RTI Waiting even longer to Fail PP2

RTI: Waiting (Even Longer)
to Fail
Scott Schwartz, Ph.D., CCC/SLP
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.
• “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
• 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
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
• 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
• 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
• Disorganized recall and retell of facts and details
• Weak ability to store and retrieve information
• 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
• 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
• If mother effected, 28% chance of children
• If both mother and father, 79% of children
• Such studies consistently indicate substantial
heritability for learning abilities as well as for
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
• 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
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
• 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
• 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
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
• 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
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
Who Gives the Interventions?
Classroom teacher (what’s in your toolbox?)
Reading tutors
Literacy teachers
Special education teacher
Speech Language Pathologist
What is So Special about Special
• 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
• 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
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
– 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
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
• 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
• 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
• 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
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
• 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.

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