Panel 3 Speaker: Mark Halpert - Parent (FL)

RTI Leadership Forum
Washington, DC
December 8, 2010


Parents are as frustrated today with RTI as with any process I’ve ever seen.  And yet they’re dying for it work.  Very strange conundrum.  You could sit there in a meeting with a first grader repeating first grade, having gone through 8 weeks of Tier 1 with not a Chinaman’s chance of succeeding in that classroom with levels Tier 2 or Tier 3 cause he needs a different environment, and have somebody insist they go through the next two tiers.  They didn’t.  We have to be in the room as advocates.  But he would have.

We have children sitting in classrooms in 8th grade reading at the second grade level, not understanding the curriculum and being told we’re going to have the kid in the least restrictive environment.   An expert said to me, That’s the most restrictive environment.  It’s the wrong place to be.

We have parents, we have Jack saying really things that are absolutely correct that a parent has the right and the parent’s supposed to be told about referrals and yet at least in Florida and at least in districts I operate in, they’re not given their procedural safeguards until they ask for an evaluation and the process…I actually had a student last week, had his 3rd anniversary in RTI and his trajectory is unacceptable.  So the problems are real and the parents aren’t on the bus, they don’t know where the bus is going, and they think it’s gone off a cliff.

But on the other hand, let’s take the other side.  What Jack said in his article back in 2001 is almost 90% of the kids in first grade who have word identification problems would be poor readers.  What Doug said is, We’re good at identifying problems, strengths and weaknesses, in first grade.  What if we became great at that?  And did that early and helped the kid early to intervene?  Then all of a sudden we’d have kids that succeeded.  But we need targeted evaluations and not just to wait till the end, okay?  Not saying that Jack suggests that.  Jack actually believes a lot of these things should be happening, but they’re not and the real world is not operating as well as either Jack or I or anybody else would like.  And the parents are really unbelievably frustrated because they swear RTI stands for something besides response to intervention.  They don’t know what the acronym is.

But there’s one other thing that I’ve seen in Florida and it sends chills through my body when I see it cause NCLD, there’s lots of good things and bad things, but one of the good things was for the first time ever I saw principals actually focus on students with disabilities.  They set goals.  They had meetings.  They developed programs.  They actually monitored progress.  Florida got an exception to their rules.  Our (unclear) size is now 15% of the school’s population or 100, whichever is smaller.  Our kids have actually disappeared.  In some schools goals are no longer set, teams no longer meeting and nothing’s happened because students with disability become the invisible disability.  And this is serious because it’s about to get worse, cause one of the things about RTI as presently done is we’re taking this process which used to be 60 school days in Florida, okay?  Now it might be 18 months, 24 months, 36 months?  I don’t know.  Maybe somebody will have a bar mitzvah (unclear) 13, okay?  We got to be…parents…how many think a parent would go into a hamburger place where the hamburger might take 30 minutes and three days to be cooked?  They go to McDonald’s because it’s predictable.  We need a predictable system.  I’m not saying whether it should be 2 months or 3 months for the RTI process to be given a chance.  But they want something that’s predictable and has an outcome.  And they want to triage.  If a kid is just suffering from cancer, had chemotherapy and is suffering from those effects, he needs help now.  He needs to be in the OR.  He doesn’t need to go through Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3, if in fact he needs a different environment today.  The kids that are older…so, the first thing I say is let’s get really, really good at, one, involving parents, two, addressing kids early on, okay?  I was talking, had the Boy Scouts of Israel once, and he said We can do anything with a 7-year-old.  Our ability to change a kid’s life at six, seven, and eight is phenomenal.  It gets much, much harder.  We have good data that says we can bridge problems early on.  We have good data that says we can do good evaluations on that.  We can probably get better at that. And we can act earlier.  And parents want to be on the bus, and they want the bus to aim high. One of the questions I have in this whole process is What’s the goal?

Now NCLD set the goal by 2014, 100% of the kids with disabilities are going to be reading at grade level.  Hmmm.  And then they’re going to attack gravity.  Okay?

So that’s not going to happen.  But what is going to happen, because if we don’t have a trajectory we want to do…I would love to be living in a place like Vail where they have 88% of the kids passing a test, but in many places like where I live, 36% pass the test and they’re happy.  And the parents are frustrated.  But they’re not on the bus.

So let’s, first suggestion is let’s get on the bus, but let’s understand something.  Students with disabilities as a subgroup have huge value. I have no idea how it’s going to happen the impact of the ESEA reauthorization, but if it’s not an identifiable group with goals and actions and parent involvement, God bless you. But if it is, high goals, doable goals, it’s gotta be doable, it’s gotta be involved and you’ve gotta have timelines, you have to have…call it targeted assessment, I don’t care what the word is, okay, but if Doug and others experts in this field come up with really good assessments, let’s use them and let’s use them early. The wait-to-fail model was abominable; two of my kids went through it. But as my daughter who has dyslexia who is now is a nationally board certified teacher says Dad, this RTI system, scream Help! Please help us! Help the teachers, the teachers keep getting added more, and more, and more. And what I’ve heard today is that simpler is better. So we’ve gotta find some way of taking off the pressure.

The other point is that parents could become your best advocates. Parents could become a part of this process. I really applaud NCLD for having a Parent Advocate Program; I know I work on part of it. LDA and NCLD and really everybody I’ve talked to today has a different tone, We want RTI to work but the real thing is that we want kids to succeed. Parents having an 8th grader who can’t read who’s staring at jail and starting at not completing high school is unacceptable. So if America is going to get good, we should be world class at finding the problems earlier, involving the teachers, involving the parents, and coming up with a system that cuts off this problem at the very beginning while recognizing that we have a lot of kids that have gone through a very bad system so they might be in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade now and helping them. But let’s get there early, let’s involve the parents, let’s have targeted assessment and use the best tools we have. (applause)

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