I was a classroom teacher for many years, an instructional coach for several more, and I currently serve as a K-5 math interventionist. Each role has allowed me to look at remediation through a different lens. Now that I am intimately involved in the Response to Intervention (RTI) process, I am seeing patterns emerge in how we identify and service students deemed at-risk in math. It can’t all be about classroom grades or standardized test scores. We have to look at the underlying reasons for a student’s struggles. And if we are identifying large chunks of our student population as Tier II or Tier III, we have to look deeper for systemic reasons.
Students with Behavioral Issues
Let’s just take this one off the table. If a child is failing math because of a behavior issue, I can’t help. Sure, I can forge a relationship with the student and coax the math out of him, but you can do that as easily as me. It does no good to put a student with behavior issues in a math remediation group with students who truly need remediation. I would also put students who have failing grades because they don’t complete work in this category.
Students Who Lack Current Grade Level Skills
Face it, students do not all learn at the same pace. Some learn more quickly and some more slowly. If a teacher tries to teach all students at the same pace, some will fail. That doesn’t mean those students need to be pulled out for remediation. It probably means that the teacher should reflect on her instructional strategies to determine if they are meeting the needs of all students. A teacher who underutilizes small group instruction will likely have a higher percentage of students not mastering grade level skills, because whole group instruction will not adequately meet the differing needs of students.
Students Who Lack Number Sense
These students are probably good candidates for RTI. If a student does not understand how to compose and decompose numbers, see the relationships between the operations, or lacks a basic understanding of place value concepts, they will undoubtedly fall further and further behind in math until those foundational areas are addressed. That said, this is the primary learning that is going on in K-2, so if a student lacks number sense in K-2, it could be argued that they just lack current grade level skills. So then we go back to the last conversation–is the teacher differentiating instruction and working with students in small groups at their level?
Students Who Can’t Apply Mathematics
“They can multiply, but when it’s in a word problem they bomb it!” These are often the students who fail standardized tests. Students need to always see mathematics in context. Sure, they need to learn computation skills and how to generate equivalent fractions, but if they learn those skills in isolation, they never see the application of the skills in a real-world setting. Just as we have to teach students mathematical concepts, we have to teach them how to dissect and solve word problems. This should not involve tricks and key words, it must happen through modeling and strategic instruction, including reading comprehension strategies. In Texas, process standards are embedded into 75% of the items on our state assessment. If we don’t embed process standards into 75% of our classroom instruction, our students will not be successful.
Students with High Mobility Rates
My heart goes out to these kiddos. Their families can’t stay put in one place long enough for them to learn anything! They often come to us with huge gaps, because as they move around they miss big chunks of learning. These students definitely benefit from intervention, which can close the gaps and get them back on track.
Students with Learning Difficulties
There are students who, despite our best instructional practices and efforts, can’t seem to overcome their struggles. Additional testing is often required to determine if these students require the specialized talents of a special education teacher.
I hope this list gives you some food for thought. I’d love to hear your comments and personal stories about intervention!