RTI and SLD Identification in Pennsylvania: Procedures for Using RTI to Identify SLD

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    In the previous four blogs, I described Pennsylvania's infrastructure for Response to Instruction and Intervention (RtII) and how the Pennsylvania Department of Education requires school districts to submit an application documenting that the RtII infrastructure is in place prior to being approved to use Response to Intervention (RTI) as part of the comprehensive evaluation of students thought to have specific learning disabilities (SLD). I also described the application process (post #3) and the rationale for why RtI is a better alternative than the traditional ability-achievement discrepancy approach to identifying students with SLD (post #4). In this entry, I will provide an overview of Pennsylvania's guidelines for identifying students with SLD using RTI.

    The Pennsylvania guidelines follow the four-part requirements for the identification of students with SLD in the 2006 IDEA Regulations. These regulations require that evaluation teams document all four criteria to identify a student with SLD. A benefit for using RTI in the evaluation process is that data that are generated during the provision of multiple tiers of instruction and intervention can serve as evidence that addresses these criteria. The evaluation team then supplements this information with other assessments and/or information gathering as needed.

    Criterion #1 requires that “…(t)he child does not achieve adequately for the child's age or to meet State-approved grade-level standards in one or more of the following areas, when provided with learning experiences and instruction appropriate for the child's age or State-approved grade-level standards: oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skill, reading fluency skills, reading comprehension, mathematics calculation, mathematics problem-solving….” (§300.309[a][1]) To document the student’s academic deficiencies, the evaluation team gathers data from statewide testing, universal screening, progress monitoring, and assessments that drill down into student skills. All of these assessments should have been completed during the course of instruction and intervention, and can be documented as part of the comprehensive evaluation. If the evaluation team believes that this information is sufficient to address the first criterion, no further assessments would be needed. If not, the team can conduct further academic assessments.

    Criterion #2 provides for two options — the assessment of a pattern of strengths or weaknesses or RTI. Specifically, in relation to RTI, the regulations state “…(t)he child does not make sufficient progress to meet age or State-approved grade-level standards…when using a process based on the child's response to scientific, research-based intervention…” (§300.309[a][2][i]) The assessment of the student’s progress in response to intervention is of course the heart of the RTI process. During the comprehensive evaluation, the evaluation team analyzes all the progress monitoring data, including the trajectory of the student's progress as compared to that of typical students. The calculation of a rate of improvement (ROI), along with graphing the data, are critical features of making a reliable and valid determination as to whether the student’s ROI is significantly poorer than typical students.

    Criterion #3 is similar to previous iterations of IDEA and requires that the evaluation team determine whether the student’s academic deficiencies are not the result of “…(a) visual, hearing, or motor disabilities; mental retardation; emotional disturbance; cultural factors; environmental or economic disadvantage; or Limited English proficiency.” (§300.309[a][3]) These rule-out procedures are well-known to evaluation teams and will not be further covered here.

    Criterion #4, on the other hand, is a ground-breaking provision that requires of the evaluation team collect “… (d)ata that demonstrate that prior to, or as part of, the referral process, the child was provided appropriate instruction in regular education settings, delivered by qualified personnel; and (d)ata-based documentation of repeated assessments of achievement and reasonable intervals, reflecting formal assessment of student progress during instruction, which was provided to the child's parents.” (§300.309[b][1-2]) This requirement, which applies to all evaluations including those that do not use RTI (in Criterion #2), directs evaluation teams to document that the referred student has been provided with instruction and interventions that are sufficient to allow for adequate progress. If the team cannot document that student’s deficiencies are not a result of a lack of instruction, the student may not be identified as eligible for special education. For example, for a student demonstrating a reading deficiency, there should be evidence that he or she was provided with a program that adequately addresses the “big ideas in reading” (i.e., phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension). Similarly, the evaluation team must document that repeated assessments, such as universal screening and progress monitoring, were conducted on a regular basis with the referred student, and that the results of these assessments were shared meaningfully with parents. Although the regulations do not require RTI, this requirement includes a number of important features of the infrastructure associated with RTI.

    Space in this blog does not allow for a full articulation of all of the procedures and ramifications of these provisions. For further details about these guidelines, watch the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network’s (PaTTAN) Using RTII for SLD identification in PA webinar that describes Pennsylvania's process. The Pennsylvania guidelines for using RTI for SLD identification are also available on PaTTAN’s website.  

    For more information about calculating a student’s ROI, Caitlin Flinn, Andrew McCrea and Matthew Ferchalk have developed a great website, Rate of Improvement, that provides information on the theory and research behind ROI as well as a number of useful formats such as Excel spreadsheets for calculating and graphing ROI.

    In addition, I am currently finishing a book with Amanda VanDerHeyden and Ed Shapiro that provides step-by-step details on using RTI for the identification of students with SLD. Publication (Guilford Press) is projected for spring of 2013.
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