About RTI

FAQs

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Participation in the Process – teams, responsibilities

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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.

Do I have to do a full plan as soon as I start making changes for a student?

Each district has policies and procedures regarding plans in the area of literacy – when they start, how they're documented, etc. Those procedures should be followed. However, they may not pertain to the early stages when a student has just begun to demonstrate need - documentation is also needed during this phase, but it need not necessarily be extensive or formal. Anecdotal records of changes made, differentiation provided, interventions tried – along with their results – should be maintained. These are useful later on should more extensive interventions and more formal procedures be needed. In areas other than literacy, district policies should be followed if they exist – otherwise, development of interventions and documentation should be patterned on those used for literacy.

The "Expanding Circle of Support" indicates that people are supposed to be available to support the classroom teacher with interventions, documentation, etc. Who are these support people and how do I get one?

Roles of people already in the school tend to change in the Response to Intervention (RTI) approach, giving them more time to provide support to the classroom teacher and, if appropriate, directly to the student(s). People such as speech-language pathologists, psychologists, reading specialists, special educators, counselors, etc., as well as other teachers, Support Team members, administrators, volunteers, paraprofessionals may all provide assistance and support. The teacher should remain the center of the efforts. The role of support people is to help the teacher analyze data, design and/or carry out interventions, maintain documentation, check for progress, etc. Because the aim is to improve instruction and interventions within general education, support is not considered to be "special education" even though it's provided by special education staff.

Schools should have policies and procedures that make it easy for a teacher to request support from the appropriate staff.

What's the role of the Teacher Support Team in the problem-solving approach?

First, the role of a school's Teacher Support Team (TST) depends on what type of function it has customarily carried out, and schools vary widely in this regard. In some schools they have long been a genuine opportunity for teachers to come together as colleagues to brainstorm strategies to support student learning – and teams like this have a valuable role to play in the problem-solving approach. In other schools, TSTs have only served to pass through referrals for special education evaluation. And in others, they really don't exist at all.

Second, state law requires a "student intervention team" that carries out functions beyond those incorporated in the original design, training, and practice of what became known as TSTs. A major difference is that a student intervention team (a.k.a. Expanded Support Team, Building Level Support Team, etc.) needs to bring a variety of people into meetings depending on the needs of the student to be discussed, and the complexity of the interventions needed.

So – IF your school has a TST like the first example above, it can HELP with the process of deciding on interventions and progress monitoring and evaluating their results … but it has to be part of a bigger, flexible response group in order to do so. Download Hauerwas, Dubuque and Grossi presentation, Changing Roles of Teams – Putting all the Pieces Together to Develop a Strategic Problem-Solving Team (or view online) for a comparison of TST and RTI teams.

The next FAQ question also has more information on this topic.

We need help in putting together our teams and in deciding whether to change how the Teacher Support Team (TST) works.

Schools using this approach have recommended that you consider first what all the functions are that need to be carried out by individuals and/or groups of school staff. For example, individuals need to respond to specific requests for assistance or advice from teachers about specific students' learning, a group needs to meet to consider data and help design more intensive interventions, a group needs help determine when a student might need to be referred for special education evaluation, individuals need to provide short-term interventions to help determine a student's response to increased intensity of instruction, etc.

Second, consider the team structure(s) you already have in your school and whether they should continue to work as separate teams or come together as one team that wears many different hats, depending on the current need being addressed. Sometimes one team (perhaps a TST) becomes the core of the flexible team, with people joining in or not as appropriate. Some schools hold regular grade level meetings in which problem-solving discussions help design and support interventions and progress monitoring; if more intensive supports or additional advice are needed, a building-level team becomes involved. There is no one "right" way.

Who gathers and pulls together all the pre-referral documentation for the team reviewing a special education referral?

When a teacher and other school staff have been providing and documenting interventions and progress monitoring for a student for some time, the process itself calls for a continuous gathering, analyzing and summarizing of data. There should be little additional "gathering" needed for a team to consider a referral and determine whether there is a suspicion of disability. Support systems of schools vary, and so may the mechanism and the personnel responsible for bringing a student's information to a referral meeting.

General Education Roles and Responsibilities

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We have a big school system and many students needing PLPs, let alone other kinds of interventions - 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 PLPs or 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" PLP or 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.

When a student has an IEP as well as a PLP, who is responsible for serving the student?

At the elementary level, classroom teachers are primarily responsible for serving the student, however, this should be in coordination with the special educator - the student's plan may indicate other staff involvement as well.

At the secondary level, certified reading specialists and/or specially trained literacy teachers (targeted intervention groups) have primary responsibility for serving the students, again in coordination with special educators, and with appropriate involvement of other specialists and general education teachers.

"For students with disabilities who receive all their services in the area of literacy outside of the general education setting, special educators would be primarily responsible for developing and carrying out PLPs." (PLP guidance, June 2005)

This program 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.

Schools may not be ready to do this yet – do you have to have a solid reading program and a lot of professional development available?

Schools need to "do this" – "ready or not." It is obviously more difficult to do if high-quality comprehensive literacy and math curricula are not in place, if teachers are not well-prepared to implement them, or if staff in the school are not working collaboratively and flexibly in providing support in general education classrooms. Teachers and support staff need to request support and assistance where it is lacking. For example, in a school in which the only additional support for students in the area of reading is a Reading Recovery program, staff needing assistance with planning interventions for students not in that program should ask the school or district reading staff to provide it. General education carries the responsibility of providing evidence that a student has had not only appropriate instruction in reading and math, but also interventions and progress monitoring tailored to the student's needs and implemented with fidelity. A student being referred for special education evaluation will not be considered if evidence is not provided that the student is not responding to successive interventions. Lack of appropriate instruction in reading or math is considered an exclusionary factor when determining if a student has a disability.

The Evaluation and Disability Team Decisions

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Can subtests of psychological or educational tests be administered prior to a referral to gather specific information? For example: if the psychologist wanted to get a handle on a student's memory?

What needs to be remembered, first, is that everything BEFORE referral is to be focused on determining the most effective instructional approaches to help the child learn. The key way of looking at it would be, "what do we need to know in order to shape his instructional experience so he learns most efficiently?"

Would test results tell one how to change his instruction? Any better than trying different instructional interventions would? Through interventions and progress monitoring one can discover a great deal about memory, in an authentic context, that would be sufficient information at least for the time being. If MUCH faster progress is made when relying on memory strategies than multisensory instruction, e.g., you'd know that multisensory instruction by it's self is not enough, and you need to also include memory strategy instruction.

Yes, down the line, IF the current progress being sought isn't sufficient, THEN, IF there's suspicion of a disability, one might want to do some further exploration, through informal or formal means. I think a good question would be, both before referral and when deciding if further "evaluations" are needed, "what do we need to know about his memory skills - how helpful they are to him as he learns new things, compared to other ways of learning ... or do we need to know how his skills compare to a nationally-normed sample of kids his age?"

When are districts required to use the new RTI approach and forms for identifying students with learning disabilities? Most districts have already begun to use the new RTI procedures as outlined in the Interim Guidance on Learning Disability Identification and are using the draft forms. Their staff will be more prepared to comply with revised regulations and new policies when they become final after the new federal regulations are issued. With the changes in federal law and regulations comes the new requirement that states issue policies on learning disability identification and that districts follow those policies. This period of preparation allows districts to try out the new approaches and contribute to shaping the Interim Guidance and forms into a final policy document.

Why do the new draft team report forms apply to all referrals/evaluations/reevaluations – not just for students with (potential) learning disabilities?

First, it is probable that the RTI approach is going to be required for learning disability identification. When a team first begins to consider a referral for special education evaluation, it cannot tell if its considerations will later end up in a determination of learning disability. If the team has not utilized the RTI approach, and comes to believe that the student may have a learning disability, the team would need to go back to gather the necessary information before making that determination. It is easier for teams to utilize similar approaches when they consider all students, and to use the approach from the beginning.

Second, the problem solving approach at the heart of the response to intervention (RTI) model is an effective means of identifying way(s) to help students improve academically or behaviorally, of determining their rate of improvement, and of exploring the amount of support needed for them to improve. What is the target performance/behavior? What intervention might be most successful? Who will carry it out? When? Where? How will progress be measured? When? By whom? What do the data tell us? Do we need another intervention to reach the target? And so on … These factors are key in helping students succeed in general education, in considering the referral of any student who may have a disability, and in ensuring that if students end up receiving supports and services they make progress as steadily and rapidly as possible.

Third, an additional reason for including all students in the draft forms is that so many people have requested that we do so!

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.

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 do teams decide whether a child's needs fall in the "greater than 90% - 95%" range?

This is a consensus team decision based on a combination of the student's level of performance and professional judgment. The process of establishing local norms is valuable for this process, but it takes time. In absence of available local norms of students' academic achievement and rate of learning, comparison to national norms is possible and performance at less than the 10th percentile would likely be equivalent to the 90%-95% range. Additionally, the team can get a "feel" for this level of need in a couple of ways. First, the team considers what percentage of students in the school or district have typically been identified as having a disability, then judges where this student's performance falls within that group – for example, if the school has been identifying 20% of its students, the team should think about the needs of the lowest-performing half of the students in that group and compare this student's needs to those. Another way – focused on specific skill areas - is to study graphs of the performance of this student and his/her peers – it should be evident if this student's performance and rate of learning (slope of the student's trend line) is lower than 90 – 95% of the other students after interventions have been implemented with fidelity.

When we're looking at "age appropriate peers" are we considering the class, the school, the district, the state?

Local norms are the most appropriate comparison group – at school or, better, district level. If these are not yet available, national norms are available via a variety of web-based tools. At least one of these – AIMSweb – compiles local norms over time as more and more local student information is entered and eventually provides the choice to use them instead of the national norms.

There are a number of national CBM tools available, ie: AIMSweb, DIBELS, PALS and the National Center on Student Progress Monitoring.

And yes, students may be considered "learning disabled" in one community and not in another – just as has been the case for many years. What is more important, using the response to intervention approach contributes to greater quantities of useful information passing between districts to help support the student's continuous learning – in general and/or special education.

Professional Development

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How is this approach being shared with principals and general educators?

First, the approach is the foundation of the Personal Literacy Plan process, which has been widely disseminated and is being implemented with increasing fidelity across the state. Second, information on the interim learning disability process has been provided to all superintendents and principals, with a cover letter from Commissioner Peter McWalters. Through their special education directors, districts have been advised to present the new policies and procedures to all staff via a joint effort of general and special education central office administrators. Professional development has been offered on a statewide and regional basis to help support this effort. Many of these presentations(link to resource presentation folder) are available in the RTI section of the RITAP website.

What are the higher education institutions doing in relation to this process?

Higher education professionals are informed of RIDE policies and changes and have thus received the Personal Literacy Plan/Program and LD guidance documents.

At the institutions changes in special education have been addressed in a variety of ways. For example, at Providence College, Response to Intervention has been incorporated into both the formal special education assessment class and the special education instruction course that all pre-service educators take during their senior year. At RIC the Rhode Island State Improvement plan supports a full-time faculty member in the education department whose role it is to help infuse instruction, curriculum and assessment of diverse learners in all education courses.

How do we become a PLUS school?

The project is not adding more schools, but the PLUS schools are continuing to share learning and working with other schools/districts to help them develop RTI and problem solving approaches as well. Keep an eye out for professional development opportunities, such as RITAP leadership conferences, and materials being developed, including a fidelity checklist of key components. Visit our RTI in Action page to learn more about the PLUS project.

What about private evaluators and agencies – how are they learning about this?

It is recommended that when schools and districts are in contact with agencies and evaluators they let them know about the information and learning resources suggested in this document. There are no professional development sessions planned specifically for private agencies and evaluators at this time, but may be in the future. It is anticipated that the topic of Independent Educational Evaluations and their relationship to the RTI process will be addressed in the final federal regulations – agency representatives have and will be involved in discussions of Rhode Island regulation revision.

Kids with Special Circumstances

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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.

How do we keep children who move into the district from a district with lower-level curriculum from being called "disabled" because of their different performance level?

General education needs to provide differentiated instruction and supports to enable these children to make progress at a rate that will allow them to reach appropriate targets. If the only issue is different curriculum, a child's progress when provided with appropriate interventions would not meet the criteria for referral for special education evaluation.

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 high quality 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 – all meeting the 90% - 95% guideline - 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 on state approved results in one or more areas (Federal regulatory language). 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.

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."

Dealing with Difficult Situations

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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 high-quality, 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 and IPlans.

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.

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.

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.

An article by Kovaleski helps explain this and other concepts related to a response to intervention process.

Parent Engagement

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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 Expanding Circle of Support is conceived as having the teacher, the student and the parent always at the center of the efforts. 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.

Has this changed parents' feelings about getting help for their kids?

Most parents commenting on this approach are quite pleased at the prospect of children getting "help" much sooner than in the current system. Data and graphs are concrete representations that are very helpful for sharing periodic student progress. Schools that have been using the approach for a few years report fewer challenges from families than they expected – as long as help is incorporated into the process families have rarely pushed for "referrals" or "testing."

Re: Personal Literacy Plans

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Is it a problem that Personal Literacy Plan (PLP) forms being used around the state are different?

With guidance disseminated in June, 2005, PLPs across the state are expected to evolve toward common elements – whereas the forms may look different, they are expected to contain the same types of information. A form has been provided, in response to popular demand, that districts may choose to use to document their PLPs – depending on how many districts adopt this format, the differences between districts may decrease.

When the student moves, what goes with him/her? Will the new district have to review a great deal of material?

New language in the proposed IDEA regulations places a responsibility on both a sending and a receiving district to coordinate the sharing of information on a student who is moving, in order to ensure continuous and timely support.

It is important as interventions and progress monitoring are provided for a student that staff maintain a summary that gives a brief overview of the key information. This will help new people joining the Circle of Support learn quickly about what's already happened for this student, as well as provide an overview of the progression and relationship of successive interventions provided. The Personal Literacy Plan (PLP) guidance of June 2005 provides an example of a form for keeping such a summary.

Going Beyond Literacy and Learning Disabilities

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Is there a similar system we can apply to mathematics or behavioral issues?

Yes … the same one! It works the same way for any subject, skill or performance area, at any age (including adults). What is the target performance/behavior? What intervention might be most successful? Who will carry it out? When? Where? How will progress be measured? When? By whom? What do the data tell us? Do we need another intervention to reach the target? And so on … Schools working with the Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS) approach will find these strategies to be familiar. Information about Math progress monitoring and assessments is available at studentprogress.org and interventioncentral.org as well.

IEPs

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Will this process change the format of IEPs?

As teams develop IEPS, evidence from a response to intervention process is likely to provide greater clarity, more specific data, and increased focus for developing strengths and needs, writing measurable present levels of educational performance and annual goals, and measuring progress toward goals. The IEP Project is working on guidance that incorporates RTI concepts into the writing of IEPs.

Secondary Level

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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 and those with PLPs, 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.

Young Children

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Many students come into primary school from preschool special education with a label of Developmental Delay – how does this process relate to making the decision on disability at age six?

The response to intervention approach used with young children provides a rich bank of information on a student's performance rate and gaps, and the intensity of supports needed for the student to progress. In addition to ensuring that the student continues to progress in the preschool curriculum, this evidence can help smooth the transition from pre-school to kindergarten, can help the team make the decision later as to whether the student with developmental delay continues to be a student with a disability, and helps with planning whether or not the student continues to require special education services.

Can this be used with 3 – 5 year olds?

As described above, this approach is useful with students of any age. A current research project on indicators of progress for pre-school children being done by the Universities of Minnesota and Oregon, et al, may be of interest.