Once upon a time and not that long ago, a special education referral looked like this: A general education teacher noted that a student was struggling in her classroom and, after classroom and/or Title I interventions failed, referred the child for a special education evaluation. The student either qualified and started receiving special education services, or didn’t and went back to the general education classroom (possibly with other supports in place).
Today, things look a little different. In 2006, a provision was added to IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act), a law originally passed in 1975 that provided a free and appropriate education to children with disabilities, and essentially making it illegal for kids to be denied an education due to their disability. Today the IDEA requires schools to follow a multi-tiered system of support known as RTI or Response to Intervention. You may have heard the term thrown around your own child’s school and have wondered what it meant, or maybe your child has been involved in the RTI process.
RTI is a general education initiative that all children have access to. The basic idea behind the change in IDEA is that when a child struggles in school it can be for a myriad of reasons—poor attendance, cultural or language differences, inadequate instruction and, in some cases, a disability. Offering a multi-level system of support gives children the opportunity for more personalized instruction without automatically placing them in the special education system.
In simple terms, RTI is a three-tiered system to which all children in a school have access. Children can move up and down the tiers depending on their response to interventions offered at each tier.
Tier 1: In Tier 1, all children are included in the core classroom curriculum and are evaluated using screening tools or assessments. If a child scores below a certain threshold on those assessments, he can receive Tier 1 interventions. These interventions—small group or differentiated instruction, for example—happen in the general education classroom and are implemented by the general education teacher. The student's progress is closely monitored to see if the interventions are helpful to the child.
The benefits of RTI is that children have earlier access to interventions that will help them be successful in the classroom.
Tier 2: If Tier 1 interventions are not successful, the child moves to Tier 2. At Tier 2, interventions increase in frequency and intensity. The child will take part in targeted, research-proven intervention in addition to the core curriculum several times a week. This may be small group instruction targeting certain skills within the general education classroom, or may take place in another location and be offered by a support teacher. Again, progress is closely monitored to measure whether or not the interventions are helping the child succeed.
Tier 3: If a child is not making adequate progress at Tier 2, then they enter Tier 3. At Tier 3, interventions are individualized and specific to the child’s needs. Interventions are typically offered one-on-one and outside of the general education classroom. In some schools, Tier 3 is where a special education referral is made. In others, children are referred if they do not make adequate progress in Tier 3.
At each tier, parents meet with educators to discuss the child’s progress, to write a Written Intervention Plan, and to give consent for interventions to take place. At any point, parents can stop the RTI process and request a special education evaluation. Time at each tier may vary, but should not be longer than one grading period.
The benefits of RTI is that children have earlier access to interventions that will help them be successful in the classroom, and fewer children are incorrectly identified as special education services.
Has your child been involved in the RTI process? Share your experience with us in comments below.