Sixteen scholars entered our school in 6th grade this year as non-readers. Non-readers, meaning they did not even have a grasp on basic letter-sound correspondence. That’s over 15% of our population, which is consistent with what we saw last year. Obviously, there’s a problem when so many kids go through six years of elementary school without learning how to read.

This is a big reason why, about a year ago, Tennessee announced an exciting new education reform initiative.

No, I’m not talking about Common Core State Standards (CCSS), although this initiative is not altogether separate from CCSS.

The initiative I’m talking about is RTI – or, in Tennessee, RTI², which stands for Response to Instruction & Intervention. RTI² has not received the same amount of attention as CCSS, but the former is essential to the latter’s success.

In fact, there’s a convincing case to be made that RTI² is the more important of the two because RTI² aims to provide extra support for struggling kids like our non-readers, helping them catch up with their peers instead of being referred to special education. This should help close the achievement gaps that plague our state and our city. It should also have a significant impact on how resources are allocated.

If you are an educator, you are probably thinking, “RTI is not new.” And that is correct. RTI has been around for a while, and it’s even been used to some degree here in Memphis.

Yet, the state, until now, hasn’t provided much guidance or support. Districts and schools were forced to figure out RTI on their own, resulting in poor implementation and poor results. That changed last year, when the Tennessee Department of Education announced the RTI² initiative.

The RTI² Handbook was published in draft form around this time last year, so districts and schools had a good idea of what was coming. They were given the spring and summer of 2013 to get a plan in place, which would then allow them to test drive a new model and work out the kinks during the 2013-14 school year. The plan takes effect July 1, 2014. Hopefully, the RTI² initiative will ensure that all kids learn to read so that they can spend more time on reading to learn.

I’ll be writing a series of posts on RTI², so I’ll get more in depth there. In future posts, I want to highlight a few implications of the RTI² initiative:

  1. First, we’ll consider the importance of timing. There’s a reason RTI² will be rolling out at the same time as CCSS.
  2. Next, we’ll examine how RTI² will affect the way we approach both general education and special education. There will – or at least should – be a huge shift in how kids are served.
  3. Then, we’ll take a look at funding and allocation of resources in general. One goal of RTI² is to better align funding and resources with actual student needs, but policy measures will be necessary to make that happen.
  4. Finally, we’ll turn to effectiveness. How do we measure success? How to we ensure success? What are some possible barriers to a successful implementation, and how do we overcome those barriers? And how to do we hold schools and districts accountable to the goals of RTI²?

At Grizzlies Prep, we’ve seen tremendous growth through our tiered RTI system. Average reading growth is two years, and our lowest-level readers average three years growth in one school year. It is my hope that this series will help you hold your school and/or your district accountable to the lofty expectations set by the state with RTI².

A version of this article was originally published on the Bluff City Ed blog.

James Aycock

James Aycock is currently the Director of Scholar Support at Grizzlies Prep, an all-boys public charter middle school located in downtown Memphis. He previously served as the founding Special Education Coordinator with Tennessee’s Achievement School District, after several years as a special educator and baseball coach at Westside Middle School in the Frayser community of North Memphis. Contact him at jaycock@grizzliesprep.org with questions or to learn more about Grizzlies Prep’s RTI system.