Response to Intervention (RtI) is assessment all children get, starting early, in order to determine if they need special assistance to address learning disabilities. It has been plugged as “research” or “scientifically-based” programming to identify problems in young children so they can avoid special education. Those descriptors were often used, sometimes unjustifiably so, with programs involving No Child Left Behind.
In 2004, IDEA quit making states use the discrepancy model described below. Instead, funding was provided to do RtI, even though the program was controversial and sometimes not given the appropriate resources or trained staff to accomplish the assessment and interventions.
Now, the National Center for Evaluation and Regional Assistance is reporting that in a study looking at RtI in schools that chose to do the program, for the last 3 or more years, first graders did worse than those who did not go through RtI. The study looked at students marginally below grade level not those with more severe academic difficulties.
In a post I did awhile back for Living in Dialogue, I described the difference between RTI and the discrepancy model.
The discrepancy model compares a student’s IQ test score (e.g. the WISC-IV) with achievement scores (e.g., Woodcock-Johnson Achievement Test). A learning disability is thought to exist if the student’s IQ scores are at least two standard deviations (30 points) higher than scores on the achievement test. This indicates a significant discrepancy between the two tests. Consideration of the student’s work in the classroom is also given. All of this usually comes about when the teacher, and/or parent, observes a student experiencing difficulty in school and requests school psychological testing.
RTI uses what’s called a multi-tiered approach to identify students. All students are screened in a serious effort to keep students from special education classes. School districts might use different kinds of formats with RTI, and parents are supposed to be able to request a formal evaluation at any point in the program. Students remain in each tier for a specified amount of time.
Tier 1: Involves regular classroom instruction, repeated screening, and group interventions. Students who do well here go back to doing all regular classwork.
Tier 2: Students, who do not do well in Tier 1, get interventions and repeated screening with small group instruction. This is mostly in reading and math for younger children. Students still get regular class work along with the interventions.
Tier 3: Students get this instruction if they don’t do well in Tier 2. It is more individualized and if they don’t do well at this level they are referred to special education using the information gathered in Tiers 1, 2, 3.
It used to be that teachers, or parents, were in charge of initially noticing whether a student needed help. This means teachers should be prepared in college to spot learning difficulties, and a learning disability specialist should be stationed at the school working either in a resource class, or indirectly/directly, with student/s needing assistance in the regular classroom.
If parents of a young child in kindergarten or the teacher notice a child faltering developmentally they should then ask for an school psychological evaluation. I think for very young children learning disabilities especially show up with motor coordination and/or speech and language issues.
RtI has been criticized because all children are put through much assessment assuming learning disabilities are out there and need to be found. It assumes the worst in what a student knows and understands. Many students are unnecessarily tested.
Diagnosing learning disabilities early is controversial because children learn at different rates. Young children might be diagnosed as having learning disabilities when they are developing a little slower–but still normally. It is important to find learning problems early so they can be addressed, but it’s tricky business when children are young.
Smaller class sizes and well-prepared teachers would seem to be better to identify problems contrary to so much testing. Good teachers can spot problems through observation.
Also, with RtI there is concern that older children, who actually have learning disabilities, might be overlooked later.
What about returning to the discrepancy model? Most of us are well aware that RtI has been one of the reasons why we see a disintegration of special education programming. For some parents, that is a good thing, but other parents want services! Why can’t both parents be appeased through the Individual Educational Plan?
With these new questions being raised about whether the RtI interventions work, it seems time to pause and reevaluate the discrepancy model. There is also a need for better, more complete special education services in schools, and more intense College of Education preparation for both regular and special education future teachers.