as their linguistic proficiency (in both English and the native language) in order for instruction to be appropriate. The focus of this brief is to provide an initial framework in the use of RTI that considers students' life experiences, including their language proficiencies in their first and second language, as well as the contexts in which they are taught.
Opportunity to Loom
As conceptualized, RTI is predicated upon effective, research-based and appropriate instruction in the general education classroom or Tier 1. That is, it is assumed that all students are provided with scientifically validated instruction delivered with a high degree of fidelity to the curriculum, and thus all children are provided with an equal opportunity to learn. This, however, is problematic for ELLs in several ways. First, since RTI currently focuses on literacy, it is important to examine the existing reading research for ELLs. Although there is a growing body of research on effective reading instruction for ELLs with and without disabilities (Artiles & Klingner, 2006; Unan-Thompson, Bryant, Dickson, & Kouzekanani, 2005), it appears that not all ELLs are receiving appropriate literacy instruction (D'Angiulli, Siegel, & Maggi, 2004; Saenz, Fuchs, & Fuchs, 2005). Less than 20% of the 56% of public school teachers in the U.S. who have at least one ELL in their class are certified to teach ELLs (Waxman, Tellez & Walberg, 2004). Thus, most teachers lack the training, expertise, and experience in teaching reading and other subjects to ELLs. The second issue is that most multidisciplinary school teams charged with making special education eligibility decisions for ELLs also lack the training and experience in differentiating language difference from a learning disability (Collier, 2001; Flanagan & Ortiz, 2001; Klingner, Artiles, & Barletta, 2006; Ortiz, 1997). Consequently, the use of RTI without a foundation in culturally and linguistically appropriate instruction may lead to greater disproportionality [both under and over representation) of ELLs in special education.
To summarize, an appropriate foundation for RTI must include knowledge of each child's particular set of life experiences, and how these experiences may facilitate learning in an American school system. It is essential to address teacher-related and school-related issues as well as child traits. Further, all educators must be knowledgeable in first and second language acquisition principles and culturally responsive pedagogy, as well as have access to specialists who are well-trained in differentiating cultural and linguistic differences from disabilities. …