A Parent Leader's Perspective on Response to Intervention
In 2005, I attended a meeting where this "new" process known as Response to Intervention (RTI) was the subject of a 2-day long discussion. This was a national level meeting of principals, teachers, superintendents, special education directors, school psychologists, speech-language pathologists, other education professionals, and two parents-myself and another parent leader whose name escapes me at the moment. Frankly, I had not done a lot of preparation before the meeting. Being a quick study, I can usually grasp a concept quickly and analyze some of its potential impacts on students with and without disabilities, and their families. So, I really had no idea of what this exciting new thing was really about.
Hearing from the Experts
Well, then the experts began to explain this RTI process. First, it was explained that RTI is built on the foundation of selecting a program that has been proven to work for students (scientific, research-based instruction). I was thinking, "Okay, that's a good idea." The experts went on to say that RTI requires the use of tools (assessments) for measuring how well students are doing and gauging their progress in the basic skill areas of reading, spelling, mathematics, and/or written language (curriculum-based measurement). "Okay," I reasoned, "that makes a lot of sense." The experts also said that at the beginning of the year, someone at the school (principal, teacher, data maven) takes a look at the records of students' past performance on state or other tests or gives all students a test with one of the tools and then picks out the students who they should keep an eye on because they are at risk for not doing well (universal screening). These tools or tests are used on a regular basis not only to check on students' academic performance, but also to find out if the way that the student is being taught is really helping (progress monitoring). That got me thinking, "I'm not sure that that is happening in my children's classes, but I bet my mom did it when she taught 3rd grade in the '60s and '70s." The experts added that, finally, if a student is not doing so well, based on this tool, he or she receives extra help that is scientifically proven to be effective, and if the student still does not do well, even more help is provided (tiered interventions). And, for a very small number of students who are still not responding, they may need extra help that is not usually available through general education (referral and evaluation for special education services).
At that point, my head was aching. "What could I have missed? I've had three cups of coffee so I can be really attentive, and I still can't figure out what the 'new' thing is!" I read over my copy of the PowerPoint slides. I tried to decipher my handwriting and figure out my notes. I thought I might have written it down without recognizing its "new"ness. But I still could not figure out what this innovative, out-of-the-box paradigm shift (all of this jargon just means "new thing") could be. I wondered, "Aren't these the things that schools are supposed to be doing already to help children learn? Did it take an act of Congress (IDEA 2004) for schools to be into schooling?"
So, by then I was actually a little perturbed, especially because someone had just asked me, at the last minute, to sit on a panel and respond to the day's presentations with the "parent perspective." Now, all of the professionals have been working on this topic for days, months, years, or lifetimes, and here I am, "the parent," and I only get a 2-minute warning (or maybe it was 2 days). Clearly, they were looking for an emotional reaction, not a cogent, evidence-based, research-grounded response to RTI. So, I jotted down a few notes, which of course I would not be able to decipher when the time came to make my "presentation."
Reprinted with the permission of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. © 1999-2009 National Center for Learning Disabilities, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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