RTI and SLD Identification in Pennsylvania: The Application and Approval Process

In my first post in this blog series, I described how the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) decided to require school districts to apply for approval to use response to intervention (RTI) as part of a comprehensive evaluation for the identification of specific learning disabilities (SLD). The rationale for this position was that school districts need to have in place a robust infrastructure for delivering standards-aligned core instruction and research-based supplemental interventions prior to using RTI for eligibility decision making. In my second blog, I described how PDE has adopted the term Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTII) to emphasize the importance of providing an effective instruction and intervention program in general education for all students, and particularly for those who are thought to be eligible for special education. In this blog post, I describe the process by which school districts make their application to PDE to use RTI for eligibility decision making.

The driving forces behind the development of the application have been Angela Kirby-Wehr, Director of the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN), and Jennifer Lillenstein, Educational Consultant and Statewide Lead for RTII for PaTTAN. The application is completed by school districts on behalf of one or more of its constituent elementary schools. This provision recognizes that school districts often implement RTII on a school-by-school basis. At this point, schools may be approved to use RTI in its SLD identification process for reading at the elementary level. School district personnel are assisted in developing their application by technical assistance consultants from their local intermediate units.

The application itself can be accessed through the publications page of the PaTTAN website. The scoring guide, which provides the parameters used by PDE to rate the applications, is publicly available and is used by school districts to understand the levels of implementation that are needed for approval. The scoring guide is also available free of charge through the PaTTAN website.

The application consists of nine domains. Within each area, there are multiple items, some of which are required, while others are optional. The following describes the domains in terms of the general themes that are addressed. Please note that not all items are described; readers interested in the details of the application and scoring guide should access the resources described above.

  1. Standards-Aligned Core Curriculum and High-Quality Research-Based Instruction: This domain consists of three clusters—instruction, fidelity of implementation, and infrastructure. Items in the instruction cluster assess the extent to which the local school district reading curriculum is aligned with Pennsylvania standards, how teachers differentiate instruction for learners with different academic skills, and how classroom teachers and other specialists work together to deliver core instruction. Items in the fidelity of implementation cluster assess the extent to which formal fidelity checks are used to monitor teachers' adherence to the core curriculum. Items in the infrastructure cluster assess the extent to which there is sufficient allocated time for reading instruction and the extent to which curriculum is aligned across tiers.

  2. Universal Screening: This domain addresses the instruments used by the school for conducting universal screening. Instruments listed on the website of the National Center on Response to Intervention (www.rti4success.com) are automatically approved. Otherwise, districts must demonstrate that their chosen measures are reliable and valid for use as screening tools. Items also tap the extent to which there is a process for monitoring adherence to test administration guidelines and how cut scores are created.

  3. Shared Ownership: This section has two clusters—collaboration and role and function. The collaboration cluster addresses how general educators and other specialists collaborate to align curriculum, instruction, and assessment. The role and function cluster examines how roles and functions of various personnel have changed since the implementation of RTII.

  4. Data-Based Decision-Making: This domain consists of three clusters—goal setting/assessment system, instructional matching, and data analysis. The goal setting cluster addresses the extent to which grade-level goals are assessed and monitored and requests the identification of progress-monitoring measures. Those measures identified by the National Center on Response to Intervention are automatically approved. The instructional matching cluster addresses the extent to which instruction and intervention are matched to assessment data. The data analysis cluster focuses on how districts use follow-up assessments to identify root causes of presenting concerns.

  5. Multi-Tiered Intervention and Service Delivery System: This domain has three clusters—logistics, decision rules, and strategies-tools. In the logistics cluster, items address the extent to which the school schedule allows for an interrupted core instruction and solicits fidelity checks that indicate correspondence of differentiation efforts across tiers. In the decision rules cluster, a sample (anonymous) graph of student data is requested. In the strategies-tools cluster, the district is requested to provide examples of scientifically validated instructional practices and/or standard treatment protocols.

  6. Parent Engagement: In this domain, items address training that has been provided to parents, how parents are involved in the RTII process, and how parents are informed of their rights to a full and individual evaluation.

  7. RTII/SLD Eligibility Determination: In this domain, districts are assessed as to the extent that they address all four criteria for the identification of SLD as per the IDEA regulations, including determining the student’s proficiency in relation to age and state standards, the student’s assessed rate of improvement in response to instruction and intervention, and how other factors and conditions (including a lack of instruction) are ruled out.

  8. Central/Building-Level Leadership: This domain addresses how central office and school principals work together with staff to plan and implement RTII and how RTII procedures are institutionalized in policy and practice.

  9. Professional Development: In this final domain, items address how teachers, specialists, and administrators were trained in RTII and how assessment data are used to inform ongoing professional development efforts.

To date, 25 schools have been approved to use RTI for eligibility decision making. Many schools have reported that the process of preparing the application has helped them focus on key aspects of RTII and has led to improvements in their programs.
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