Response to Intervention Model: No Excuse for Delaying or Denying a Special Education Evaluation

The response to Intervention model is generally referred to as RTI. RTI is a multi-tiered instructional framework that is designed to be used building-wide with all students to identify struggling learners and students with behavior problems. Students receive research-based interventions based on their level of need in order to reduce disruptive and distracting behaviors and maximize student achievement across the board. Schools that have solid RTI programs in place are better able to assist their students in being successful and better able to identify students who may need specialized instruction due to some type of disability.

Some school districts mistakenly interpreted this new regulation of the 2004 amendment to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to use RTI in the assessment process, as a way to delay or deny evaluating children with potential disabilities for special education. As a result of this problem, the Director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) under the United States Department of Education wrote a memorandum to all of the states in November of 2007 addressing this issue. The memorandum clearly states, “The use of RTI strategies cannot be used to delay or deny the provision of a full and individual evaluation to a child suspected of having a disability”.

What this means is that a school district cannot tell a parent that they cannot evaluate their child until they either begin implementing or see the results of the RTI process. After a parent formally requests for their child to be evaluated for special education, if the school district agrees that the child may have a disability that requires special education they must obtain parental permission to formally evaluate the child and begin the process. RTI may continue to be used during the assessment process to assess the child’s response to multiple interventions. The school district may deny evaluating the child, if they believe the child is not a child with a disability but they must write a letter of explanation as to why they are not evaluating the child and what information was used to make this decision. At this point, if the parents still disagrees and wants an evaluation for their child they can request a due process hearing.

The RTI model is an excellent tool used to incorporate more research-based strategies into the school system to increase student’s overall performance, both academically and behaviorally. The concept of a tiered model with different interventions based on the individual needs of the students is a sound educational practice. For example, children who struggle with math computation are struggling for different reasons and at different levels, so using a multi-tiered framework to address the needs of these students make sense. Many children are benefiting greatly from the use of good RTI models. The most important factor, as it relates to children with suspected disabilities, is that the implementation of RTI may not be used to delay or deny initial evaluation for special education.

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