RTI: Waiting (Even Longer) to Fail Scott Schwartz, Ph.D., CCC/SLP BVSD University of Colorado Boulder What is RTI? • Definition of RtI – Multi tiered process of instruction and assessment that is designed to identify students who demonstrate deficits in basic skills and who would fall further behind without focused instruction. – The process involves providing high quality instruction, monitoring progress and adjusting instruction based on the student’s response. Don’t Dis RTI • RTI was implemented quickly, without warning, without a solid scientific base and without sufficient guidance (at every level). • “Questioning RTI is nearly heretical” • “Those who oppose RTI and the in-depth application of the RTI model are (seen as) simply uninformed.” (Reynolds and Shaywitz, 2009) • Because there were positive results in small scale, university run studies does not mean it will scale to the nation without intensive guidance. RTI • “The rapid implementation of RTI-currently lacking a sufficient evidence base-seems to reflect a giant step backward and reeks more of educational faddism and political correctness than of science based, effective educational practices.” (Reynolds and Shaywitz, 2009), (Kavale, et al, 2008) Let the Pendulum Swing • • • • • 70’s Open Schools, tear down those walls Tracking of students (Track 1, 2 and 3) (are we back?) 80’s Whole Language, not phonics (much success?) Fuzzy math, New Math, (e.g. Investigations) No Child Left Behind-all students must reach "proficient" on state tests by 2014 (Diane Ravitch) • Race to the Top –Evaluate teachers by student test scores (for some, attach pay to success (Atlanta)) • Guru of the year The Old Wait to Fail Model • The discrepancy formula for identifying children with a Specific Learning Disability (SLD) made it difficult to identify young students. • We had to wait, providing no services, (3rd grade) until they failed academically to show a big enough discrepancy . • Since there was no cognitive/academic discrepancy, students with lower cognitive scores (gray area) would receive no services. The New Wait (even longer) to Fail Model • Students with SLD (and others) are receiving interventions early. • Students with SLD are responding to tier 2 (gen ed) interventions enough to not qualify for special education but not enough to succeed in class. • Students with low cognitive abilities are minimally responding, not succeeding and qualifying as SLD. • Students with SLD are waiting even longer to fail and receiving non-targeted instruction during the wait. Questions We Will Look at Today • Is the RTI process a valid way to identify students with Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD)? • How has the eligibility criteria for SLD changed in the RTI model? • Who are the students who are being considered to have a “specific learning disability”? • Is the RTI process making it a more difficult and lengthy process to identify students who have specific learning disabilities? • What is the fallout of the RTI process for students? Definition of Specific Learning Disability Basically unchanged from 1968 • a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. • Exclusions History • On April 6, 1963, Samuel A. Kirk told a parent advocacy group that “Recently, I have used the term ‘learning disability’ to describe a group of children who have disorders in development, in language, speech, reading, and associated communication skills needed for social interaction.” • By 1968, “specific learning disability” (LD) became a federally designated category of special education (U.S. Office of Education, 1968). Common Characteristics of SLD • • • • • • Poor decoding, fluency and reading rate Poor phonological awareness Poor reading comprehension Weak vocabulary and conceptual knowledge Frequent spelling errors of HF words Poor writing fluency; difficulty organizing written work • Disorganized recall and retell of facts and details And….. • Weak ability to store and retrieve information efficiently. • Poor working memory. • Weak ability to solve problems. • Difficulty using specific information to reach general conclusions. • Poor organization and time management. • Poor organization of notes and other written materials. • Need more time to complete assignments. Evidence from Neurology • Booth and Burman (2001) found that people with dyslexia have less gray matter in the left parietotemporal area than nondyslexic individuals • Heim and Keil (2004) found that right-handed people with dyslexia show a pattern of symmetry (right equals left) or asymmetry in the other direction (right larger than left). • Shaywitz (2002). When presented with identifying the names or sounds of letters, sounding out nonsense words and sounding out and comparing meanings of real words readers with SLD show underactivation in areas where they are weaker (left hemisphere) and overactivation in other diffuse areas in order to compensate. Evidence from Genetics • Twin Studies • For language disability concordance (the likelihood that one twin will be affected if the other twin is affected) – 75% for monozygotic (MZ, identical) twins – 43% for dizygotic (DZ, fraternal) twins • For reading disability, the concordances • 84% for monozygotic (MZ, identical) twins and • 48%, for dizygotic (DZ, fraternal) twins Evidence from Genetics • Hereditary from parents • If father effected, 45% chance of children being effected • If mother effected, 28% chance of children effected • If both mother and father, 79% of children effected. • Such studies consistently indicate substantial heritability for learning abilities as well as for disabilities. Basic Psychological Processes • Attention - selective attention, sustained attention, response inhibition, attention shifting, and focus. • Auditory - may include phonemic awareness auditory perception, sound discrimination, and auditory mental manipulation. • Language Use - measures of receptive language, expressive language, listening comprehension, vocabulary development, and general knowledge. Basic Psychological Processes • Memory - short term memory, working memory, associative memory and long term retrieval. • Mental Control - executive functioning, planning, organization, and self-regulation. Basic Psychological Processes • Problem-Solving/Judgment -social awareness, reasoning skills, decision-making, fluid reasoning and emotional control. • Processing – to quickly perceive and respond to distinctions in stimuli; processing speed, automaticity, and rapid decision-making. (Rapid Automatic Naming) Basic Psychological Processes • Sensori-Motor (Action/Output) -visual-motor integration, motor speed, and overall fine/gross motor skills. • Visual - spatial awareness, visual perceptual skills, visual memory, perceptual organization, visual mental manipulation, and perceptual discrimination. Criteria for a Specific Learning Disability Using the Discrepancy Model • A significant discrepancy between academic achievement and intellectual ability. • Discrete formula for determining SLD (IQ and SS on academic assessment). • Looking for “unexpected underachievement” within the child. • Resulted in “wait to fail” because of the wide range of allowable variability in achievement in the early grades. Does Cognitive Testing Help us Understand the Student? • Info gathered from cognitive assessment helps create a profile of basic psychological processes: – Visual or auditory strengths and weaknesses – Verbal abilities – Processing speed – Working memory – Overall ability (consistent or not) This info can enlighten us and direct us in strategies to accommodate the student’s learning style. How The Old Process Failed the Student with SLD • Teacher or parent knew a student was struggling/different in kindergarten or first grade. • Teacher referred child to special education. • Special Ed either did an evaluation that did not show enough of a discrepancy or told teacher to wait until next year. • No process or resources were in place to focus on the student who did not qualify. Ring Out the Old, Ring in the New New Criteria for a Specific Learning Disability using RTI Model • Unexpected underachievement for grade or age. • Student does not make sufficient progress to meet age or state approved grade level standards when using a process based on the student’s response to scientific, researched based intervention. • An evaluation that indicates a discrepancy (below the 12th %ile) between student achievement compared with reference group in identified areas. • No need to show discrepancy between academic achievement and intellectual ability or to show any processing deficits. New Criteria for a Specific Learning Disability • No clear cut guidelines to allow for consistency of a diagnosis between students, schools, districts or states. • No specific timeline or response criteria to determine when to evaluate and provide a more targeted intervention (waiting even longer to fail) • “Recognition that children we might have thought of as “slow learners” may very well have specific learning disabilities.” CDE • The only cognitive exclusion is IQ below 70 (intellectual disability) How RTI Fails the Student with SLD • Test (DRA?) scores indicate a student is not performing as well as peers. • Student is placed in small group literacy instruction that focuses on targeted skills (or not). • Students makes some progress in intervention but are still not successful in classroom. • Student has, at least, two PST meetings where it is decided to go to special education evaluation (classroom teachers!) How The New Process Fails the Student with SLD • Student is assessed but does not qualify for services because they have enough information and strategies for assessments to not qualify but not enough to succeed in class. • Continue RTI ad nauseum • Student, teachers and parents are frustrated at the results. • Wait until the demands are increased and child fails. Student knows they are doing poorly. Grandfathered In? • If a student qualified for a Specific Learning Disability before the change in definition, he or she still qualifies. • If a student already qualified, a different criteria is established to maintain services. • Because the student has been given ongoing instruction, he need not score below the 12th %ile to continue to qualify. • We expect to see improvement due to intervention. For an Initial Evaluation • For an Initial evaluation, the student must go through the RtI process to qualify for an identification of having a specific learning disability. • The student must have gone through multiple interventions without sufficient response. • “A score at or below the 12th percentile or 1 ½ standard deviations below the mean may be considered to represent a significant deficit.” The Problem with This Model: Students with Specific Learning Disabilities Learn! • If given focused attention in literacy, most children with typical or above intelligence will learn the tasks to be assessed. Most will improve above the 12%ile. • The student with SLD will not learn enough in the less targeted Tier 2 to catch up, but will learn enough to not qualify. • Students with low abilities might remain below the 12th%ile, qualifying as SLD. • We expect to see improvement due to intervention. Reality Check • Almost 14% of individuals have cognitive scores between 70 and 85. • We would expect these students to have reading scores between 1 and 2 SD below the mean. This would be ‘expected underachievement’. • A student with a 115 IQ and standard scores in the 70-85 range would demonstrate “unexpected underachievement”. Change the Construct of SLD? • “If a low achievement definition of learning disabilities takes hold, the learning disability field will necessarily change in very significant ways. Learning disabilities as a field will disappear. That may be a bit premature and melodramatic, but it may not be.” L. Fuchs Gap Analysis? • “A gap of 2.0 or greater, even after targeted/intensive intervention, is often considered significant, but is not an absolute cutpoint. • If the majority of students have a skill gap of 2.0 or greater, a 2.0 gap for the student being evaluated would not necessarily signify the presence of a disability.” (CDE) • If you have an SLD and, unfortunately, go to a low performing school, you will not be identified. Is the RTI process a valid way to identify students with Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD)? • In a word….NO. • It does not address the definition of a learning disability. • It causes students with specific learning disabilities to wait even longer to be identified. • It identifies students with “expected underachievement” as having a specific learning disability. • Students with SLDs in a low performing school become invisible in the RTI model. Lets Get in the Weeds • • • • • What intervention? Who provides the intervention? How long do we wait for a response? What is or is not a response? What do we do? What are the Interventions • Should be specific to the deficit area according to standards based testing (fluency, comprehension, phonemic awareness, etc.). • Canned programs: Is the lack of trust of teachers determining interventions? no wiggle room for individual differences. • Is the best the enemy of the good? (We bought this program, it has research behind it, use it. Don’t tell me it is inappropriate for those students.) Who Gives the Interventions? • • • • • • Classroom teacher (what’s in your toolbox?) Paraeducator Reading tutors Literacy teachers Special education teacher Speech Language Pathologist What is So Special about Special Education? • Certain programs are deemed to be specific to special education (funding) and are only allowed to be used by students who are in special education. • Lexia, Wilson, Lindamood Bell, SOAR • Withhold these programs from students even though it might be what they need (until they fail long enough to qualify). How Long Do We Try Different Interventions? • 6-8 weeks per intervention group? • Student is showing some progress but not enough to close the gap; another 6-8 weeks? • Change to a different program; another 6-8 weeks? • Some students are in RtI for a year, two years, for ever (waiting……). These students continue to show some progress when receiving interventions but can not succeed without them. How Long Do We Wait for a Response? • Caution should be taken not to delay a referral for special education evaluation beyond the point when the team should be suspecting a disability. RtI problem-solving and the provision of interventions do not replace the right of a child with a disability to be identified as such and to receive special education and related services. (CDE) • Parents can request an evaluation and, if there is a suspected disability, the school must do an evaluation. What is a “Response”? • How do we define a “response”. • “There are no widely accepted criteria for identification of inadequate responders” (Fletcher and Vaughn, 2009) • Students either respond well, respond a little or do not respond. Closing the Gap • Students who respond well: – Students who were not presented with the material previously or not receptive to the information. – Students who needed a different presentation. – Students who need more explicit instruction in specific areas of weakness. – These students will close the gap. Trajectory that Does Not Close the Gap • Students who respond a little: – Students with learning disabilities: these students will respond enough to not qualify for services but not enough to succeed in class. – Those students with cognitive abilities that are approaching typical but are still lower. Limited Response • Students who do not respond (or respond extremely slowly): – Low ability students; cognitive level is limiting rate of improvement. – Students with significant attentional and behavioral issues. – Students who do not speak the language of instruction. The Issues and The Fallout of RTI • Students with learning disabilities can learn. They are receiving tier 2 instruction and getting enough to not qualify but not enough to succeed. • We are withholding appropriate interventions and using inadequate interventions until we know the student with an SLD will qualify. • Students with SLD who are receiving outside tutoring are not qualifying because their test scores are too high. The Issues and The Fallout of RTI • Students know they are failing in the classroom and are affected (damaged) emotionally and socially with no support. • Parents are getting outside testing early on in the process to obtain scores that are low enough to qualify their student for services. • Without any cognitive testing we have no evidence to present to the child to let them know that they are intelligent, leaving them creating their own reality about their intelligence. The Issues and The Fallout of RTI • Parents are getting outside diagnoses of ADHD or ADD to qualify for services (must only show the impact of ADD on learning to qualify). • Students who are slow learners are being qualified as having a specific learning disability. • Bright (high IQ) students who are struggling with reading (but perform similar to classmates) become invisible in the process. What Can We Do to Improve the System • Allow and encourage cognitive testing, not for a discrepancy formula, but to look for basic psychological processes that are affected. • RTI should be looked at as an instructional model, not a diagnostic tool. • Allow for professional judgment. For many students, we do not need to wait a year…we know. • Provide appropriately targeted services earlier. • Continue to serve lower functioning students but not as “specific learning disability”. RTI-The Good • Typical students who needed an extra boost are getting it (is that any different). • We are collecting data to drive our decisions. • Students who are lower functioning (gray area) can now receive services through special education. RTI- The Bad • Students with “specific learning disabilities” are waiting even longer to fail before qualifying for services. • We are collecting (too much) data to drive our decisions. • Low functioning students are qualifying as students with “specific learning disabilities”. • Student in lower functioning schools are not being identified. The Ugly • General education teachers are getting so frustrated with the system they are not referring students. • Special education teachers are scrambling to figure out how to get students the help they need. • Parents, teachers and students are frustrated. • Students who are waiting to be identified are losing valuable intervention time and are being further damaged socially and emotionally as they wait. • More students are getting the identification of ADHD to get services. Final Words • Hopefully: This, too, will pass (or at least morph into something reasonable). • RTI is not all bad, we need to accurately assess what it does well. • We need to continue to get the students who need our help, the help they need.