What Is Response To Intervention?

Questions have arisen in the educational, professional and parent communities regarding “Response to Intervention” (RTI). It is the intent of this article to clarify and provide basic information about RTI to answer such questions as: What is RTI? How is it implemented in public schools? How is RTI relevant to learning disabled children?

It is extremely important that those who are interested in the field of learning disabilities have basic knowledge about RTI. Numerous professional publications have been authored in the last few years that are related to RTI and as it pertains to special education and specifically serving the needs of struggling learners (who may have specific learning disabilities and / or “learn differently”).

It is no secret that there have been significant concerns about the effectiveness of special education programs in public schools for many years. One important publication: Rethinking Special Education for a New Century includes a chapter titled Rethinking Learning Disabilities authored by Lyon, Shaywitz, Torgeson and other nationally prominent researchers (Publisher: Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, 2001). This publication /chapter title may best describe the thoughts of many in regard to special education. While public schools may be well-intentioned and want to serve struggling learners, the lack of a consistent implementation of effective, research-based practices, present lack of appropriately trained and/or credentialed teachers / specialists, coupled with the ever-present lack of program funding in public schools, has resulted in inadequate service and outcomes for many special education identified students.

In the past, special education support for students with learning disabilities has often been delayed by a practice that has commonly come to be known as “wait to fail”. California Department of Education (CDE) regulations have required public schools to largely base identification for Specific Learning Disability (SLD) on a “severe discrepancy” between a student’s measured intellectual ability and his / her standardized achievement test scores. For many struggling learners of “normal” intelligence, this “severe discrepancy” could not be documented until the third or fourth grade (or later); thus, services were delayed until the young child had “failed” for several years and become a “discouraged learner”. The educational and life-success as well as personal adjustment outcome for many of these late-identified special education students has been discouraging, not only for these students and their families, but for society as a whole.

Just prior to, during and after the re-authorization of IDEA (IDEIA 2004 – federal special education regulations), much public and professional debate has occurred regarding how to best educate “high risk” learners. Out of this debate, a professional consensus has developed that supports the implementation of what has come to be known as Response to Intervention or RTI. The RTI philosophy and practice is based on the implementation of effective early intervention strategies in the general education classroom rather than the “wait to fail for special education support” model

A non-inclusive list of basic RTI concepts regarding educating struggling learners follows:

  • Public schools must provide a unified educational system for all children at risk of academic failure. For example, children with learning disabilities are general education students first, and responsibility for their education is a shared responsibility between regular and special education.
  • All children with “learning problems” should have effective intervention, whether they are “special education – identified” or not.
  • Early intervention is likely to prevent the development of more severe academic delays that eventually lead to placement in special education programs “for life”.
  • General education teachers should be trained to implement research-based screening assessments to identify students who require early intervention.
  • General and special educators should be trained to team together to meet the needs of struggling learners, regardless of special education identification or classroom placement.
  • Interventions for struggling learners must be research-based in terms of documentation of effectiveness.
  • Educators must implement interventions with “fidelity” (e.g., interventions must be accurately implemented in accordance with the recommended research model.)
  • There must be administrative support and follow-up with general education teachers to insure that RTI is being implemented effectively and that student positive “Response to Intervention” is the outcome.

It can readily be seen that RTI, and its implementation, is a very complex process. Presently, most Orange County public school districts are in process of training of staff, beginning implementation of RTI “model programs” at school sites and the monitoring of assessment intervention student response.

Guidelines for Parents: As always, parents are children’s “first teachers” and must be active participants in their child’s education. Here are some guidelines for parents in regard to RTI and its implementation in public schools:

  • If your child is a struggling learner, ask for a conference with your child’s teachers to discuss your concern and ask to review the teacher’s in-class assessment of your child.
  • A parent, or school staff, may initiate a meeting to discuss a student’s needs. This team may be called a Student Support Team (or SST) and parents are integral members of this team.
  • At this meeting, it is important that school staff provide information and “hard data” about your child’s status as a learner. Your child’s teacher should be able to articulate how he/she has assessed your child’s learning progress and what are areas of need that should be “targeted” to advance your child’s education.
  • A specific intervention plan should be put into place to address your child’s specific needs. This plan should provide specific interventions (e.g., an intervention plan that is limited to “watch” or “monitor progress” or “child will do homework” is not a meaningful plan). Parents should ask for a copy of the intervention plan / outcome statement from the SST meeting.
  • Regular dates for review of this plan should be in place to accurately determine if your child is “responding to intervention”. If your child is not “responding to intervention” your child’s intervention should be intensified in terms of duration, intensity or program implementation. Special education assessment and identification may be an outcome at this stage of the RTI process.
  • Parents retain the legal right to request special education assessment from public school staff at any time. It is important to note that, at this time, “eligibility” under the category of “learning disability” (SLD) includes the “severe discrepancy” component described earlier in this article. If parents wish to pursue a public school special education assessment, the request for such an assessment should be put in writing, signed and dated and mailed to the school district Director of Special Education. School districts are required to respond to the parent request within fourteen days of its receipt.

Remember: A core purpose of RTI is for all students to receive a quality education in general and/or special education. RTI guidelines require consistent and regular assessment and modification of a student’s educational program.

Author’s note: The implementation of RTI has been subject to much professional debate, writing and discussion. This article is by no means an exhaustive explanation of RTI. It is hoped that this article will provide basic, practical knowledge about current educational thought and practice and stimulate discussion among those interested in serving learning disabled students. (March 17, 2007)

Linda Herrick is a Licensed Educational Psychologist in private practice in Orange County. She serves families with children between the ages of 18 mos – 14 yrs old. Her professional interests are: early intervention practices, specialized child assessments and parent-professional collaboration. Contact information: (714) 849-9123 or LHerrick@socal.rr.com

Linda Herrick, M.S., L.E.P. Licensed Educational Psychologist, member OCLDA
Published in the Orange County LDA Newsletter, Vol 45, No. 2
March/April, 2007

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