Parents Are the Key

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    I have talked with people all from all over the country about Response to Intervention to get their feedback and their perceptions of the innovation. Six years ago, I had a conversation with a parent that touched me deeply me, and I think about it often, especially as more and more schools implement RTI. Here is just a short snip-it of that conversation.

    Me: "What are your thoughts on RTI?"
    Parent: "I don’t like it. I don’t like the idea that a child can qualify for special services without an evaluation. I want to see a discrepancy score and an IQ score."
    Me: "Assessment practices in the RTI process tell teachers exactly which skills to focus on for a child, and these assessments tell teachers whether an instructional methodology is having an impact on the learning of a child. Isn’t that more meaningful than a discrepancy score?"
    Parent: "I want my child to have an evaluation. I want an IQ score."
    Me: "So even though your child is getting quality instruction and services, and your child is getting exactly what he needs based on quality assessments, you still want an evaluation?"
    Parent: "I want an IQ score!"

    This conversation struck me in two ways. The first is that it showed me how far the pendulum has swung concerning the field of special education. When I started my career in special education, I recall the “stigma” put on parents and their children who qualified for special education. There was the stigma of being a parent of a child with a learning disability and the stigma of a child in a school who went "somewhere else" during the day. Now here I was, years later, having a conversation with a parent insisting that her child be evaluated for a learning disability, even if her child was currently receiving quality instruction. Today, because of federal law, inclusion, and other practices, the stigma of the past does not sting so deeply (But it still stings). Parents now know that special education is a viable service provided for their child, and inclusive philosophy that has developed over the past 30 years has helped to create a more positive environment for children who receive special education services.


    The second thing that really struck me was that this particular parent demonstrated for me that some parents really want to make sure that the school is holding up their end of the special education contract.  Because of past experiences, some parents have had regarding their child and special education services in their local school, and because some schools have not done a good job in some cases of providing "appropriate" services for children, some parents view special education programming for their child with skepticism.  This parent wanted a full-blown evaluation for her child because the results of that evaluation guaranteed her child educational rights and services.  RTI was a new notion for this parent.  Under the current "system," she knew what to expect for her child using a discrepancy model and how to go get it.  Now we are changing the rules, again!

    As you begin to implement RTI in your schools, one of the best things you can do to ensure implementation success is to heavily involve parents at all levels of process.  Spend a lot of time communicating, educating, informing and involving parents, and be sure to include them every step of the way.  The experiences of the past have a huge impact for the future. The past has taught us that there is no better advocate for a child than an informed parent. Below is a list of "musts" that schools need to remember as they work with parents and begin RTI in their schools.


    • Be very specific when describing your schools' RTI model.
    • Be sure that parents understand the assessments you are using and how the assessments are used to make decisions about their child (screening, progress monitoring, intervention/diagnostic).  If cut scores are used, tell the parents how the cut scores were determined and how they impact support for their child.
    • Clearly communicate the essential components of the RTI process in your school on "multiple occasions." Just telling parents at the beginning of the year is not enough.  Parents and children come and go, and some of us need to hear new information multiple times.
    • Be able to explain what the school will do if a child is not showing adequate progress.  Be able to explain clearly what you mean by “adequate progress” and how you document that progress.
    • Make sure that data shared with parents is easily understood.  Be empathetic.  Ask yourself, "If I were a parent, would this data make sense to me?" Avoid jargon.  Be able to explain how the school uses the data to make decisions about school programming and individual student needs.
    • Check with your state department of education and follow the guidelines for RTI implementation that your state has written for research-based implementation.  This is especially important if you use the RTI process for learning disabilities identification.
    • Create procedural guidelines for informing parents about your RTI process.  Even if you don’t use the RTI process as a means for LD identification, let every parent know where their child stands related to the tiers framework, the specific skills you are working on with their child, how learning groups are established, the type of instruction that occurs during a normal day, and communicate often about progress.
    • Describe the instructional program you are using, and be sure to spend a lot of time on the vocabulary normally associated with RTI.  (Fidelity, direct instruction, skill based instruction, intervention, screening, progress monitoring, core program, etc.)

    Keep your parents "in the know."  It seems that most problems that come up related to parent/school relationships is one of communication.  Never assume that a parent knows.  You need to ask and tell.  Like the FRAM® commercial, "You can pay them now, or you can pay them later."  The more work done up front with parents concerning RTI, the more time you have to focus on the needs of your students.  Spend the time creating positive relationships by being proactive and responsive to parent needs.

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