Sunday, January 13, 2008

Response to Intervention: the Pros

If your child's IQ is between 76 and 90 (that's between 15% and 20% of all kids) the Response to Intervention model probably brings them help they weren't getting before...

It's called the "dull-average" range - not a very colorful or flattering description. One author calls it the "special education no man's land." If a child's IQ is about 70 or below, they can get help from the special education people at a school by being identified as mentally impaired (though there are a few factors other than IQ that enter in to the decision). If their IQ is about 85 or above and they're not doing well in class, they can possibly get help from the special education people at a school by being identified as having a learning disability.

"About" gets defined a little differently from state to state, but basically it means that educators acknowledge that the tests we use to measure IQ aren't perfect. So "about" equals a five point margin for error.

Strangely, when evaluating a child we suspect of being mentally impaired, "about" means a five point margin of error in favor of identifying the child; we'll agree that a child with an IQ as high as 75 can be considered mentally impaired (the cut off for the mentally impaired placement category was 70) if the other factors are in place. But when we suspect a child of having a learning disability the knife cuts the other way. Evaluators often won't agree than a child with an IQ score of 85 has an IQ of at least 85; the child has to score a 90 on the test before the psychologist will nod their head and agree that the child has an IQ of at least 85 (the cut off for the learning disability placement category). When evaluating a child we suspect of having a learning disability, "about" means a five point margin of error against identifying the child.

No one would ever put it this way to a parent (I hope), but under the discrepancy model that's been in use for the last 25 years or so, if Johnny's IQ is between 76 and 90 he's too bright to be mentally impaired and too "dull" to have a learning disability. Johnny's problem in class (the policy's idea, not mine), is that he's just living up to his potential...

Response to Intervention (RtI) takes a different approach. IQ ceases to be the issue in identifying learning disabilities. And the emphasis on identifying learning disabilities is replaced with a focus on preventing them. RtI is partly a reflection of a greater commitment to the philosophical ideal that all children can learn. When children aren't learning, we intervene to help them. And we assume that the problem is the teaching, not the child, until we can prove otherwise.

"Dull average" Johnny gets help that wasn't available to him before; he gets it in the Tier II level of his school's intervention model. Maybe he gets a lot of help - in short spurts throughout the year. And maybe he even gets identified as having a learning disability, though he wouldn't have before under the discrepancy model (and there is still some confusion over that possibility).

meThe focus on prevention and intervention instead of on identifying disabilities is a positive change (provided identification isn't ignored or avoided as a possibility). And the fact that children will get help based on educational need instead of disability category or socio-economic status alone is an improvement.

There is another potential benefit to the RtI model: cooperation. There has been a divide, a chasm at times, between reading specialists and special education personnel in a school. Each have different mandates and are funded (at least partly) by separate federal programs. Often the reading specialists simply doesn't work with children that have been placed in special education and the special education personnel at a school only take responsibility for a child's education after the child has been determined to be eligible for IDEA services.

RtI creates a school environment where a special education teacher can sit down with a child that hasn't been "placed" yet and provide instruction as part of a Tier II (or Tier III) intervention; as much as 15% of a school's special education funding can be spent in this intervention setting, working with kids that haven't yet been identified for special education services. And the Title I reading specialist can sit right there with the special education teacher and work with the same kid (regardless of socio-economic status) in the intervention framework.

The synergy that could result from cooperation between those two programs could be a strong positive force in a school. And the possibility exists that learning disabilities people and reading people will work together to successfully address the single most common specific learning disability in the schools today: dyslexia.


debbie said...

i just have to say, i truly enjoy your entries on education. they really help me in dealing with my children's school.

Greg_Cruey said...

Hi Debbie,

I appreciate that...


A. Mercer said...

I liked this piece on RtI vs. the discrepancy model. You did an excellent job explaining them. The term I used to hear used for those "donut" kids was "slow learner." I want to gag just thinking about it now. RtI is not perfect, but the old system was pretty broken.

BTW: I left a comment on your script post at DI.

Anonymous said...

I especially like the point you made about not ignoring the possibility of identifying learning disabilities. RtI seems to be a great tool. However, identification may be needed in some cases.