Let's get serious in special education: RtI is here to stay...Deal with it!

I am a proud special educator. I believe that at its best, special education can, and does in some cases, offer a student individualized service that promotes increased performance. I believe in the IEP process as it was first conceptualized. What a good idea to bring a family and school people together to plan a yearly program. I believe in special education that focuses on evidence-based practice, on practice that must evolve over time as more research teaches us to adapt, refine, change. I believe in special education delivered in the context of Response to Intervention (RtI), our best chance ever to bring together special and general education into one system, designed to deliver success for ALL students.

Is special education an evidence-based enterprise? We graduate new teachers with very limited skills related to evidence-based progress monitoring, collaboration, reading instruction, math instruction, and positive behavior supports. Don't talk to me about academic freedom. Certifying teachers is no different than licensing physicians, nurses, chefs, or plumbers.

The training of teachers demands professional rigor not based on academic freedom, but based on longitudinal research, bases that are available and not used. We know how to teach students to read, we know how to build social competence, we know how to monitor progress, we know how to build family–school partnerships. Stephen Covey says that to know and not to do is not to know. Evidence abounds that reinforces that we must not really know!

Many states still allow the use of the IQ/Achievement Discrepancy for eligibility determination. Why? I've been told recently that it is because school psychologists in these states don't want to change. I am a school psychologist. I thought we were supposed to encourage ourselves and our fellow educators to change our practice as emerging, well-conducted research demands it? The research of Jack Fletcher and others proves that the IQ/Achievement Discrepancy is not scientifically valid. IDEA offers the choice to use RtI rather than Discrepancy. If we are scientists, if we are professionals, then we must move on when science demands it.

As a special educator, my main concern is that students with disabilities get the individualized services their needs demand as RtI becomes the widespread practice. The typical student with disabilities is in general education for more than half the day. It's true that disabilities exist all day, right? So, the Tier 1, 2, and 3 interventions that students with disabilities receive each day must be brought together into a coherent system of service. Maybe the IEP needs to include the complete school day, not just the time the student is in special education.

Last, I want us to determine what is so special about special education. If we don't, special education will cease to be relevant. Are there evidence-based practices that work uniquely with students with learning disabilities (LD)? Even this school psychologist knows of many practices that work with students with disabilities and that also work with other students with similar difficulties in reading, math, and behavior. Are their evidence-based practices unique to a disability category? I know of none for the LD and behavior disorders categories.

Maybe what can be special about special education is that it becomes the service component in a school where there is confidence that the best, evidence-based practices are found and are being used by special educators who can help their colleagues implement these same, evidence-based practices with other students with similar needs.

Let's get serious. It isn't true now, but it could be. It is our choice.

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