By Maria Hammet
Photo: Michelle TeGrootenhuis
Two years ago the Merced Union High School District (MUHSD) adopted a program that aims to identify academic challenges among students early on and provide individualized support. Known as Response to Intervention (RtI), the approach has been gaining ground nationally since the early 2000’s.
In Spring We’Ced conducted an informal survey of 40 students at Merced High School to see whether they felt RtI was benefiting them. While district officials credit the program with a 5 percent rise in graduation rates, responses from students showed a more mixed reaction.
RtI is an extra 35-minute period of the school day that comes right before lunch. Schools shave a minute from each class period and other portions of the day to make the added time. Students with low GPAs are placed into a study hall with peer mentors, while students who are failing are placed into a study hall with a teacher.
For those students who aren’t struggling, the choice is to either take an extended lunch or an elective.
Roughly 40 percent of students We’Ced surveyed said RtI was a helpful way to get work done, while 35 percent described it as a “waste of time.” A quarter of students surveyed said RtI was effective only for students already motivated to take advantage of it and when quality mentors or teachers are available.
For students who don’t need RtI, there aren’t many choices for making use of the time. If elective classes are full or a student does not choose an extended lunch, they may be placed into a study hall period.
In other words, RtI appears to be working, but only for some. Students mostly benefiting from RtI are those with lower GPAs who are placed in study hall periods with peer tutors or teachers experienced in the subject areas they need help with. For those not failing classes, that extra 35 minutes is time not well spent.
As MUHSD continues to implement RtI, it should look to ensure that the program benefits all students. Those placed into a study hall should be paired with peers or teachers best suited to the areas students are struggling in. For higher performing students, schools should provide more opportunities to make meaningful use of the time.