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Response to Intervention (RTI): When Your Child Needs Extra Help (page 2)

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Updated on Aug 27, 2013

Troubles With RTI

For all its benefits, however, RTI has raised doubts in some quarters, and even its most ardent supporters concede: if it is to succeed, RTI requires extensive staff training, collaboration, and “buy-in.” This may be easy in some school systems, much harder in others; as Suzanne Fornaro, spokesperson and past president of the Learning Disabilities Association of America, explains, “at present, RTI can look completely different from state to state and even from school to school.” This can make it hard to determine exactly how effective different interventions may be. Moreover, since RTI is still relatively new and has been used mostly in grades K-3, experts don’t yet know its long-term effects, nor just how it will work in higher grades.

Experts in learning disabilities have also voiced important cautions for parents and schools. U.S. Department of Education statistics show that students with learning disabilities account for approximately half of all students receiving special education nationwide, and over 5.5% of the school aged population. While some of these children may have been wrongly diagnosed under old systems, the Learning Disabilities Association of America strongly cautions against relying on the RTI process alone as a new standard for identification. Because specific learning disabilities are so varied and complex, say these experts in a recent white paper, “comprehensive evaluations should occur whenever necessary for SLD (specific learning disability) identification.” In fact, without these clinical tools, RTI may end up being “nothing more than a ‘diagnosis by treatment failure,’ which has long been proven to be a poor model in medicine.”

What does this mean in practice?

Leading experts remain optimistic that RTI may prove to be highly beneficial to all kids. But as the system takes hold, a partnership with parents can make all the difference. “As a parent,” advises Fornaro, “you should be involved from the beginning of the RTI process…You will bring your ‘expertise’ on your child’s strengths and difficulties, hobbies, behaviors at home…This will help to identify the student's skills, find gaps, and enhance collaboration on the plan for intervention.”

If your school does suggest “Tier 2” or “Tier 3” interventions for your child, don’t forget that your ongoing participation will be invaluable. “Advocacy is critical,” says Klotz. “Parents should be provided data as to the child’s progress, suggestions for reinforcing the intervention at home, and the opportunity to be involved in the decision making such as when different or more intense interventions or services are selected.”

And if your child is still struggling? Parents, don’t forget: special education is still alive and well, and protected by federal law. “IDEA regulations give parents the right,” says Fornaro firmly, “to request a comprehensive evaluation for identification/eligibility for special education services at any time.” Under law, schools must review this request and either provide an evaluation or a written statement of why it is not ncessary.

So what is the best time to pursue interventions beyond RTI, through special ed? There's no firm answer, but we can say this for sure: experts are listening, research is moving, and schools are working hard on the issue. RTI provides them with tools to pursue earlier intervention and process monitoring to help all children reach grade level standards. And don't forget, of course, that in the final analysis, you’re probably the most knowledgeable expert of all. If your child is struggling, make sure you keep communicating with your school. You live with your child, and you care. In the end, your love and your advocacy can make all the difference in the world.

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