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RTI Can't Delay Special Education Evaluations, Feds Say

The federal Office of Special Education Programs released a memo earlier this month reminding states that a response-to-intervention process cannot delay the initial evaluation for special education services of a child suspected of having a disability.

The memo, dated Jan. 21, was posted on the website of the federally-funded National Center for Response to Intervention last week.

Response to intervention is an educational framework based on universal screening of all students, then increasingly targeted and intensive lessons, or "interventions," to students based on identified areas of weakness. Students are then monitored closely for their response to those interventions.

Federal regulations require that states allow RTI to be used as part of the criteria for determining if students have a specific learning disability. In this memo, the feds are reiterating that RTI can be part of a comprehensive evaluation process for a student, but cannot be the entire process in itself. The January memo references an earlier letter to Lehigh University professor Perry A. Zirkel, which states, "An RTI process does not replace the need for a comprehensive evaluation, and the results of an RTI process may be one component of the information reviewed as part of the evaluation procedures required" under federal policy.

The January memo also refers to other "informal guidance" letters from the department, which you can search for easily at this link.

Using an RTI process as a method of identifying children for learning disabilities has already been protested by some parents, as these 2007 articles in The Washington Post and the The Wall Street Journal show.

But I can also see the challenge for states and districts. States must permit the use of response to intervention as part of an evaluation process, and a response to intervention requires some time, if only to see if the intensive lessons are actually working for a struggling student. But districts also cannot delay evaluation, or they risk a due process hearing. What do readers think: Will this guidance make the process easier to navigate for parents as well as schools and states?

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