What considerations should schools and districts be aware of when they deliver Tier 3 intervention?

Page 8: Cultural Diversity

rtiT3_08_miguelKaty Stromwell is optimistic that the RTI approach will improve most of the students’ academic outcomes. However, she remains aware that some challenges exist when school personnel identify culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students who do not demonstrate adequate progress. This is especially true when these students are referred to Tier 3 or special education services. To ensure that school personnel are appropriately identifying students for Tier 3 services, they must:

  • Understand and respond to cultural differences
  • Measure the student’s language proficiency
  • Determine the cause of the student’s reading problem
  • Administer nonbiased assessments

Understand and Respond to Cultural Differences

School personnel can examine the degree to which their school environment is culturally sensitive. One way to determine whether misconceptions influence instructional practices in the school is to ask school personnel to reflect on their own ideas and perspectives about cultural differences.

All English learners speak Spanish Teachers should recognize that although the majority of English learners are Spanish speakers, they are a heterogeneous group that differs in many ways, such as in their home language, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and immigration status.
All CLD students have the same experiences Even students with the same culture and home language may have distinct learning characteristics and cultural experiences.
Standard classroom materials are effective for all students Educators who incorporate culturally diverse instructional materials provide greater learning value for their students.

Measure the Student’s Language Proficiency

rtiT3_08_kidWithBackpackIt is also important for teachers to understand their students’ language proficiency and the ease with which students may become English proficient. There are two basic forms of English language proficiency: conversational English and academic English.

Teachers should not assume that a student’s level of conversational English proficiency indicates his or her level of academic English proficiency. Although a student may be able to speak fluently, he or she may not have the vocabulary to perform well in academic content areas. A student’s level of language proficiency should be determined by formal and informal assessments conducted by bilingual educators from the school district.

Determine the Cause of the Student’s Reading Problem

Standardized tests indicate that 75% of third-grade English learners reads below grade level. School personnel must work meticulously to try and determine why CLDs are struggling with reading. Teachers may not realize that a student who is unable to comprehend a given text may be struggling because of inadequate English proficiency rather than another factor such as:


  • A learning disability
  • Lack of high-quality instruction
  • Inconsistent school experience

Click here for sample questions, arranged by topic areas, that can help educators to assess a student’s English proficiency.

Administer Non-biased Assessments

rtiT3_08_teacherChildAlthough it’s true that CLD students participate in standardized testing, the ability of school personnel to draw reliable conclusions from these test results is limited. The reasons for this are numerous but include problems of nonrepresentative norming samplestest item bias, tests that have been translated from one language to another, and the comparison of students who have different levels of English proficiency as though they were equally proficient.

One way to lessen the impact of testing bias is to first determine the student’s level of English language proficiency. Testing experts recommend that CLDs with limited English language development be assessed in both their home language and in English, a suggestion infrequently put into practice due to the relative difficulty in procuring comparable assessments in both languages. When possible, English learners should be assessed by a bilingual evaluator.

Listen as Alfredo Artiles talks about problems that occur when tests are translated (time: 1:34).  


Alfredo Artiles, PhD
Arizona State University
Division of Curriculum & Instruction

Keep in Mind

In many schools, issues of disproportionate representation arise for CLD students. Some English learners are not referred for special education because their teachers have judged them unable to succeed academically due exclusively to their difficulty with the English language. In other cases, CLD students may be over-identified for special education services because of test bias or because no testing is conducted in their home language. In preparation for determining special education eligibility for English learners, schools should:

  • Be sure the evaluation consists of multiple sources of information
  • Include experts in second language acquisition on the IEP team
  • Train school personnel in second language acquisition


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