One aspect where RTI and UDL diverge is in execution. RTI reserves specialized assistive education to those students who are unresponsive to Tier 1 and Tier 2 interventions, where UDL “is given to everyone with the understanding that those who need specialized support will use the tools when they need them.” (Edyburn, 2010) This magnifies the criticism that RTI provides delayed access to special education tools and support for students who may have a learning disability. As students progress through various tiers found in RTI, there is no definite factor that determines the presence of a learning disability, and percentage of the classification of nonresponses varied from 8% to 80% across the 160 studies presented by Tran et all. (2011) This large variation in pretesting exemplifies the need for increased explicit and direct professional development for teachers using this method. In addition to increased teacher and staff training, schools would require additional and current resources (money, time, materials) to successfully implement an RTI program. UDL suffers from these same downfalls, with more emphasis placed on the time required for teacher training, and development of such flexible curriculum.
UDL has little research to establish it as a scientifically backed intervention to meet the needs of English Language Learners (ELL) despite the core concept that flexibility in instructional approach will support and maintain high achievement ability expectations for ELL students. However, as observed by the first author in Orosco and Klinger (2010) “direct and explicit reading instruction and strategies allowed for student contextualization, engagement and motivation, individual differences, and oral language development” (Orosco & Klinger, 2010) did much to negate the teachers belief “that English language learners were not ‘ready to learn’ because of their lack of linguistic capital and their limited English language development.” (Orosco & Klinger, 2010)
Perhaps then the direction for educational reform should be more basic? The meta-analysis of recent RTI literature by Tran et all (2011) emphasizes the link between phonological awareness and response to intervention, citing the lack of skill in phonological awareness is a strong predictor of RTI post-test results (Tran, Sanchez, Arellano, & Swanson, 2011), and if clear, direct and explicit teaching of these skills causes students regardless of reading disability designations to respond to intervention (Orosco & Klinger, 2010) perhaps the focus should shift from adapting the students to fit the curriculum to adapting the curriculum to fit the students.
“The majority of teachers have MAs in education; however, they have no ESL of differentiated instruction skill for [an English Language Learning] population” states the principal in Orosco and Klingner’s article. “These practitioners are highly qualified, they are not high qualified to teach reading to Latino English language learners.”
Teacher training certifications should have more emphasis on language acquisition to avoid the misalignment of assessment in English language learner pedagogies, or failure to respond to ineffective interventions resulting in learning disability diagnosis. If there are problems providing additional funding to schools for adequate professional development, would it not make sense to change the requirements for teaching such that the process of language acquisition (including written and oral texts) would provide the foundations for teachers to accurately teach and assess students as weak in educational acquisition, rather than to continue to teach these skills in an ineffective way?
Works Cited Edyburn, D. L. (2010). Would You Recognize Universal Design for Learning if You Saw It? Then Propositions for New Directions for the Second Decade of UDL. Learning Disability Quartlery, 33-41.
Orosco, M. J., & Klinger, J. (2010). One School's Implementation of RTI With English Language Learners: "Referring Into RTI". Journal of Learning Disabilities.
Tran, L., Sanchez, T., Arellano, B., & Swanson, H. (2011). A Meta-Analysis of the RTI Literature for Children at Risk for Reading Disabilities. Journal of Learning Disablities.
Wong, B. Y., Graham, L., Hoskyn, M., & Berman, J. (2008). The ABCs of Learning Disabilities. Burlington: Elsevier.