RTI and Cultural Considerations

April 2, 2009, The IRIS Center

Leonard Baca discusses his views on RTI and the importance of addressing cultural and linguistic diversity within that approach (time: 5:15).

Questions asked of Leonard Baca in this audio:

  1. Can you talk with us for a moment about your concerns, if any, about the RTI approach?
  2. And how about the advantages of the RTI approach?
  3. What cultural aspects should teachers consider when conducting a universal screening assessment?

Leonard Baca

Leonard Baca, PhD
Director, BUENO Center for Multicultural Education
University of Colorado, Boulder

Transcript: Leonard Baca, PhD

Leonard Baca discusses his views on RTI and the importance of addressing cultural and linguistic diversity within that approach (time: 5:15).

Narrator: This podcast is brought to you by the IRIS Center, a national center funded by the Office of Special Education Programs.

Leonard Baca is a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and executive director of the BUENO Center for Multicultural Education. The BUENO Center’s mission is to promote education for cultural and language minority students through rigorous and comprehensive research.

Narrator: Can you talk with us for a moment about your concerns, if any, about the RTI approach?

Leonard Baca: The whole language and cultural piece is omitted from much of the discussion around RTI. And so, if you’re going to have something in the RTI system that works for bilingual and bicultural kids, you need to make sure that the treatment is either bilingual and/ or ESL and that it’s culturally appropriate. Because you could take some kind of an evidence-based treatment that’s been found to be effective with poor readers, for example, but maybe the study was done in an all-white environment, and there was nothing done to adapt it for the culturally different audience. Then that kind of, in a sense, negates its utility with that particular kind of population. Most teachers and most schools of education that I know of around the country do not get a good dose of multicultural education or culturally responsive pedagogy, so they go out there into the districts and working with minority kids and not being able to adapt their material and probably using basals and texts that are insensitive or irrelevant to the kids’ experience. So if they were to have a systematic staff development before they move into this model, I think they’ll find it much more effective. They’ll have a better idea of how to do it, because this idea of making it culturally sensitive is a very tall order, especially when you have kids from different backgrounds in the same classroom and the teacher struggling trying to make these adaptations. It’s not an easy task.

Narrator: And how about the advantages of the RTI approach?

Leonard Baca: What I really like about the RTI model in terms of in guiding the delivery of services is that it really puts more time and money and energy into early identification and prevention of later learning problems for a larger number of students. Now, you have to remember that a lot of this debate about the discrepancy model is based around the fact that the numbers of LD kids have escalated and gone up very, very fast, and that the cost is prohibitive and that we need to do something to stop this rapid increase in the number of kids identified as LD. So trying to bring down that number is part of the motivation for moving away from the discrepancy model. And I think that makes certainly a lot of sense from an economic standpoint. What I see as the benefit of it is that it tends to put more resources toward underachieving students in general, whether they be special ed. or not, and from that standpoint I think it’s more of a preventative model than a remedial model.

Narrator: What cultural aspects should teachers consider when conducting a universal screening assessment?

Leonard Baca: When you’re doing an early screening, the first question is to what extent is that measure culturally sensitive and relevant to the background and experiences of these particular kids? So if it tends to be a very middle-class, white-oriented measure, it’s not going to be the best predictor of how these kids are doing. I would say that in any state that has a bilingual alternative measure, especially in the early grades, that that be the baseline, because that way we know that at least the language has been taken into consideration and hopefully the test is also culturally sensitive as well and gives us a better measure of how these kids are doing and their comfort level with the content, the pictures, the cultural relevance of the items, and so on. The early screening needs to be culturally and linguistically relevant to the population that they’re dealing with. If you’re talking about a metropolitan community in a school district and then doing an early screening based on the Iowa test of basic skills, or their local high-stakes assessment that it’s missing cultural and linguistic content to do an adequate job of identifying those kids that are truly struggling the most.

Narrator: Thank you for listening to this episode of the IRIS Center podcast. For more information about the IRIS Center and its resources, visit us at www.iriscenter.com [https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/].

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