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Where's Your State with RTI and Learning Disabilities?

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If you live or teach in Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa or West Virginia, your state is required to use response to research-based intervention to determine if a child has a learning disability, as opposed to using the "severe-discrepancy" model based on IQ tests.

This is according to a new survey (pdf) recently released by Project Forum, a federally-funded research organization under the umbrella of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. It's the most up-to-date report I've seen that attempts to drill down into state policy on RTI.

Now, buckle in for some background...

Schools that use response to intervention (also called response to instruction) models identify students who are at risk of poor educational outcomes. Teachers use evidence-based instruction (or "interventions") with these students to try to raise their achievement to that of their peers, while closely monitoring the students' progress.If a student does not respond to interventions, he or she may be eligible for special education services.

(A detailed primer on RTI can be found from several sources: I like the RTI Action Network.)

Another method for figuring out if a child has a learning disability is referred to as the "severe discrepancy" or "ability-achievement" model. In that model, if a student started lagging academically, she was given an IQ test. A learning disability could be diagnosed if there was a difference between the results of IQ test and the student's actual achievement.

RTI proponents say that special education law was never supposed to identify children for special education who may just be suffering from poor instruction. RTI attempts to rule out bad teaching as a cause for a child's academic problems. Candace Cortiella of the Advocacy Institute, a good source who has come up on the blog before, has a nice outline of the history of RTI, severe discrepancy, and the pros and cons of each here.

In the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal government gave a boost to RTI, saying that districts don't have to use the severe-discrepancy model if they don't want to and that they may use RTI if they choose. States started adjusting their policies to match the attention focused on this method.

According to Project Forum, the vast majority of states are hedging their bets: 26 allow school districts to use the severe-discrepancy or the RTI identification models. Ten states allow RTI, severe-discrepancy or some other research-based method.

Seven states are developing their regulations but had not taken final action. And some jurisdictions didn't respond -- what's going on, Arizona, District of Columbia, and all you territories?

If you haven't taken a look at the other reports on the Project Forum website, please do. Though they are written for people in the special education field, the language is very accessible and the topics are on-point.

(Thanks to the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network for the graphic)

1 Comment

If the revisions in IDEA call for the education system in the United States to examine current practices regarding the identification of students with learning disabilities, how can there be so much variability between states in terms of getting on board? Clearly, just by looking at the numbers it is obvious that there is some merit to the thought that some students may just need more appropriate instructional methods rather than specialized education. By the same token, there are students who fail repeatedly in our schools because they require something more or different but do not qualify for services. Are they truly learning disabled because they process more slowly or have linguistic deficits? At what point do we move away from labeling students in order to provide effective instruction and move toward teaching and inspiring students to learn regardless of their various learning abilities or styles of knowledge acquistion. The sooner this country begins to recognize, as a whole, our changing demographics, and the growing breadth of scholastic information teachers are expected to secure for all their students, the sooner we can all embrace responding to the needs of each child. Teachers and students need support for this to happen. We may have decided to call it RTI or SRBI (scientifically research-based instruction)but the reality is there is a growing need to look at how we can truly reach each child as our country continues to evolve and become more culturally rich and varied. I think RTI is a great palce to start, but let's not go there halfway. If we are ready to start looking at each student individually in order to respond with the right instruction or intervention, let's not stop at possible learning disabilities, let's hope we can open our minds to all the many other types of learners we have in our classrooms and begin to think outside the box about teaching each and every one of them. They are all our students.

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