Over the last 15 years, the identification of and pedagogical support for children with problems in learning have been changing towards a step-like process (where the level of support increases and becomes more individualised) in several countries, thus counteracting the ‘wait-and-fail syndrome’ of identifying children with learning difficulties. For instance, in Finland, there is a three-tiered model for organising educational support in kindergartens and basic education (grades 1–9): general, intensified and special support (Finnish National Board of Education [FNBE], 2010), which shares some similarities with the response-to-intervention (RtI) approach used in the United States (Lembke et al., 2012). The focus of the three-tiered model is on providing support as early as possible in order to prevent the emergence or intensification of difficulties (FNBE, 2010). The child can move between the three tiers according to the need for support (FNBE, 2010).
In general support (Tier 1), the focus is on providing quality core instruction and identifying the potential learning problems of all children. Researchers have suggested that with Tier 1 instruction, the needs of around 80% of children can be met (Batsche et al., as cited in Peterson, Prasse, Shinn, & Swerdlik, 2007). The quality of instruction can be partly ensured by using core curricular programmes, which have been shown to improve performance, with integrity (Lembke et al., 2012). At Tier 1, children’s performance in mathematics should be assessed on a regular basis, using screening measures in order to identify those children who perform less well compared to the expected age performance level. For those children who have been identified with low levels of performance, further assessments should be conducted in order to specify in greater detail the areas of mathematics where there are difficulties.
If the child does not respond sufficiently to Tier 1 instruction, Tier 2 support should be provided (usually comprising around 15% of children). The RtI model emphasises that at Tier 2, supplemental intervention programmes that have shown evidence of improving learning should be used with integrity. In Finland, part-time special education plays a significant role in supporting children who need intensified (Tier 2) mathematics instruction (FNBE, 2010). This instruction is typically organised as pull-out lessons during mathematics lessons or in the form of co-teaching where a special education teacher works together with the teacher in the classroom. In contrast to the RtI model (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2001), no specific guidelines about the length or intensity of Tier 2 instruction is given in the Finnish model.
If the child does not respond to the instruction at Tier 2 and performs poorly in subsequent assessments, a more extensive pedagogical assessment of the child’s progress in learning should be conducted. For instance, in Finland, based on this information, an official decision concerning special support (Tier 3 instruction, usually comprising around 5% of students) can be made by the school administrator (e.g. the head master). Accordingly, an individual education plan or IEP (i.e. a written plan relating to the child’s learning and covering educational content, pedagogical methods and other necessary support services) is drawn up for the child (FNBE, 2010). In the case of mathematics, upon receiving special support (Tier 3), the child studies in accordance with an individualised syllabus in mathematics (instead of the general syllabus), and the child’s performance is assessed on the basis of the individual objectives set out in the IEP. Compared to Tier 2 instruction, Tier 3 instruction is more intensive and is targeted in greater depth at the individual needs of the child.
An adequate or inadequate response to intervention serves as a decision-making tool in guiding further actions in the three-tiered model of support, such as providing more intensive instruction (Gresham, 2007). According to the literature, there does not seem to be an exact method for determining what constitutes an adequate response to intervention (Gresham, 2007). Regarding the area of academic performance, Fuchs (2003) has proposed two approaches for determining the child’s response to intervention: final status performance and growth models.
- Final statusrefers to the performance of the child at the end of the intervention based on a normative or criterion-referenced benchmark. The response to intervention based on a final status performance may be considered adequate if the child performs in the normative range on a norm-referenced measure of mathematics (e.g. above the 25thpercentile) or exceeds the established benchmark criteria for a particular mathematics skill (e.g. a first grader calculates 20 addition facts in two minutes).
- Growth model.The child can make excellent progress without necessarily achieving the final normative or benchmark criterion (Fuchs, 2003). Therefore, the child’s progress (i.e. growth) should also be considered by comparing his or her performance before and after the intervention.
According to Fuchs and Fuchs (as cited in Fuchs, 2003), in the RtI model, only the group of children manifesting severe discrepancies from their peers, both in terms of growth and level (i.e. dual discrepancy), would be considered as having a mathematics learning disability. In Finland, the three-tiered model of support is used only for educational purposes. In order to receive pedagogical support in school, no diagnosis of mathematical learning disability (i.e. mathematical disorder based on ICD-10, World Health Organization, 2010) is needed.
- Finnish National Board of Education. (2010). Amendments and additions to the National Core Curriculum for Basic Education.Retrieved from http://www.oph.fi/download/132551_amendments_and_additions_to_national_core_curriculum_basic_education.pdf (accessed 6 June 2016).
- Fuchs, D. & Fuchs, L. S. (2001). Responsiveness-to-intervention: A blueprint for practitioners, policymakers, and parent. Teaching Exceptional Children, 38(1), 57–61.
- Fuchs, L. S. (2003). Assessing intervention responsiveness: Conceptual and technical issues. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 18(3), 172–186.
- Lembke, E. S., Hampton, D., & Beyers, S. J. (2012). Response to intervention in mathematics: Critical elements. Psychology in Schools, 49(3), 257–272. doi:10.1002/pits.21596
- Peterson, D. W., Prasse, D. P., Shinn, M. R., & Swerdlik, M. E. (2007). The Illinois flexible service delivery model: A problem-solving model initiative. In S. R. Jimerson, M. K. Burns, & A. M. Van Der Heyden (Eds.), Handbook of response to interventions. The science and practice of assessment and intervention(pp. 300–318). New York, NY: Springer.
- Gresham, F. M. (2007). Evolution of the response-to-intervention concept: Empirical foundations and recent developments. In S. R. Jimerson, M. K. Burns, & A. M. Van Der Heyden (Eds.), Handbook of response to interventions. The science and practice of assessment and intervention(pp. 10–24). New York, NY: Springer.
- World Health Organization. (2010). International statistical classification of diseases and related health problems 10th revision. Retrieved from http://apps.who.int/classifications/icd10/browse/2010/en (accessed 6 June 2016).