Prevention Model Takes Off in Schools: A New Approach for Learning Disabilities Changes in IDEA ’04 have prompted local education agencies (LEAs) across the nation to consider new models that may reduce the number of students who need special education services or provide an alternate method of identifying students as having a specific learning disability. While the definition of specific learning disability ... School Matters
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School Matters  |   March 01, 2005
Prevention Model Takes Off in Schools: A New Approach for Learning Disabilities
Author Notes
  • Susan Boswell, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at sboswell@asha.org.
    Susan Boswell, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at sboswell@asha.org.×
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School-Based Settings / Language Disorders / Reading & Writing Disorders / School Matters
School Matters   |   March 01, 2005
Prevention Model Takes Off in Schools: A New Approach for Learning Disabilities
The ASHA Leader, March 2005, Vol. 10, 1-21. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM1.10042005.1
The ASHA Leader, March 2005, Vol. 10, 1-21. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM1.10042005.1
Changes in IDEA ’04 have prompted local education agencies (LEAs) across the nation to consider new models that may reduce the number of students who need special education services or provide an alternate method of identifying students as having a specific learning disability.
While the definition of specific learning disability remains the same since IDEA was first enacted in 1975, the reauthorized law provides a welcome move away from using IQ-achievement discrepancy formulas as the sole criterion for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability. This formula-which has come under criticism from ASHA for over a decade-required schools to consider whether there is severe discrepancy between the child’s achievement and intellectual ability in oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skill, reading comprehension, mathematical calculation, or mathematical reasoning.
Prevention
To determine whether a child has a specific learning disability, IDEA ’04 states that schools may now use a process to determine if the child responds to scientific, research-based intervention. Although not specifically mentioned in the law, this process is known as responsiveness-to-intervention (RTI).
“Too many kids are labeled as having a learning disability who just need better instruction,” said Barbara Ehren, research associate at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. According to the President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education, up to 40% of children are in special education because they weren’t taught to read.
Responsiveness-to-intervention moves away from requiring students to “wait to fail” and instead focuses on preventing academic failure and identifying those children in need of special education. The model is designed to ensure that children who are at risk for failing in the early grades receive scientific, research-based intervention as soon as possible.
To promote prevention services, IDEA ’04 allows LEAs to use up to 15% of their Part B funds for early intervening services. These pre-referral services include educational and behavioral services and supports within the general education program as well as professional development in the use of research-based programs. Early intervening services are designed to help students in kindergarten through 12th grade, with an emphasis on students through third grade. Although no new IDEA funding has been allocated for early intervening services, LEAs can supplement these activities with funds received through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
Eligibility for special education services would focus on children who-even after receiving early intervening services-are not able to be successful. These concentrated, short-term programs would help LEAs differentiate between children who with a difference in learning styles and those children who, despite high-quality instruction by well-trained individuals, have unexpected underachievement due to a disability. This is also an effective model to identify language differences versus language disorders among students who are English language learners.
Momentum Builds
“In the field, we’ve been disillusioned and we’re questioning our diagnostic techniques, our tests. We need something new and better. Responsiveness-to-intervention is tantalizing-it’s one of the most exciting areas of service delivery that I’ve seen in the past 30 years,” said Judy Montgomery, professor of special education and literacy at Chapman University in Orange, CA.
RTI is an approach that is quickly taking hold in districts-if not already in place, Montgomery said. She believes that all LEAs are aware of RTI due to the IDEA reauthorization; 5% are currently putting a program into place; and another 25% are thinking about putting an RTI program in place, based on contact with special education directors in the state of California.
Through her research, Montgomery developed a reading program that could be used in an RTI context. In reviewing the literature in speech-language pathology and special education since 1995, “the research seemed to show that we needed fewer tests, more intervention, and fewer hours out of the classroom,” Montgomery said.
“I began to think that we could develop a program that took all the best strategies and deliver intensive services every day-delivering services two or three times a week is not enough to change learning styles,” Montgomery said. Her two-hour program of daily instruction in phonemic awareness, vocabulary, and text comprehension that proved successful in the clinic. In an effort to move the program from the clinic to the classroom, Montgomery turned to her colleague of 20 years, Barbara Moore-Brown.
As Director of Special and Alternative Education in the El Rancho Unified School District in Pico Rivera, CA, Moore-Brown had embarked on analyzing the district’s special education identification procedures and intervention practices. “In our district, 98% of students are Hispanic and we were concerned about using instructional and identification practices that were not appropriate for second language learners,” she said.
Moore-Brown implemented Montgomery’s RTI program which proved successful for English language learners who were still struggling despite completing other intervention programs. The fourth and fifth grade students, who were typically reading at a second grade level, spent an hour a day in the enhanced reading program with an SLP or resource specialist. After 45 hours of instruction over nine weeks, the students gained more than a year’s growth in reading and were reading at a third grade level. After the first year of the program, only four of 63 students were eventually referred for special education. The California School Boards Association recognized the program, which is now in its third year, with the 2004 Golden Bell award.
The movement toward RTI is propelled by a confluence of trends in both general and special education. In addition to changes in IDEA, there are accountability requirements in NCLB and considerations of evidence-based practice. “We have newer considerations of how we view language and language disabilities as well as our professional roles and responsibilities in literacy,” Moore-Brown added.
Role of SLPs
Because RTI is just beginning to be implemented, there are a myriad of models. However, many approaches focus on prevention, rather than identification. Models may use tiers of successively more intense interventions prior to identification, with variation in the length of service provided and the age group targeted. All programs would benefit from a collaborative approach, and SLPs need to participate, Ehren emphasized.
“SLPs need to provide consultation and technical assistance to teachers. They need to be involved in monitoring student progress and delivering some of the interventions, especially as they relate to the language underpinnings of literacy,” Ehren said. Through their professional preparation, SLPs bring a clinical diagnostic orientation to the team and are able to determine the language causation of difficulties for students who are resistant to certain levels of intervention.
Moore-Brown found that an unexpected benefit to having SLPs involved in RTI programs is that they are trained to understand and deal with student behaviors that were posing a challenge for general educators. “Students who had not been successful in school had developed behaviors of avoidance,” Moore-Brown said. “The SLPs in our program know how to work through these behaviors, which went away as the students developed skills in reading.”
“With the change in the law, it will be contingent upon speech-language pathologists to implement something this powerful,” said Jennifer Shubin, an SLP in the El Rancho RTI program. “Our schools are now going to be engaged in a change process to understand that we aren’t just looking at students who qualify for special education. We’re also looking at prevention.
Seminars and Meetings
RTI Seminar Set for May 4

ASHA will host a telephone seminar on “Responsiveness-to-Intervention: An Alternative to Special Education” on May 4 from 3-5 p.m. Eastern time. The last day to register for the live broadcast is noon on April 27. Presenters Judy Montgomery, professor of special education and literacy at Chapman University in Orange, CA, and Barbara Moore-Brown, director of Special and Alternative Education in the El Rancho Unified School District, Pico Rivera, CA, will explain how SLPs can work as part of an RTI team, with special focus on a language/literacy team. Results of a two-year study in a large, culturally diverse urban school district will be shared.

Capacity Building Forum

“Building Capacity to Deliver Multi-Tiered Reading Intervention in Public Schools and the Role of Response to Intervention” was the topic of a forum sponsored by the International Dyslexia Association, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. Co-sponsors included ASHA and the Council for Exceptional Children/Division of Learning Disabilities, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and the National Research Center on Learning Disabilities. A total of 33 organizations participated in the forum which included brainstorming teams that focused on issues related to the social marketing of educational change and organizational roles in RTI capacity building. Visit www.interdys.org/html/forumsummary.htm for an executive summary of the meeting.

What is Responsiveness-to-Intervention?

A responsiveness-to-intervention process is a problem-solving framework that may be used to detect academic and behavioral difficulties and guide the use of research-based interventions to provide intensive instruction. The student’s response to general education and intensive specialized instruction are measured periodically and compared to age, grade, or classmate performance. This data on the responsiveness to intervention may be used to inform instruction, and as part of a comprehensive evaluation for identification of learning disabilities and determination of eligibility for special education and related services.

Although there is no universally accepted model, many RTI approaches use a variation or modification of a three-tier model:

  • Tier 1-High quality instructional and behavioral supports are provided for all students in general education. Ongoing curriculum-based assessment is used to guide instruction.

  • Tier 2-Students whose performance or rate of progress falls behind their peers receive specialized instruction or remediation in the general education classroom.

  • Tier 3-Comprehensive evaluation is conducted by a multidisciplinary team to determine eligibility for special education and related services.

The goal of this approach is to provide differentiated instruction and remedial opportunities in general education, with special education provided for those students who required more specialized services beyond what is provided in the classroom.

ASHA Initiatives

ASHA has engaged in two major initiatives related to responsiveness-to-intervention for students with specific learning disabilities:

  • National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities (NJCLD). ASHA is one of 11 national member organizations involved in developing a document on RTI that includes information on the structure and components of an RTI program; implementation issues; and current research. This document is being reviewed by the NJCLD member organizations and will be available in 2005.

  • LD Roundtable. ASHA is one of 14 national organizations that participate in the LD Roundtable which has reviewed the sections of IDEA ’04 that relate to determining if a child has a specific learning disability. The LD Roundtable also has developed language for proposed regulations for determining if a child has a specific learning disability including the criteria for determining the existence of a specific learning disability if a scientific, research-based intervention process is used. This proposed language will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education for use as they develop the regulations related to IDEA ’04.

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March 2005
Volume 10, Issue 4