March 2015

Supporting Advanced Learners in an RtI System: An Overview [PDF]

By Heidi Erstad, Technical Assistance Coordinator

Wisconsin’s RtI Framework

Unlike the definition and purpose of RtI in most states, Wisconsin’s RtI framework is intended to improve how we serve the needs of all learners through implementation of a culturally responsive multi-level system of support, as illustrated in the road map graphic below.

Wisconsin’s RtI framework starts by identifying a significant College and Career Readiness Outcome (A). Schools then use a screening process (B) with multiple data sources to identify whether students are on track to meet or exceed the outcome based on benchmarks set throughout the course of the school year. For students moderately or well above benchmark, the school has in place some methods for digging deeper (C) to verify and/or learn more about the need. This digging deeper process helps teams match supports to needs (D), identifying the intensity and type of support students will need to continue to grow.

All students continue to benefit from a differentiated universal level of support (instruction, collaboration, and assessment): yet, schools typically find that some students have learning needs that extend beyond the reach of the universal. The selected level of support (E) is intended to provide additional challenges for students with moderate needs beyond the universal, while the intensive level of support (F) is in place for those few students whose needs are well beyond (e.g., multiple grade levels above peers/benchmark). Depending upon the needs of the student, supports at the intensive level may be in lieu of the universal level of instruction.

Intensity in instruction for students above benchmark is provided through faster pacing or compacting of concepts (e.g., moving to higher levels in state standards progressions) and/or greater depth, complexity, and abstraction of concepts (e.g., combining standards or increasing depth of knowledge). A collaborative team determines the type and intensity of support based on student needs, sets goals for growth, and develops plans of support. The appropriate data to measure growth is collected and collaboratively reviewed on a scheduled basis to gauge whether plans are adequately supporting students to meet or exceed their goals. To the greatest extent possible, students have voice and choice in determining goals, creating plans of action, collecting data, and reflecting on growth.

The large arrow below the road map (G) reminds us that the success of this framework relies on whether supports reflect and support the students we serve (culturally responsive practices), how effectively we engage families in the process, and to what extent the school’s leadership and structures (e.g., collaborative, data-based culture) are in place.

Supporting Local Decision Making

Schools can use this road map to develop and communicate their RtI systems: what they enter into each box on the road map and the decision rules they develop for each arrow localizes the framework to their school, their students, their resources, and their strengths.

 Please contact if you have questions or would like more information about the content of this article. 


Supporting Advanced Learners in an RtI System: Establishing Collaborative Structures [PDF]

By Heidi Erstad, Technical Assistance Coordinator

Collaboration is a systematic process of collective problem solving about - and planning for - teaching and learning. As an essential element within Wisconsin’s RtI framework, regular and ongoing collaboration is key to establishing, providing, and sustaining a systemic and systematic approach to supporting the needs of ALL learners.

Collaborative structures needed to support advanced learners

Schools and districts with well-established systems of support for advanced learners have teams in place that attend to different aspects of support, including:

  1. Planning and providing differentiation and advanced learning strategies at the universal level of support
  2. Problem-solving for groups and individual students whose needs extend beyond the universal level
  3. Reviewing the effectiveness of the school/district’s system of support for advanced learners

These functions are often embedded within existing team structures so that they are seen as a part of the school’s regular processes for supporting all learners, not an add-on or afterthought.

Let’s look at each of these collaborative team functions in more detail.

  1. Planning and providing differentiation and advanced learning strategies at the universal level of support. Meeting this first function often occurs as a part of existing grade level/content area collaborative teams. These teams use unit pre-assessment, common benchmark and screening assessments, portfolio, and observational data to address the Professional Learning Community (PLC) question: How will we respond when students have exceeded grade-level standards and benchmarks? Building and district G/T specialists can support teachers within these PLC meetings with resources and strategies for differentiation and extending learning within the regular classroom. Ideally, specialists or coaches can also make arrangements with teachers at these meetings to co-plan, model, co-teach, and/or provide coaching to support implementation of new strategies within the classroom.
  2. Problem solving for groups and individual students whose needs extend beyond the universal level. Establishing a robust, differentiated universal level of support is a critical, but typically insufficient means of addressing the needs of students whose learning/achievement extends well beyond grade-level benchmarks. Many schools already have existing teams in place to problem solve in order to help meet the needs of students whose achievement is moderately or significantly below grade level. The purpose of these teams - that is, to problem-solve to better meet student needs - can be extended to include meeting the needs of advanced learners as well. Team membership is necessarily fluid, depending upon the expertise needed and who will be involved in implementing plans of support (e.g., G/T support, classroom teacher, math specialist, school counselor, principal). These teams are responsible for digging deeper into student needs, setting goals for growth, matching supports to needs, and monitoring the progress of students to gauge whether the plans of support are working for groups and individuals.

The following sections and accompanying questions help to illustrate the responsibilities of this team throughout the course of the school year.

  • Digging deeper and setting goals
    • What data does the team need in order to learn more about the student’s precise level of performance and learning needs?
    • What learning goals would provide the appropriate level of challenge for this student(s)?
  • Creating a plan of support
    • Which evidence-based practices or programs would best meet the student’s needs? At what level of intensity?
    • What other types of supports will this student need to be successful (e.g., time management strategies)? How will this be built into the plan?
    • Who will implement the practices or programs? How often? When?
    • What support/professional development does the person delivering practices or programs need to be successful?
    • How will the student/family be a part of developing the plan?
    • How will progress be monitored? How often? By whom? How will the student be involved in this process? In what way(s) and how often will parents be informed of progress?
    • How often and when will the team meet to check on student progress?
  • Monitoring progress and making adjustments
    • Is the student making expected/sufficient progress toward her/his goal?
    • What needs to happen in response?
      • Should the evidence-based practices or programs be continued, changed, or implemented with greater intensity?
      • Do we need to monitor the fidelity of implementing the evidence-based practices or programs?
      • Do we need to set a more ambitious goal?

(Want to see an example of a problem-solving team in action, supporting the goals and needs of an advanced learner? The Educational Communications Board’s “RtI Stories: Collaboration” bonus video shows a Beloit School District student support team meeting at Note that while the quality of this bonus video makes viewing challenging, the content is worth the watch!)

3.  Reviewing the effectiveness of the school’s system of support for advanced learners. This final team function is frequently the responsibility of the school or district’s G/T Committee or Curriculum and Instruction team. To serve this function, this team reviews both student outcome data and implementation data at the systems level, asking whether each level of support the school has established is indeed meeting the needs of the students it is intended to serve. For example, this team may disaggregate screening data for its advanced learners to gauge whether they are making adequate growth across the school. This team may also look at progress monitoring data as a whole to gauge the effectiveness of the programs and practices they have in place to meet the needs of students beyond the reach of the universal. Critically, this team may also consider whether the school is disproportionately under identifying or under serving populations of its students (e.g., by gender, by economic status, by race/ethnicity, by English proficiency level). This team can then create hypotheses and develop plans of action based on a thorough analysis of the data.

Critical considerations for collaborative structures

Schools and districts seeking to create or strengthen collaborative structures to support advanced (and all) learners will want to focus attention on the following:

  • To be effective, regular collaboration around student data and instruction must be built into staff expectations, schedules, and the calendar. This time should be considered sacred.
  • Meaningful involvement of families and students is critical throughout the collaborative process.
  • Representation by multiple stakeholders in collaborative teams can provide unique and balanced perspectives to fully and accurately analyze data, dig deeper, create hypotheses, and develop solutions
  • The frequency and intensity of collaborative teaming increases with the intensity of student need. This includes the degree of expertise in the areas of need that team members bring to the table.
  • Team norms and protocols are valuable tools to systematize and focus collaborative discussions. User-friendly data reports are equally as critical to the process.
  • Culture plays into every aspect of schooling, especially when the culture and background of the student differ from that of mainstream school culture. Collaborative teams demonstrate cultural competence by recognizing the critical role of culture in learning, including understanding their own culture first. They maintain high beliefs for all learners from all backgrounds. Teams actively consider whether cultural mismatches in systems, structures, policies, and practices inhibit student success, no matter how well intentioned. They willingly place the locus of responsibility for change on professionals and the school.

Questions to get you started

Use these reflective questions at your school to help start the conversation around supporting advanced learners in your RtI system:

  • How much time is scheduled for teams to collaborate around data and instruction for advanced learners?
  • What existing teams do you have to discuss the needs of advanced learners? Who sits/should sit at the table? What questions do they address? What data do/should they review?
  • What strategies (e.g., roles and protocols) are in place to support teams in analyzing data and making data-based instructional decisions?

I am indebted to Jeanne Paulus, Advanced Learning Coordinator for the Wauwatosa School District, for her ideas, collaboration, and tireless determination to implement the collaborative processes illustrated throughout this article.


Providing Equity for all Students: Disproportionality, Disaggregating Data and Discipline

By Kent Smith, Technical Assistance Coordinator 

Identifying and Addressing the Problem

Recently, disproportionality has become a necessary focus in Wisconsin. Whether attending the Wisconsin Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) Conference, Response to Intervention (RtI) Summit, the Disproportionality Technical Assistance Network (DTAN) conference, or participating in technical assistance sessions, schools that go through training have been exposed to many of these concepts. Since this trend is expected to continue, more options will be provided in coming months here in Wisconsin.

A National Response

The National PBIS Center has committed to focusing on disproportionality, equity, and culturally responsive practices for the duration of the current grant cycle.  A disproportionality work group has been formed within the National Center and resources are starting to be released nationally to teams.  Many of these resources have been and will continue to be previewed at various conferences, including the National PBIS Leadership Forum in Illinois, the Association for Positive Behavior Support Conference (APBS), and various state-level conferences.

How You Can Get Involved

The plan is to develop practice guides within this current calendar year that will provide you with practical knowledge and skills to begin addressing equity issues within your system.  At present, there is a finalized discipline data guide you can use, along with conference and research resources. The data guide will walk you through what disaggregating data means, how to action plan based on it, and how you can monitor for effect regardless of what data system is used.  Additional guides will be focused on policy review and revision, addressing implicit and explicit bias within systems, and how you can begin building a system of support that meets the needs of all students.

More Resources

Current National Center material can be found on the National PBIS Center website. Additional information will be housed there as well.  For Wisconsin information please continue to watch our newsletters, updates from your regional technical assistance coordinators and watch the Upcoming PBIS Events or the Upcoming RtI Events sections of our websites. 


Universal Design for Learning Tip

By Dana McConnell, Wisconsin RtI Center Students With Disabilities Coordinator

Making Words Simpler for Struggling Students is a website that simplifies difficult English, teaches vocabulary quickly and effectively, creates learning materials, and it’s all free.  Just go to the site and paste in the text you want simplified and then click the button marked “rewordify text.”  The website will automatically replace difficult vocabulary words with easier ones.  The reworded words are highlighted; click to hear and learn the original word.  To learn more visit

Take a Brain Break!

GoNoodle is a website that provides short video based brain breaks that are free, fun, and engaging.  There are many different types of brain breaks to choose from including yoga poses, breathing exercises, stress relievers, energizers, etc.  They even have a series of videos specifically designed to use during indoor recess which is very handy this time of year!  GoNoodle is great for students but can also be used during staff meetings, professional development, or anytime you have groups of people sitting for long periods of time.  Go to their website and create a free account to get started.