RTI and LD Identification
This Talk has now concluded.
Please scroll down to see the experts' answers to your questions.RTI models hold the promise of advancing identification of and intervention for learning disabilities by linking these two domains. Join Dawn Miller and Erin Lolich during our next RTI Talk as they answer your questions about the use of RTI for identifying specific learning disabilities. They will also offer tips based on lessons learned working with local schools on how RTI can ensure accurate and timely LD identification.
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#2. What is the rationale for utilizing the RtI process in situations where the suspected disability is not in the area of reading?
#3. When a students have been identified and recieved Tier II interventions(academic intervention services) for over three successive years without significant improvement, what is the next course of action in the process?
My rationale for using the RTI process in areas other than reading is that it’s the most efficient, effective, non-biased process we have to date. There are plenty of research-based tools to support this process in math and I’m hopeful that written language will follow suit. Three years?!? That sounds like a potential Child Find violation and raises a number of questions for me. How low is the students’ achievement, how slow is the progress, and how does that compare to the intensity of the intervention? What are the district’s decision rules for moving a student through the intervention process and to referral? Is the intervention matched to instructional need and implemented with fidelity? How often is progress monitored and a team convened to review the results? Are there mitigating factors such as frequent absences, high mobility, or language development that need to be considered? The answers to these questions determine the next course of action. I recommend taking into account Child Find as your team moves forward.
So what place does RTI have in a model of LD identification? I believe it has a primary role, with two obvious cautions: 1) When the district or parents suspect a disability, consider evaluation. 2) When the district evaluates, evaluate the whole child. To address the first caution, our district provides information about the right to request an evaluation to parents in an RTI pamphlet. This is shared informally at Back to School Night and conferences, and again when a student moves to a third intervention. If a parent requests an evaluation, a team meets to review existing information and to consider the request. Depending on the nature of the concern and the duration and intensity of intervention, an evaluation may commence at any point in the RTI process. Regarding the second caution, IDEA states clearly that special education evaluations should be full and individual and consider all the needs of the student, whether or not they are linked to the disability. It was never allowable to use RTI as a substitute for a comprehensive evaluation, recent federal guidance notwithstanding. If the RTI team refers a student for evaluation according to district decision rules, the evaluation team considers the RTI data along with any other assessments necessary to determine if the student is eligible as well as Individualized Education Program (IEP) needs.
When a private school within our boundaries suspects a student has a learning disability, we invite the student to attend core instruction and interventions in their neighborhood public school as part of the evaluation process. I recommend partnering with your closest public school, or building a multi-tiered instructional framework within your private school.
When we find that we are problem-solving at a more detailed level, we are capturing the team’s hypothesis, subsequent actions matched to that hypothesis, and resulting outcomes and decisions. I think the important thing to think about as you work on streamlining the process is that you stay focused on making the way you document your efforts a communication tool to current and future colleagues. I think we sometimes create forms from a compliance standpoint and miss what’s really important. I have found myself trying to “figure out what answer is the right answer to put in the box,” which means I’m missing how to share what I’m learning about the student. When this happens, something is amiss.
The benefit to customizing an existing intervention is that (1) we position that student to be able to transition to another group when progress and status indicates this is appropriate without as much interruption to the instructional routine of the intervention, (2) we maintain the use of a well sequenced and designed intervention, and (3) we deepen our own skills at customizing and decrease time trying to design an appropriate intervention approach. When I originally read the question, my first thought was the advantage to the use of the problem-solving process. When grade-level teams meet to review data every month or 6 weeks, each student’s progress is reviewed. This includes every student in the building, regardless of IEP status. While my colleagues would agree that this is always an area that requires continual growth and improvement, we have made great strides in talking about specific student needs, observations regarding what’s working, what’s not, and what we think is a next step.
- Understand and respond to learning needs early.
- Create structured, frequent reviews of progress monitoring data so that we respond when progress is unsatisfactory by making intentional and rational changes. When progress exceeds a student’s aimline and level of performance is in an area of low risk, the team should consider reducing or eliminating the intervention.
- Engage in problem solving so that, over time, we sharpen our collective understanding of each student and what instructional customization appears warranted and beneficial for the student.
On the other hand, a very important trigger for a team to suspect a student may be a student with a disability is when they do find something that works for the student, but when they describe what is being done during core and intervention, it would fall in the description of specially designed instruction described above. This component here is what, in my opinion, will distinguish our efforts from RtI to efforts we have engaged prior to RtI. We need to keep the eye on the prize of finding under what conditions the child’s learning is enabled, rather than focusing on documenting that the student is not responding. Testing won’t result in this very important task at hand – it is a process.
1. Using data early and frequently.
2. Responding to data in a responsible manner using the best practices we have evidence for at the time, and
3. Ensuring that our focus is always on determining what our next instructional move is for the student in order to maintain or accelerate learning. The next instructional move is not a person or a place, but rather specific instructional and curricular changes matched to student need.
As I write these, they sound very straightforward, but they are not the current culture in many systems. This is why the consensus building is such a critical part of the structuring process with RtI. Consensus building around core principles of RtI is an important initial step and one that necessitates frequent and ongoing revisiting. The Response to Intervention Blueprints for Implementation for the School Level and the District Level from the National Association of State Directors of Special Education can be helpful in this process.
In addition to the review of historical data, it is important that we have current and ongoing data to help us understand what appears to be working and not working for the student regarding our present intervention approach.
I’m not aware of as many options in math problem solving and my knowledge of each is cursory at best. EasyCBM math has three progress monitoring options aligned to NCTM focal points for that grade level (e.g. geometry, computation, or algebra). AIMSweb has a new math concepts & applications measure. Iowa State has been working on an algebra progress monitoring tool for a few years. New math measures have been posted on the National Center for RTI’s Progress Monitoring General Outcome Measures Tools Chart over the past few months; they may include problem solving measures. AIMSweb has a written expression measure and writing probes are easy to find on the web for free at sites like www.inteventioncentral.org (this site has a probe generator). If you select your own probes, pre-screen for culturally-loaded story starters. Districts that I’ve worked with find that using the total number of correct word sequences minus the number of errors yields the most instructionally useful score.
In terms of CBMS aligning with classroom progress, there are several factors that may be contributing to a real or perceived mismatch. Here are a couple of conversation starters to explore this mismatch with your RTI team: How does the rigor of the CBM compare with the rigor of classroom, district, or state assessments? Do students perform better on assessments that are untimed? While most teachers agree that accuracy is an important factor in completing an instructional task, not all are aware that students that complete basic reading, writing, and math tasks quickly have more working memory available for higher-level cognitive tasks. It’s important for teachers to understand why being accurate and fluent matters.
- When you think about the different assessments, what are differences between what is assessed and how skills are assessed that might account for part of the differences?
- If we are seeing progress on intervention or curriculum embedded tests, this may indicate that the student is adequately demonstrating mastery of the skills taught to date. If this is the case, I’d be asking if we are seeing these skills generalize to the weekly CBM’s?
Basically, it becomes a task for understanding and making sense of the findings in terms of implications for our work. The domain of written expression is a tougher one all around. While the technical adequacy isn’t as strong with CBM’s as it is in the other area, I’m not familiar with stronger measures to use. When this is the case, we proceed the best we can, recognizing the limitations of our measures.
- A solid understanding of core curriculum content and effective instructional strategies,
- A clear and articulated framework for differentiating instruction,
- Use of data and how the data need to prompt reflections for problem solving,
- An understanding of the interventions being used so problem solving can be meaningful.
Second, we have embedded RTI into our LD identification procedures in our special education handbook. Neighboring districts have formal board policies around RTI; we have yet to take this step.
Many districts wait until first grade before initiating evaluation in order to better control for all the variables when students enter school (e.g. preschool or lack thereof, half-day versus full day programs, etc.). I think this is fine as long as the student is progress monitored, receives intensive intervention, the parent is informed about progress, and there’s a clear trigger point for referral.
1. Intervention Match Issues:
- Have we clearly identified the student’s area of need and does our intervention appropriately match this need?
- Have we allocated and provided an appropriate amount of time for our interventions? • Have we allocated and provided an appropriate frequency of time for our interventions?
- Are we providing solid core instruction daily for an appropriate amount of time?
- What are we learning about this student’s response during core and what have we learned about their response to our differentiated instruction?
- What is the student’s response been to our core and intervention approach broken down by big ideas in reading?
- Have we seen a change in level of performance, such as a change in risk status?
- Have we seen a positive trend in progress monitoring data? Do the data indicate that a change is warranted?
- If we have made a change, what are we learning about the conditions that appear to be effective and not effective?
- If we have not made a change, are we clear about what to change?
This is where a formal problem-solving process is necessary to guide next steps.
My experience is that when we get really solid at engaging in asking and answering these questions, it becomes more clear to teams when to carry the data forward into an initial evaluation.
The process promoted in my district has systematic and frequent progress monitoring reviews to take place no less frequently than every 6 weeks, so the team should know specifically what intervention is in place, what the student’s progress has been to date, and what instructional moves have been considered as a result of the data. If the team, which includes the parents, suspects a disability, they would revise the intervention plan and carry that forward into the initial evaluation. This will take place within the timeframe of 60 school days. My experience with RtI is that is should always result in an early and ongoing understanding of each individual student in the building. As such, it should never result in a “delay for special education placement.”
- Three times per year by grade levels to review and respond to benchmark assessments,
- No less frequently than every 6 weeks to systematically review progress monitoring data, and
- As needed for more intense individualized problem solving. These assurances provide necessary structures to prevent student's from being lost on our radar.
Howell, K.W. and Nolet, V. (2000). Curriculum-Based Evaluation: Teaching and Decision Making. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
That concludes our RTI Talk for today. Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful questions and thanks to our experts, Dr. Dawn Miller and Ms. Erin Lolich, for their time today.
Please also take a few moments at the completion of this event to give us your feedback by taking our survey!
Related Reading from RTINetwork.org:
- Identifying Learning Disabilities in the Context of Response to Intervention: A Hybrid Model, by Jack M. Fletcher, Ph.D.
- RTI Leadership Forum, Panel #3: RTI and Learning Disabilities Identification
- RTI National Online Forum: "The Role of RTI in LD Identification"