RTI Progress Monitoring Tools Assessing Primary-Grade Students in Response-to-Intervention Programs Features
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Features  |   September 01, 2010
RTI Progress Monitoring Tools
Author Notes
  • Sandra Laing Gillam, PhD, CCC-SLP, is an associate professor in communicative disorders and deaf education at Utah State University where she is co-director of the Language and Literacy Clinic. She is also the principal investigator on an IES Goal II grant to develop narrative interventions for children with language impairments or who are learning English as a second language. Contact her at sandi.gillam@usu.edu.
    Sandra Laing Gillam, PhD, CCC-SLP, is an associate professor in communicative disorders and deaf education at Utah State University where she is co-director of the Language and Literacy Clinic. She is also the principal investigator on an IES Goal II grant to develop narrative interventions for children with language impairments or who are learning English as a second language. Contact her at sandi.gillam@usu.edu.×
  • Laura Justice, PhD, CCC-SLP, is professor in the School of Teaching and Learning at Ohio State University. She also directs the Children’s Learning Research Collaborative, a research unit that conducts a number of federally funded studies of learning and development. Contact her at ljustice@ehe.osu.edu.
    Laura Justice, PhD, CCC-SLP, is professor in the School of Teaching and Learning at Ohio State University. She also directs the Children’s Learning Research Collaborative, a research unit that conducts a number of federally funded studies of learning and development. Contact her at ljustice@ehe.osu.edu.×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Features
Features   |   September 01, 2010
RTI Progress Monitoring Tools
The ASHA Leader, September 2010, Vol. 15, 12-15. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.15112010.12
The ASHA Leader, September 2010, Vol. 15, 12-15. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.15112010.12
Many school-based professionals, including speech-language pathologists, have been frustrated as they watch students struggle to develop even the basic skills needed to read fluently. Given U.S. Department of Education estimates that one-third of primary-grade pupils struggle to learn to read, special educators and SLPs have become invested in initiatives designed to prevent, rather than remediate, reading problems. Perhaps the most well-known initiative designed to prevent reading problems is that of response-to-intervention, also known as RTI.
RTI frameworks are becoming increasingly common as a means for identifying students with reading and learning disabilities and providing differentiated high-quality instruction to children. Criterion-referenced progress-monitoring measures play an important role in the RTI process. A student’s growth over time must be documented to support data-based decisions about subsequent instruction. Within tiered systems of service delivery, students who do not demonstrate adequate growth pattern on progress-monitoring measures need to receive additional or different forms of instruction. Students who demonstrate mainstream growth patterns in response to a level of instruction may be able to return to the mainstream classroom. Such decisions should be made on the basis of scores on ongoing progress-monitoring probes.
SLPs can play an important role in helping school professionals understand the importance of language-based skills within the learning process. Within RTI frameworks, changes in language ability can be captured by progress-monitoring tools. SLPs can provide valuable input about ways to design, implement, and interpret progress-monitoring measures of language. By doing this, SLPs ensure that language skills are strongly and appropriately represented within RTI frameworks.
Multi-tiered Approach
RTI is a multi-tiered approach to providing academic instruction. The concept of RTI emerged from research on the prevention of reading difficulties. In its original conceptualization, RTI was designed to provide an alternative to discrepancy-based diagnoses of reading and learning disabilities (Vellutino et al., 1996) and as a means to differentiate reading instruction for children in the early grades, particularly those who were responding less than optimally. School-based models of RTI are implemented as early as possible in an effort to prevent academic failure and to differentiate children whose academic challenges result from environmental etiologies (e.g., poor or inadequate instruction, limited home support for literacy) from those who exhibit neurologically based learning problems that may require ongoing support (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Hollenbeck, 2007).
RTI may be implemented at the school or district level in a variety of ways because the federal regulations that permit districts to allocate special education funding for RTI (up to 15% in the 2004 re-authorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act) do not specify procedures. Importantly, the RTI initiative, as supported by federal IDEA laws, enables SLPs to work on prevention-based activities within general education settings.
RTI in Early Grades
In the early grades RTI typically involves a three-tiered instructional process in which students move into and out of successive levels (tiers) of specialized instruction. Movement between tiers is based on an established set of procedures designed to determine the level of instruction necessary to promote optimal learning.
At Tier 1, students receive evidence-based, high-quality core curriculum instruction in the general education environment. Students who do not respond optimally to this instruction receive more supportive and/or different instruction in Tier 2. This tier may involve minimal changes in actual teaching procedures. For example, the instructional techniques used in Tier 1 may be used with students in small-group contexts (rather than in whole-class contexts) or provided in a more intensive manner (Ukrainetz, 2006). Students who respond well in Tier 2 “exit” back into the regular classroom (Vaughn, Linan-Thompson, & Hickman, 2003). Students who do not respond sufficiently in Tier 2 may move into Tier 3, which often involves more intensive instruction, specialized supports, or in some cases, referral for special education services.
An important and occasionally overlooked aspect of RTI is the data-driven process of monitoring student progress within or across tiers. Valid and reliable progress-monitoring tools are crucial for the RTI process to result in optimal student outcomes.
Progress-Monitoring Assessment
Relatively little has been written about how to monitor students' progress in component language skills, despite the fact that language difficulties (and slow growth in language skills) are a hallmark of learning difficulties. SLPs bring unique expertise to the identification of the language skills that are highly relevant for reading success. Some language-based skills targeted in RTI instruction may include vocabulary and story-structure knowledge, reading comprehension, and knowledge of complex syntactic structures (Boulinea et al., 2004; Montgomery & Kahn, 2003; Nathanson et al., 2007).
Although SLPs have considerable expertise in administering standardized tests for evaluating language skills, such tests generally are not amenable to the RTI process. Most standardized tests are static measures that describe children’s skills at a given point in time in relation to normative references (Compton, 2000). They are not designed to capture incremental change over short periods of time.
The use of criterion-referenced, progress-monitoring measures that can reliably capture growth over time is critical within an RTI framework. Progress-monitoring measures are considered dynamic indices because they measure change in response to systematic instruction. Such measures yield information that is needed to tailor instructional practices appropriately to maximize student performance or to make decisions about students' readiness to exit an intervention (e.g., move from Tier 2 to Tier 1), or enter a new tier (e.g., move from Tier 2 to Tier 3).
Many progress-monitoring tools are available to assess students' skills in early reading. The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Literacy Skills (DIBELS) is often used to assess phonemic awareness, letter identification, and pseudoword decoding with students up to grade six. With the exception of one measure (Retell Fluency, designed to assess students' reading comprehension), however, DIBELS does not assess oral language skills.
SLPs should understand more about progress-monitoring assessments if they are to develop or evaluate them critically:
  • Progress-monitoring tools should be easy to administer, score, and analyze because they are designed for frequent implementation (sometimes biweekly) to permit rapid analysis of students’ progress.

  • These tools must be psychometrically sound with respect to internal consistency, inter-rater reliability, and construct/concurrent validity.

Properties of well-developed progress monitoring tools are summarized in Table 1 below.
Monitoring Language Progress
Examples of progress-monitoring tools for measuring language skills in the primary grades are summarized in Table 2 below. Language sample analysis is listed first because this approach has been the “gold standard” for evaluating oral language skills in children (Heilmann et al., 2008). During the school-age years, eliciting a narrative appears to be one of the most authentic contexts (as opposed to conversation) by which to obtain a language sample (Justice et al., 2010; Leadholm & Miller, 1992). Various measures have been used to analyze language change, including mean length of utterance (MLU), total number of words (TNW), and total number of different words (TDW).
More recently, additional rubrics or coding procedures have been developed to examine other aspects of narrative language. For example, the Narrative Assessment Protocol (NAP) monitors growth in expressive language development (lexical, syntactic, morphological) in preschool-aged children within narrative contexts (Justice et al., 2010). A similar measure, Tracking Narrative Language Progress (TNL-Pr; Gillam & Gillam, 2010), a revision of the Index of Narrative Complexity (INC; Petersen, Gillam, & Gillam, 2008) measures macrostructure (story elements) and microstructure (adverbs, noun phrase elaboration, conjunctions, mental state, and linguistic verbs) elements used by school-aged children during narrative production tasks (Hughes, McGillivray, & Schmidek, 1997; Greenhalgh & Strong, 2001; Petersen, Gillam, & Gillam, 2008).
Get it, Got it, Go!” is a series of web-based tools to measure prerequisite language skills (e.g., phoneme awareness) in children through age 8. Although these tools do not require the elicitation of a narrative language sample, they are designed to capture “individual growth and development” for a variety of skills (e.g., alliteration, rhyming).
Use of Results
Clinicians may use valid and reliable progress-monitoring tools to make informed decisions about intervention approaches or to compare a student’s performance to that of students with similar abilities receiving the same or different instruction. Progress-monitoring tools are particularly important for SLPs working in school settings because there is relatively little research evidence about the outcomes of language intervention procedures with school-age children (Cirrin & Gillam, 2008).
The TNL-Prwas used to chart growth for 16 school-age children with language impairments who participated in two intervention programs designed to improve general language and narration skills (Gillam, Reece, & Gillam, 2007). One group (n=8) received one type of intervention (all content was contextualized); the other group (n=8) received a related but different intervention (instructional content was de-contextualized). Students who received contextualized intervention scored higher on the TNL-Pr than students who received de-contextualized intervention.
Data from the TNL-Pr can be used to make decisions about which intervention approach is most effective and/or to determine whether individual students are responding similarly to other students (in either intervention). For example, if most students are scoring 2 and 3 for use of story grammar elements and one child is scoring 0 or 1, that child is not responding “like” the other students and instruction should be altered.
Additional Considerations
The validity of any progress-monitoring tool as a means for measuring growth or change as a result of instruction depends to some extent on the contexts in which progress was assessed. It is common to under- or overestimate progress because of the variability inherent in the stimulus materials or the elicitation procedures that are used. For example, a child may be asked to look at a wordless picture book such as Frog Goes to Dinner (Mayer, 1969) and retell a story by looking at each of the pictures. Or perhaps the child may be asked to generate an original story from a single scene depicting a canoe going over a waterfall. The child’s responses may be very different because one context (single scene vs. wordless sequenced pictures) is more difficult than the other and one elicitation procedure (story generation vs. retell) is more difficult than the other.
Similarly, some books may result in longer, more complex stories than others. That is, not all wordless picture books elicit equivalent stories from all children. A number of factors, including the nature of the illustrations, the number of pages, and the child’s knowledge and interest in the topic, will influence the nature of the language sample obtained at any given point during the monitoring process. Optimally, SLPs should use equivalent methods for eliciting samples prior to and after instruction has taken place.
When SLPs become involved in the RTI process, they share their unique knowledge of the way language skills affect educational outcomes. One way SLPs can play an integral role in RTI involves developing and using a variety of progress-monitoring tools that assess short-term growth on the language skills that are critical for learning. The NAP and the TNL-Pr are two measures that SLPs can use to track changes in narration within and across RTI tiers.
Resources
References
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September 2010
Volume 15, Issue 11