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RTI promises to take the failure out of the special education process

Sponsor: Spectrum K12 School Solutions

Christy Chambers is president of CASE, the Council of Administration of Special Education. She is also superintendent of the Special Education District of McHenry County,Illinois.

How should district administrators think about Response to Intervention? What is it and how should they understand it?

The simple definition would be that it is a process of providing high quality instruction and intervention matched to student need, and then frequently monitoring progress to adjust, revise and inform instruction.

What you're describing sounds like just good teaching.

Absolutely. But what's different is that it's all about data. For instance, you must have data to show that your core curriculum is effective with at least 80 to 85 percent of your students. But what I'm particularly excited about is that for the first time special education isn't necessarily failure oriented. We can be on the prevention side.

Elaborate on that.

Until the reauthorization of IDEA in 2004, to get special education services you had to be failing in academics or have serious emotional needs demonstrated with intensity over time. Before a special education teacher, or a speech pathologist, or any other support source could be used with a child, the child already had to have a disability, meaning that general education alone wasn't working for that child.

How has that changed?

There are two concepts in IDEA 2004. One is Response to Intervention, which of course is getting all the attention. The other piece is Early Intervening Services. Using Early Intervening Services means you can intervene early and use federal IDEA funds with any struggling learner; it doesn't have to be a special ed student. Response to Intervention is one of the things you can use with that child, in addition to professional development for yourself and behavior interventions for the student. But you intervene early, not only after the child failed.

Response to Intervention is not exclusively a special education initiative, is it?

Absolutely not. The whole idea here is that RTI should be a hallmark of a unified approach to breaking down the separate silos of special ed and general ed. RTI is for any struggling learner or any child that is not making the expected and adequate progress through that core general ed curriculum.

You mentioned the importance of data to the RTI process. How should teachers be using RTI data?

The data have to come from frequent progress monitoring on an individual basis. Are you getting an adequate response to the targeted type of scientific interventions you're using with the child? You need to monitor that to find out if the intervention is effective. Do you need to change it? Are the students making adequate progress? Are they closing the gap as the other kids continue to learn and increase their knowledge and skills? It's data to inform instruction.

How should administrators be thinking about this data?

Teachers have to have data to show that the interventions they're using are appropriate. Whether it's a reading intervention or behavioral intervention or a math intervention or something at the middle school level or the secondary level, you can't use your gut. First, administrators must have data demonstrating that the district's core curriculum is effective. Then, administrators must ensure that teachers have access to the tools to track data and provide interventions with the appropriate professional development so teachers effectively use the tools, know how to look at data, and how to use it to inform instruction.

What are some of those professional development issues?

Educators must know how to effectively monitor progress. We need to know how to capture data, how to track data and how to use the data to help figure out where to make adjustments in instruction. We must also have access to the tools and interventions and how to use them with fidelity. I think professional development is crucial and is a cornerstone to RTI's effectiveness.