Tag Archive for 'RTI'

RTI can’t stop parents from requesting evaluations

Given the continuing interest in response to instruction (or intervention), it’s important to remember that parents can still request that their child be evaluated for special education. Thanks to organizations such as the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), parents can be well-informed about how and why to pursue this avenue when they have a child who needs help. Just because a school is using an RTI process, that’s not sufficient reason to delay an eligibility evaluation. The RTI data may be a part of the evidence in determining eligibility, but shouldn’t be the sole criterion.

I’m no lawyer so this is not legal advice, but as I understand it, schools cannot use RTI to stand in the way of a parent’s request. LDA published a helpful position paper on this matter in 2013, and it is available for free.

Is RTI reducing identification of LD?

According to Jennifer Radcliffe’s story for the Houston (TX) Chronicle, “Experts can’t explain drop in state’s special education numbers,” students with disabilities—and, especially, students with Learning Disabilities—

… seem to be disappearing in Texas.

The Lone Star State diagnosed just 8.8 percent of its public school students as having special needs in 2011, down from 12 percent in 2000. Texas now has the lowest percentage of special education students in the nation – a full 4 percentage points below the U.S. average. Urban giants like the Houston and Dallas school districts identify even fewer children at 7.9 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively.

Ms. Radcliffe describes Texas as an atypical state in the distribution of states on the basis of percentages of students identified as having disabilities. And she explains that people do not have adequate explanations for the observed declines. She asks experts for explanations. Under the heading “National rates steady,” she focuses on Learning Disabilities.

The largest category in special education is children with a “specific learning disability.” In Texas, that category peaked in 1999 at 266,934 children, but fell to 172,148 by 2011, according to Texas Education Agency data. Nationally, the percentage of 3- to 21-year-old students with learning disabilities dropped from 6.1 percent in 2000 to 4.9 percent in 2010, according to the latest federal data.

Overall, national special education rates remained steady at 13 percent in that same span.

That data has [sic] prompted different interpretations.

“It’s very encouraging,” said Jack Fletcher, a University of Houston professor who heads the Texas Center for Learning Disabilities. “I don’t think people fully understand why, but it does seem to coincide with the state and federal initiatives for beginning reading instruction.”

Teachers are putting forth a greater effort to provide all young children with solid reading instruction and intense intervention, preventing the need for many to be referred to special education, Fletcher said.

Later in her coverage, Ms. Radcliffe interviews Gene Lenz, director of federal and state education policy for the Texas Education Agency, who refers to response to intervention (or instruction; RTI) as a way of avoiding “over-diagnosing” students. She quotes Mr. Lenz as saying, “Districts are taking care to make sure [every effort is made to refer students only after they fail to respond to intervention is] 100 percent true before they place a label on a child.”

These and similar discussions about the relationships between RTI and identification of students as having LD got me to thinking about the topic anew. Of course, alert readers recognize that the topic’s been on the front element a few times in the past (e.g., Does RtI reduce numbers of children in special education? 25 Feb 2010). There are at least a couple of ways to look at these discussions about the relationships between RTI and identification rates.

(1) One might start by looking at RTI as an independent variable. If (musing) RTI were a faithfully implemented approach to managing instructional programming (good screening, powerfully tiers of instruction, careful monitoring, flexible regrouping, strong administrative support, and so forth), what outcomes would one reasonably expect it to affect? Let’s make a list (and here I invite readers to expand my tentative list):

  1. Higher achievement, especially at the lower tail of the distribution;
  2. Fewer disciplinary referrals;
  3. Fewer absences;
  4. Fewer tardies;
  5. Higher self-concept outcomes;
  6. Fewer referrals for special ed;
  7. Fewer placements in special ed;
  8. [your dependent variable goes here…].

(2) Alternatively, if one had reduced identification rates, one would have to examine myriad possible causes for that reduction. Why might the percentage of students with, let’s say, SLD, have declined? Let’s make a list (and here, again, I invite readers to expand my tentative list):

  1. Teachers, those imperfect tests, have gotten the message that referring kids is bad;
  2. Musical diagnoses: Percentage of kids with autism (Shattuck, 2006) or ADHD has increased;
  3. RTI has been effective;
  4. Political systems have changed, leading to new biases (Wiley & Siperstein, 2011);
  5. The measurement systems themselves have changed;
  6. [your independent variable goes here…].

So, rather than looking at the situation with the preconception that RTI leads to reduced identification (i.e., RTI ==> lower SLD identification), I’m thinking we ought to be reflective about this issue. In one case, as illustrated in the first image, one is essentially looking at the matter from point of view of the independent variable, sort of looking forward in time. In the other case, one is looking from the effect, looking backward in time (see the second image).

I’d like to see the effects of RTI on these other dependent variables. Some clever data analysts ought to be able to conduct a quasi-regression discontinuity design on a grand scale to assess the effects of RTI in Florida, Texas, or elsewhere, no? Wouldn’t some of these outcomes be just as (or even more likely) to show the benefits of RTI than special education identification, which identifications are made by committees and other hard-to-model factors?

And, I’d like to see some stellar statistical models of variations in identification. In addition, to what extent is what’s being seen in prevalence today different from what was seen when Hallahan and colleagues reported about variation in rates of identification some years ago. Are the differences within the same ranges? Could any changes be essentially normal variation?


Shattuck, P. T. (2006). The contribution of diagnostic substitution to the growing administrative prevalence of autism in US special education. Pediatrics, 117, 1028-1037 doi: 10.1542/peds.2005-1516.

Wiley, A., & Siperstein, G. (2011). Seeing red, feeling blue: The impact of state political leaning on state identification rates for emotional disturbance. Behavioral Disorders, 36, 195-207.

Fletcher paper about identifying LD

The RTI Action Network published a paper by Jack Fletcher about identification of Learning Disabilities in the context of response to instruction (or intervention; RTI). Professor Fletcher, who has been a leading proponent of RTI since the 1990s, makes a strong case for the importance of examining instruction as a part of determining eligibility for LD services.
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Does RtI reduce numbers of children in special education?

In an article slated to appear in Remedial and Special Education, Jeanne Wanzek and Sharon Vaughn reported that widely popular three-tiered approach to addressing did not significantly reduce the number and percentage of students identified for special education across seven elementary schools. Their study, which is limited to the response to instruction or intervention in the primary and early elementary grades and focused primarily on academic intervention, revealed no significant reduction in identification of children as having Learning Disabilities, even though this group would be the most likely to benefit from such prevention efforts. Similarly, there were no differences in the proportion of students identified for special education according to ethnic background.
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Poll 2 on RtI and LD

Here’s an announcement of the second in the series of polls to assess readers’ perspectives on response to intervention or response to instruction (RtI) and Learning Disabilities. RtI (which was expressly permitted in the US Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), is commonly considered to have multiple tiers of intensity with careful monitoring of students’ progress informing decisions about providing increasingly more intensive services. The mechanisms of RtI are the focus of this poll. Although they are being adopted broadly, the only RtI models that have been studied closely are in early literacy, so I’m limiting this discussion to those efforts.
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Poll 1 on RtI and LD

With this post, I’m beginning a series of polls to assess readers’ perspectives on response to intervention or response to instruction (RtI) and Learning Disabilities. As most people concerned with LD know, RtI was expressly permitted in the most recent set of regulations under the US law, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Although most special educators agree at least in part with RtI, one of the most controversial issues is whether implementing RtI will reduce the incidence of LD. That’s the topic of this poll.

[poll id=”3″]

By the way, the Division for Learning Disabilities published a good booklet providing basic background about RtI. It is written in practitioner-friendly language and can be read in only a few minutes. Visit the products section of TeachingLD.org to learn more about it. (Yes, I contributed to the booklet, but I don’t make any royalties from it.)

By the way (2), over on Teach Effectively there are a set of slides from presentations about RTI. These presentations were delivered by prominent special educators at the 2007 meeting of the Council for Exceptional Children.

Please note that this poll should not be consider scientific evidence. Do not construe the results of any of these polls as representative of systematic polls conducted by reputable polling organizations. These results simply reflect the opinion of the people who responded to the question. The sample of people who respond is selective, not randomly drawn from a defined population.

AL local RtI coverage

Under the headline, “Schools turn to intervention: Program aims to prevent kids from being rushed into special education,” Lisa Singleton-Rickman of the Times Daily (of northwestern Alabama, US) reported about local schools’ use of response-to-intervention procedures.

School districts across the country are adopting early intervention programs in hopes of steering some children away from expensive special education classes.

While it’s a cost savings to the system, the payoff comes mainly for the student who, through intervention from the school, won’t be among those identified as in need of special education.

The adoption of such programs, known as Response to Intervention, is catching on across the country as school districts are trying to cut down on over-identification – too many children being shunted off to special education who don’t need to be there. This year, there were 84,772 special education students in Alabama schools. The cost to educate a student through a special education program can be twice as much as a general education student, up to $12,000 a year.

Continue reading ‘AL local RtI coverage’

LD regs and RtI

The New York Times lead for its news story about the release of regulations for implementing the US Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) featured response to intervention or instruction (RtI). Although the “regs” apply to the entire law, the Times story by Diana Jean Schemo emphasized the permission that the regs grant to states on identifying students with Learning Disabilities.

For more than 25 years, federal law had required that schools nationwide identify children as learning disabled by comparing their scores on intelligence tests with their academic achievement. This meant that many students had to wait until third or fourth grade to get the special education help they needed.

In regulations issued today after changes to the law, the federal Education Department said states could not require school districts to rely on that method, allowing districts to find other ways to determine which children are eligible for extra help.

The RtI concept, which has mostly focused on early reading achievement (hence the connection to Learning Disabilities; most students who are identified as having Learning Disabilities have problems in reading, i.e., “dyslexia”) requires that schools employ powerful, evidence-based instructional procedures in general education classrooms and monitor students’ academic progress regularly and systematically. For students who are not progressing rapidly enough, the schools shoudl provide supplement that instruction with at least one level or tier of supplemental instruction incorporating procedures and methods that are likely to overcome the problems; typical recommendations are additional time devoted to reading instruction, instruction in smaller groups, use of additional specialized materials, and so forth. Schools should continue to monitor students’ progress during tier two or three instruction, providing additional supplements or removing them depending on individual learners’ outcomes. Formal determination of eligibility for special education services because of Learning Disabilities would be undertaken only when a child continued to experience difficulties after receiving the first tiers of evidence-based instruction.

Those who advocate employing RtI models, which are close to the underlying recommendations from the Reading First part of the No Child Left Behind legislation, hope that infusing effective early instructional practices into general education classrooms and systematically monitoring progress will make it possible to catch and correct—prevent—reading problems. To the extent that such RtI efforts are successful, there should be reduced financial costs for schools and personal costs for children and their families.

I know of no one among my colleagues in special education who hopes that RtI (and Reading First) efforts fail. It will be wonderful for those students who benefit by having their problems addressed early and using the most effective methods available. One important consequence for those of us who study Learning Disabilities will be that we will have a purer group of children identified by the schools as having Learning Disabilities; as it stands now, we have a group that is a combination of instructional casualties (those whose problems stem from dysteachia) and students with more fundamental problems (disabilities).

However, I harbor little hope that RtI and Reading First will eliminate the achivement problems that charcterize Learning Disabilities. Among the reasons (this is not an exhaustive list):

  1. Not all students with Learning Disabilities have reading problems; some have reading, writing, and arithmetic problems or other unique combinations of those (and other problems). Our understanding of instructional procedures at tiers 1, 2, and 3 is not as highly developed in these other areas as in the reading aspect of literacy. Estimates vary, but it’s probably safe to say that at least 25% of children with Learning Disabilities have difficulties with arithmetic and mathematics; given that ~5% of children are currently identified as having Learning Disabilities in the US, that amounts to > 1% of children who will still need Learning Disabilities Services.
  2. Some children still do not learn to read, even when experts in reading who have access to tremendous resources provide what they consider optimal literacy instruction—even when we throw all we have in reading teaching at them—. Rollanda O’Connor and Joe Torgesen (among others prominent researchers) have separately verified that we can anticipate a percentage of “treatment resistors.” The percentage of students who fall into this category is not known precisely, but even if it is 2-4% of the bottom quarter of readers, a conservative estimate, that amounts to as many as 1% of the students.
  3. The task of getting schools and teachers to employ the most effective instructional practices is a daunting one. Even when there is no resistence to the methods that work the best (and there is resistence among some in education to employing those methods), there are mistakes in implementation. Deviations from optimal RtI models (slips in fidelity) are inevitable and will result in deviations from optimal outcomes. If a 10% deviation in fidelity results in only a 1% slip in outcome, that 1% is still going to be a lot of children.

So hip-hip-hooray for RtI, but don’t expect Learning Disabilities to disappear. And, while we’re at it, let’s not let this issue overshadow the provision of appropriate needs of children with disabilities. RtI may be the lead for the story in the New York Times, but there is much more to regs than RtI (fair reporting on my part: The Times article does refer to the contentious matter of eliminating short-term objectives) and there is much more to special education than the methods for determining eligibility of students with Learning Disabilities.

Link to Ms. Schemo’s story. Link to the US Department of Education press release about the regs. Link (2.2 MB PDF) to the preliminary version of the regs (full version due in the Federal Register later this month).