KDE established KSI to assist schools and districts as they develop a comprehensive instructional system, integrating human, physical and financial resources and materials. This comprehensive system addresses Response to Intervention (RTI), accelerated learning requirements, closing achievement gaps, highly effective instruction, readiness to learn and student transitions.
“Response to intervention (RTI) integrates assessment and intervention within a multi-level prevention system to maximize student achievement and to reduce behavior problems. With RTI, schools identify students at risk for poor learning outcomes, monitor student progress, provide evidence-based interventions and adjust the intensity and nature of those interventions depending on a student’s responsiveness, and identify students with learning disabilities” (National Center on Response to Intervention).
When do we have to implement RTI?
While there are no timelines specifically for the implementation of RtI/KSI, there are requirements in the regulations for exceptional children that one must consider. Pursuant to 707 KAR 1:300 under Child Find there are specific requirements under Section 3. Referral System. Also, in 707 KAR 1:310 there are provisions for a local school district to use RtI to determine a child eligible as having a specific learning disability. This will also be dependent on your local district policies and procedures for exceptional children.
How do schools put RTI into practice?
To implement RTI effectively, schools must develop a specialized set of tools and competencies, including a structured format for problem-solving, knowledge of a range of scientifically based interventions that address common reasons for school failure, and the ability to use various methods of assessment to monitor student progress in academic and behavioral areas.
Who is responsible for deciding that a student may need support, and initiating the process?
A central principle of a response to intervention (RTI) approach is that it is not one particular person's responsibility – not a general educator, nor a special educator, but every educator's responsibility. This is especially true when it first becomes evident that a student may need support – it may be a parent or a teacher or a specialist or an administrator who first notices the need. It may come from informal observation or results on a class-wide screening measure or examples of student work. Whoever the person is who first notices the need, carries the responsibility of either beginning the process of considering what supports might be needed, or conferring with others to do so. Communication is obviously another important component of this approach, as well as agreed-upon protocols for how to initiate the process. That being said it is most often the child's classroom teacher who initiates the process.
How do we handle so many kids being processed at the same time?
First, if many students require interventions, the problem-solving approach needs to be applied to the class (and/or school and/or district) assessment data with subsequent focus on changing curriculum and instruction to improve student performance. Using data in a school-wide manner will help inform a school improvement plan.
Second, when many students require interventions in other areas, and have similar needs, schools may choose to utilize the "standard protocol approach" – in which a similar, alternate program is provided to a flexible group of students needing supplemental support. This can be thought of as a "group" plan – and referred to in individual students' documentation with a common description.
It is particularly important to adopt a Benchmarking and Progress monitoring assessment process (often using Curriculum-Based Measurement) to quickly and effectively identify students in need and track their progress. Research suggests curriculum-based measures are best for this. See studentprogress.org for a review of available progress monitoring measures.
This system is going to require more people to work in the classrooms – are there grants or anything to help pay for that?
Schools using this approach have all found that the roles that various professionals play change from what they have traditionally been. There is more time for specialists of various kinds to work with general education teachers and students in supporting interventions and progress monitoring.
Paraprofessionals across the state have been receiving professional development that enables them to assist with various aspects of this process under the supervision of general and/or special education teachers.
Federal law allows for up to 15% of special education funds to be used in supporting students in general education as part of early intervening services. During this time of changing roles it is important for staff members to document how they spend their time, so appropriate changes can be made to future job descriptions. It is important for schools to share their processes and successes with the public and with their school committees, making clear that without sufficient support for classroom teachers, this plan to support student proficiency cannot be fully successful.
How do you decide what's good evidence-based instruction?
Start with the documentation provided by school staff of the instruction, interventions and data on the student's progress to date. Ask for information on how the various approaches and strategies were selected, and their relationship to district guidance and scientifically-based practice. This is easier to do if the district has developed easily referenced documentation of curriculum by subject and grade-level expectations.
Staff will have an easier time discussing fidelity and effectiveness of instruction in team meetings if they do so as a regular part of grade-level meetings and professional development work.
There have been some concerns about "treatment integrity" that is, asking teachers to keep records, provide the intervention, or supervise educational assistants, on top of everything else they have to do. Are we expecting too much from teachers?
Well, we all know teachers work really hard and have little time for extra tasks. But I would guess that in some form or other most teachers are keeping records of how their students are doing already. Good teachers are able to differentiate instruction to meet student needs, so if that is what you mean by providing intervention, again I think a lot of teachers are already doing that. A reading coach or mentor should ideally be available to brainstorm and problem solve with the teacher on those cases, too. I think we do expect an awful lot from teachers, and they merit all the help and respect we can give them.
By treatment integrity I am guessing you're talking about what I and our researchers refer to as treatment fidelity. When researchers are testing an intervention they have developed, they usually include some measure of how faithfully the teacher follows the training for delivering that intervention. Are they doing it the way it was designed or not? Treatment fidelity is important because we need to know whether it's the intervention/instruction that is making the difference if we find a difference, and that it wasn't just a particularly charismatic teacher or some other factor that accounts for the differences. Then there are studies of scaling up specific interventions from for example, small group to whole class, or from a few classes to an entire school or district.
As you do things on a larger scale, things often get adapted or altered, and researchers have studied fidelity to intervention to determine how much you can tweak an instructional program or intervention before it is no longer effective. That's important information for teachers to know. It's also important for administrators to know as they consider not only which programs or curricula to purchase but also the training and support teachers may need to most effectively use that program or curriculum. Teachers have to be pretty creative, but if we let them know the parameters that it's ok to change and those where you might lose effectiveness if you change them, then they have that in their repertoire and can use their creativity to better advantage.
Isn't it controversial to be documenting "adequate instruction"? It's like criticizing colleagues.
"Adequate instruction" starts at the district level with policies, procedures and materials for a highly effective, comprehensive curriculum, instruction and assessment. It continues at the school level, with discussions of assessment results and planning for helping students improve. Use of an evidence-based problem-solving approach at these levels helps insure that classroom teachers have what they need to support student learning.
So it's not always a question of a colleague's practice, but of what is provided by the system, including effective professional development opportunities. Discussion of a student's progress – and everything that went into achieving current levels – should not reach team level without teachers knowing what questions the team will be asking. Teachers are more likely to be able to document effective instruction if they've had clear direction and support on doing that, and know what they'll be asked to present as the circle of support expands to include more people – perhaps eventually including an Evaluation Team.
How much time should a teacher spend attempting different strategies before the child is finally diagnosed or labeled as "learning disabled"?
Well, that depends. Researchers have demonstrated that providing explicit, highly effective instruction to students can significantly reduce the number of students who are not reading or reading poorly, and who would thus be referred for special education. Teachers should always be monitoring how well students are learning over time. If a teacher has provided explicit instruction and most students have learned the particular aspects of reading being taught, and then she or he has tried differentiating instruction to the needs of a particular student and that student is still struggling, then it's definitely time to look more deeply into why a student is not learning. At that point, the teacher should ask the team of professionals who work with the teacher for help in assessing the student's abilities and difficulties.
When do we need to bring parents into the RTI process?
The sooner the better. The first conversations regarding concerns about student performance should be with the student's family. The more the families can be involved in the discussions and the interventions, the better the prospects for steady progress.
When is parent permission required in the RTI process?
As discussed above parent involvement from the beginning is recommended. During the instructional intervention and progress monitoring process parent permission is not required. This is because the assessments are focusing on improving instruction, not on determination of a disability. If the child is referred for special education evaluation parent permission is required as part of the usual procedural safeguards.
What about the student who's missed a lot of school? Making progress but only with great intensity?
The school needs to provide appropriate interventions at the student's level through general education. If the student has performance gaps, and requires intensive intervention, but is making steady progress, then s/he would not meet the criteria for determining a suspicion of disability, let alone a disability. The student's extensive absences might also be an exclusionary condition under the "lack of appropriate instruction" category.
What are the exclusionary factors?
If a team has determined that the child meets the performance criteria for a learning disability, before it can decide that the child has a learning disability it must determine that its findings are NOT the result of: visual, hearing or motor disability; mental retardation; emotional disturbance; cultural factors; or environmental or economic disadvantage.
In addition, the child's performance must not be primarily as a result of lack of appropriate instruction in reading and math, or of limited English proficiency.
How does this apply at secondary level?
As mentioned elsewhere, the process of assessment, intervention and progress monitoring is applicable at any age and in any subject area. Learning issues emerging for the first time for a student at the secondary level are more likely to be related to study skills, focus, motivation, etc., than to a difficulty in reading or math, for example. The intervention process can be used to address such concerns within general education. For students who already have IEPs, the process should be used to ensure focus on the student's specific learning issues, appropriate interventions, frequent assessment, and ongoing modification of instruction and interventions. The evidence gleaned provides a critical foundation for annual IEP and reevaluation meetings. The process is also well suited to providing appropriate interventions for students who are learning beyond the general curriculum, for example students who need additional challenge, higher-level thinking skills, etc.
What about a slow learner who has a huge gap – do we still say that student has a learning disability?
The response to intervention approach might indeed "identify" a student who learns, but only very slowly, as a student with a learning disability. This might be appropriate only when the student meets the criteria of slow rate of learning in spite of highly effective instruction and interventions, gaps in performance compared to peers or within his/her own learning profile, and high intensity of instruction needed to make progress and when the student's needs are not caused by any of the exclusionary conditions. The appropriateness of this type of decision is based on the team's judgment that the student's rate of learning will not result in sufficient progress in one or more areas. This is more likely to be the case if the student is in 4th or 5th grade, for example, than for a student in 1st or 2nd grade, who is more likely to be able – with supports - to approach grade level performance over time than the older student would.
Regarding RTI and special education eligibility does the parent have the right to request an evaluation at any time? Or do they have to wait until RTI has been tried?
The federal regulations are very clear that parents always have a right to request a comprehensive evaluation. That’s a choice that’s important for them to be able to make and they should be able to exercise it. One would hope that parents would see the value that a rigorous implementation of RTI would involve and how that might help inform a comprehensive evaluation.
It will help if you think of RTI as an important building block for helping those individuals involved in comprehensive assessment to make better selections of the assessment procedures and interpretation of their results. So that’s another side of looking at RTI: not only as a way of reforming or improving school performance but also as an assessment.
That is an assessment of how well the curriculum and instructional practices work for all the students in the school and then how individual students might also respond within that school setting.
I always hear about RTI being used for LD diagnosis. Can it be used to diagnose other disabilities?
Well again it’s just one component. So you wouldn’t say RTI is the test for LD-ness. As a component RTI assesses the youngster’s response to the curriculum, ensuring that he or she had good instruction. That test would apply to other areas of disabilities as well. Particularly, if we talk about students with behavior problems. And I think that RTI can give us a framework for intervening and preventing student’s progression of behavior that would interfere with learning and performance within the classroom.
And then I assume that students with mild mental retardation would also be identified as students who are not responsive to the curriculum. But again it may just be one component, one piece of the information for making any disability interpretation.
What about when you get a prescription slip from a doctor for testing a child?
As usual, it must be considered by a team … and the team must still answer the questions for suspicion of a disability. If sufficient evidence is not available of the student's rate of learning, gaps in performance and/or intensity of instruction needed for the child to progress, the team should not accept a referral for evaluation.
If certain physicians or other sources are "prescribing" testing or an IEP, district personnel should contact them and offer information and professional development on policies and procedures the district must follow in making these decisions. An invitation to meet with the superintendent, director of curriculum and director of special education on the issue has been found to be effective in changing such inappropriate "prescriptions."
Some people don't believe you can make a decision about ability level without a formal test. What can I tell them?
In this process, it is not necessary to obtain a "precise" ability level. By the time a team is discussing whether a student may have a disability; a great deal of functional information has already been gathered. The team knows a lot about how the student learns and about his/her strengths and needs. It is sufficient for the team to consider this information, and determine if there is any question about the student's ability level that would impact the decision on disability. That is, does anyone suspect, given the student's profile, that s/he may have a particularly high or low ability level? If not, further assessment is not necessary. If there is such a suspicion, the team might decide that more information is needed to answer this question, and a traditional ability measure (or a portion of one) might be used to provide it.
Will valuable information about cognitive processing be lost without IQ tests?
There have been many efforts to show relations between underlying cognitive process to interventions, however, there is no research foundation for this assertion. Little data exists showing that either teaching cognitive processes produces better achievement or that matching instruction to cognitive processing strengths leads to better achievement (Kavale & Forness, 1999). On the other hand, we know that components of efficient reading can be taught. We know that teaching word identification, fluency, and comprehension leads to improved achievement.
Doesn’t IQ predict Achievement?
IQ tests, in practice, are never about predicting. They are administered after failure has occurred. While IQ in general is a moderate predictor of academic achievement, within groups of students with LD, it is a weak predictor. IQ does not predict how well students with LD learn reading or math, or their prognosis. IQ can be considered a measure of past learning that is in part an outcome of the same processes that led to the LD. Neither IQ nor SES predicts future achievement as well as prior achievement. (Fletcher et al., in press). If “prediction” is of interest, performance on key academic tasks have been demonstrated to be more than an adequate replacement. For example, a 1 minute kindergarten sample of Letter Sound Fluency, “out predicts” IQ scores for Grade 1 reading success.
I’ve heard that there is limited research on implementing RTI on a large scale. Is this true?
Anytime new educational practices are “brought to scale,” challenges exist with moving from policy to implementation. Technical assistance will need to be provided to districts on progress monitoring techniques, intervention development and implementation. However, several studies have been conducted examining interventions for students with learning and/or behavioral problems that included RTI as a component (Donovan & Cross, 2002; Gresham, 2002; Reschely et al., 1999). Eligibility approaches in Iowa, Lousiana, Utah, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut have been influenced by these studies. While it may seem that resources are inadequate to implement RTI, the real challenge is to use existing resources to improve student outcomes through better educational practices. There is consensus that the evidence is sufficient to justify large-scale implementation of RTI at this time.
How do we know we are identifying the right students?
Schools have been finding the right kids – it is just that too many of them are finally identified too late, the methods are time consuming and not directly related to treatment, consume valuable intervention resources, and often require schools to ignore all these data they collected because they don’t match the students unmet severe educational needs. Our most pressing challenge is conveying urgency about preventing disabilities through early screening and effective instruction, and, for those who do not respond sufficiently, providing effective special education interventions that change achievement and social/behavioral outcomes (Fletcher et al., in press, p.11).
Won’t we over identify students as LD using an RTI approach?
Data from states and districts using an RTI approach does not indicate that students are over identified as LD.
A lot of people aren't going to like this – any suggestions?
Almost all people, as soon as they understand that children needing help with learning get support RIGHT AWAY, respond positively to this approach. They say, quite frequently - "This makes sense." People are quite accustomed to the old "wait to fail" system – which requires watching students slip further and further behind – and are willing to make changes to accommodate to this new approach. So the best advice is to focus on that aspect of the process, and then try to provide the supports the person needs to be able to adapt to it.
Response to Intervention, A Rhode Island Technical Assistance Project (RITAP) Site