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Response to Intervention and Diagnosing Learning Disabilities

I spent most of Wednesday at a leadership forum on response to intervention presented by the National Center for Learning Disabilities and the RTI Action Network, which is a program of the NCLD.

If my blog posts and articles can be considered an elementary-to-middle school introduction to RTI—an educational framework that provides intensive lessons to struggling learners—yesterday's all-day meeting was a graduate seminar. It featured experts in the field talking to each other about what RTI can do well, and where its effectiveness is not yet proven, and what schools and districts need to do to make the process effective for the largest group of kids.

One session of particular interest related to using response to intervention as a way to diagnose children with specific learning disabilities. Jack M. Fletcher, the principal investigator for the Texas Center for Learning Disabilities, argues in this paper that how a child performs in a RTI model can be part of diagnosing a child with a learning disability, but cannot be the sole method of doing so. Part of the conclusion reads:

The RTI framework is not an identification model for [learning disabilities], but it yields data relevant to identification, particularly in determining instructional response. .... Other disabilities and contextual factors that have an impact on achievement are also assessed as exclusionary criteria that explain inadequate instructional response and low achievement. A comprehensive evaluation is required to assess these factors.

As I mentioned, some panels tended toward the academic, and Fletcher's paper reflects the expectations of the audience he was writing for. However, anyone who is thinking about response to intervention and learning disabilities would gain from reading the paper.

It seems that the discussion around response to intervention is shifting from "what is RTI?" to "How can RTI be used most effectively and implemented successfully?" That conversation will be quite interesting to follow.

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