IDEA 04 offers states and localities the option of using “a process that determines if the child responds to scientific, research-based intervention as part of the evaluation process…,” but it does not require that states or districts use Responsiveness-to-Intervention, often shortened to RTI. Although RTI is similar to the old pre-referral or problem-solving model first suggested by Dr. James Chalfant in the mid-70’s as Teacher Assistance Teams (TAT), parents have begun to hear a lot about RTI as a “new” way to help students with learning disabilities.
What is RTI?
Although there is no single RTI model, the many variations that are emerging use a two- to five-tiered model in the primary grades. The goal is early intervention for students having difficulty learning, so that achievement is improved for all students. Each tier provides increasingly individualized instruction, continuous monitoring of progress, and criteria for changing intervention and/or tier through a team decision-making process. In general, three tiers would include:
- Tier 1 – high quality instruction and behavioral supports are provided in general education classrooms.
- Tier 2 – more specialized instruction in a smaller group is provided when a student’s progress and performance fall behind that of their classmates, schoolmates, or district.
- Tier 3 – more individualized intervention is provided by special education personnel if referral and evaluation for special education determines eligibility for services.
Why should parents get involved now?
As states (SEAs) and districts (LEAs) begin exploring whether an RTI approach will be used, and if so, what form it will take, decisions will be made that affect students with learning disabilities. Unless parents become involved in the decisions of states and localities by asking questions and demanding clear answers, those decisions will be made without parent input. These questions include:
- What components of RTI will be used?
- When and how will parents participate?
- What instruction will be provided and by whom?
- What criteria will determine changes for a student?
- Who will be on decision-making teams?
- When and how will specific learning disabilities (SLD) identification and eligibility be determined?
What components of RTI will your state/district implement?
While IDEA encourages the use of a process that documents how successfully a child responds to scientific, research-based interventions as part of the evaluation for SLD identification, there are many choices that SEAs and LEAs can make in developing an RTI approach. Some of the most commonly recognized components that should be part of any RTI process include:
- An early screening that is universal, or given to all children.
- Two to five stages or tiers that reflect instruction that increases in intensity, specialization and individualization.
- Requirements for parent/family notification and involvement when difficulties are initially noted and continuing until the student achieves age-appropriate academic progress or when evaluation for identification occurs.
- Scientific, evidence-based screening, instruction, monitoring and evaluation measures whenever possible.
- General and specialized teachers that can provide effective instruction needed by each child.
- Methods of regularly monitoring student progress that have been shown to be valid and reliable.
- A team decision-making process that includes parent participation and approval.
- Requirements that an evaluation for identification/eligibility include multiple measures.
The way in which these and additional components are implemented should not lead to delay in serving students or to the misidentification of students. Thus, an RTI intended to serve students with SLD should recognize that intra-individual differences are typical and difficulties may occur in language arts areas other than basic reading, in academic areas such as mathematics or science, and/or in organizational, social, and attentional skills. However, neither lack of age-expected progress in basic reading skills nor academic underachievement alone is sufficient to identify SLD.
When and how will parents participate?
Parents and families must be meaningfully involved in RTI development, beginning with planning and continuing as implementation occurs at SEA and LEA levels, including participation in the activities of federally mandated, state and local Special Education Advisory Panels. As an RTI approach is shaped, procedures must guarantee that parents/families will be notified of and involved when student difficulties are first noted, and continued as team-decisions; adjustments in instruction; changes in educational, related service, or support personnel occur; and evaluation for identification are initiated. Similarly, parents must ensure that schools are required to provide written information on a regular basis about their child’s progress or lack of it. Families should not be expected to initiate requests for such information. Just as IDEA empowers parents to initiate an evaluation, provisions should be included that allow a parent to initiate an RTI team meeting to consider tier or instruction/intervention changes.
What instruction will be provided and by whom?
A crucial, but not unique, concern of RTI, is the quality of instruction. RTI broadens the focus of instructional effectiveness to include both general and special educators. As an RTI approach is developed, considering availability of resources will be important, but ensuring that teachers possess the needed instructional skills is also vital. More specifically, any RTI approach must make certain that:
- A range of instructional approaches and interventions are available to students.
- High quality general education instruction is supported by continuing professional development.
- High quality specialized intervention is supported by continuing professional development.
- The time, space, personnel and materials are available for short and long-term instruction.
- Supervision is provided to monitor the accuracy, or fidelity, of student instruction and intervention.
What criteria will determine changes for an individual student?
The availability of timely, purposeful, and data-driven changes to inform instruction, determine tier placement, and meet individual student needs are key concepts of RTI. As RTI approaches are developed, both the intended and unintended consequences need to be carefully reviewed so that:
- The measures used for progress monitoring are evidence-based, and shown to be valid and reliable.
- Responsibility for administration, recording, and regular review of monitoring data is clearly described.
- Decisions are made about whether student progress will be compared with classmates, schoolmates, or with other groups.
- Guidelines are in place to specify the length of time required or permitted in order to determine if instruction is effective.
- The criteria for change in tier level are clear and based on scientific evidence from similar populations.
- Guidelines for team consideration of objective, quantified data and/or subjective, professional judgment are in place.
- Timelines are established for calling a team meeting and implementing a change in instruction or in tier placement.
- Guidelines for change to a tier providing either more intensive or less intensive instruction are in place.
Who will be on decision-making teams?
Decision-making teams should be used in two different ways within an RTI approach. First, continuous progress monitoring data that meets established criteria for academic difficulty should trigger a team meeting to recommend changes in instruction and movement among tiers. Second, continued difficulty or initiation of parent or professional request for evaluation (under IDEA) should trigger team meetings consistent with IDEA. In either case, at least one team member should have expertise in learning disabilities based on professionally accepted standards and/or competencies, which mild/moderate certification may not ensure. In addition, a parent should be a required and respected participant in both team processes. Guidelines for including a general education teacher and appropriate related and support service professionals are also important.
How and when will SLD identification and eligibility be determined?
Within any RTI process, a key component for non-responders is the comprehensive evaluation that determines SLD identification and eligibility for services. Just as the early stages or tiers of RTI can offer high quality instruction and participation in the general education curriculum, the comprehensive multi-disciplinary evaluation offers non-responders more intensive and individualized instruction designed to meet identified needs of the child. As an SEA or LEA explores possibilities for implementation of any RTI approach, it is important to address the need for:
- Written materials that inform parents of their right to request, at any time, a special education evaluation, as guaranteed under IDEA.
- A formal process that ensures parent awareness of their right to refer their child at any time.
- Procedures that guide team use of RTI data in the identification/eligibility process.
- Procedures that ensure a comprehensive evaluation including data beyond RTI data.
- The requirement that measures of intra-individual differences are part of the comprehensive evaluation.
- The requirement that data from measures of cognitive factors be available to exclude students with mental retardation.
- The requirement that data from measures of ability and academic achievement be available to address underachievement that is unexpected.
What will be the activities of the State Special Education Advisory Panels?
IDEA has long mandated that every state have a Special Education Advisory group, as well as comparable groups at the local level. However, IDEA now places increased responsibility on these groups which are established for the “purpose of advising State special education staff regarding the education of eligible children with disabilities,” including students with disabilities who have been incarcerated as adults. While a majority of the members must be individuals with disabilities or parents of children with disabilities, other members can be from many other areas. Panel meetings must have a prior public agenda and be open to the public. Required activities of the panels include commenting publicly on proposed rules and regulations and reviewing final due process findings. In addition, the Panel advises the state on unmet needs; needed corrective actions; service coordination; and data to be and reported. Beyond these requirements, parents/families can encourage states to expand their required Panel activities to include some of the following that impact special education at both the local and state levels.
- Assisting in establishing annual state priorities.
- Developing an annual report.
- Involvement in developing the State Performance Plan (SPP).
- Including public comment as part of the Panel agenda.
- Participation in development of the A