Saturday, January 26, 2008

Response to Intervention, Learning Disabilities, and IQ

Note: Visit my education blog, The Green Cup.

Will we continue testing intelligence? The new Response to Intervention model raises questions about the role of intelligence testing in the future. Do we need it anymore?

School psychologists around the country are among those watching closely as the Response to Intervention model gets implemented. The reason? Intelligence testing has long been controversial and is an expensive component of identifying children for special education services.

"Getting paid for giving IQ tests over the past 35 years has been very, very good to me," said one school psychologist recently in a forum I'll leave nameless. In the context of the larger discussion, to be fair, the remark wasn't as mercenary as it might sound in isolation.

Will we keep giving IQ tests? That question seems to be on the lips of every certified school psychologist, as well as the superintendents who have to pay them and the school principals who have to wait for testing to get done.

Obviously we will continue to give IQ tests when we suspect that a child is mentally impaired. And ruling out mental impairment has been a part of identifying a child as being emotionally disturbed for the last few years; that doesn't look set to change.

IQ tests for learning disabilities? James B. Hale, Ph.D., had this to say after the new regulations were made public: "A quick read over of the regs suggests that after a child does not RTI (respond to intervention), the regs support our position that we should be doing a comprehensive evaluation, including an evaluation of cognitive processes..." Hale is a certified school psychologist and special education teacher who now teaches as part of the graduate program in school psychology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Hale's remarks were part of a discussion of the issue on a National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) listserv.

Guy M. McBride, Ph.D., is a school psychologist in North Carolina who disagrees with Hale and said so as part of the NASP discussion. "A school may (not must) include cognitive testing but it is not a requirement...," said McBride. "Those who argue that a comprehensive evaluation should always include cognitive testing... are welcome to make those arguments." But McBride believes that under the new regulations individual school districts will make that decision. He says those districts, "would only be obliged to always administer cognitive tests under the LD category if the agency believed it was always appropriate to do so."

The disagreement is easy to explain: the new regulations are not exactly crystal clear in their meaning. The section entitled Evaluations, Eligibility Determinations, Individualized Education Programs, and Educational Placements begins with §300.300 on page 1429 of the new regulations. In the 24 pages that follow we learn that:

  • Parental consent is still required in order to evaluate a child to determine if they are, in the words of the policy, "A child with a disability." That means that normal classroom interventions, like having a child spend half an hour a day for a week in a Tier II session on conjugating irregular verbs might get looked at in the evaluation process, but those sessions don't constitute an evaluation process in and of themselves. It's worth noting that once the school obtains permission to evaluate a child to decide if the child has a disability, there is still a 60-day timeline in place for making the decision.

  • The evaluation process must "Use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information about the child" and must "Not use any single measure or assessment as the sole criterion for determining whether a child is a child with a disability."

  • Whatever might be involved in deciding that a child is mentally impaired or autistic, there are additional procedures for identifying children with specific learning disabilities. And while each individual state will have to come up with guidelines for determining what constitutes a learning disability in that state, the new regs make it plain that states "Must not require the use of a severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability" (emphasis added) and "Must permit the use of a process based on the child's response to scientific, research-based intervention."
Many educators and observers seem to be operating under the misunderstanding that classroom interventions will be the process for identifying children with learning disabilities - and that we'll never have to give another IQ test when we suspect learning disabilities. Judging from the new regs, they're wrong. But the idea that a formal and complete process of IQ testing will still be required appears dubious, and appears to be left up to individual states.

There's much more to say on the issue. And we'll look more closely at the question soon...

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