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Is RTI Equivalent to Special Education?

10/18/10
by Pam Wright

Would a court view RTI as equivalent to Special Education?  It seems to me that RTI acts as a form of special education decision making and therefore is subject to the same legal standard-expectations-responsibilities.

There is so much confusion about Response to Intervention (RTI) – What is it? When it should be used? With which students?

“Would a court view RTI as equivalent to Special Education?”

RTI is not special education, so it is not equivalent to nor a substitute for special education.

RTI is a method to determine if a child has a specific learning disability and is eligible for special education. IDEA 2004 says, school districts “shall not be required to take into consideration whether a child has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability …” nor are schools prohibited from using a discrepancy model.

“In determining whether a child has a specific learning disability, a [school] may use a process that determines if the child responds to scientific, research-based intervention as part of the evaluation process described in paragraphs (2) and (3.)” 20 U.S.C. 1414(b)(6) (page 97 in Wrightslaw: Special Education Law)

Read “Additional Procedures for Identifying Children with Specific Learning Disabilities” in the federal special education regulations. (p. 243-245 in Wrightslaw: Special Education Law). These regulations clarify that a child may be found to exhibit “a pattern of strengths and weaknesses in performance, achievement, or both, relative to age, state-approved grade level standards, or intellectual development …” (Regulation 300.9(a)(2)(ii) and 300.311(a)(5)(ii)(B)).

Another area of confusion is when the school must complete a comprehensive evaluation for special education. Parents write that the school won’t evaluate because the child is going through RTI. While the school may use RTI to determine if a child responds to scientific, research-based intervention as part of the evaluation process, RTI “does not replace the need for a comprehensive evaluation.” (See Commentary in the Federal Register, page 46648, which discusses Regulation 300.307(a)(2).

Links to the Commentary: http://www.wrightslaw.com/idea/commentary.htm

Must all potential referrals for evaluations  be preceded by RTI?

The federal law does not require schools to use RTI to determine eligibility for any disability. RTI is simply a method school districts may use to help determine SLD eligibility. RTI is not a substitute for a comprehensive evaluation in determining eligibility for special education as a child with SLD.

If educators and administrators actually read the law, that would alleviate much of the confusion about RTI.

Our school says parents cannot ask for an evaluation.

Parents have always been able to request an evaluation – that hasn’t changed. If your state DOE representatives don’t know that, they haven’t read the law.

** OSEP Memorandum – The USDOE’s Office of Special Education Programs sent a memo to all State Directors of Special Education in January 2011, clarifying that RTI cannot be used to delay or deny an evaluation for eligibility under IDEAhttp://www.wrightslaw.com/info/rti.osep.memo.0111.pdf

You need to know what the law says about RTI. That means you need to read the statute, regulations, and the Commentary. Then get a copy of your state special ed regulations and compare them. Are they different re: RTI? Substantially different? How? Is this another time when school people and/or DOE staff have interpreted the law incorrectly?

In A Parent Guide to RTISusan Bruce explains the RTI process and what IDEA requires, parent concerns and important questions about RTI, and what RTI means for our kids.

How do you know if a child is “learning disabled” or mentally retarded, emotionally behaviorally disabled – which requires RTI/Positive Behavioral Support?

Federal law does not require schools to provide mentally retarded or emotionally behaviorally disabled children with RTI/Positive behavioral support. The law does not require schools to use RTI before conducting an evaluation. If you have been told these things, you need to know that they are not in the federal law.

Federal law sets out the minimum requirements. States may provide more rights and benefits than federal law. That’s why I advise you to read the law and compare the federal and state regulations – that way, you will know what the law really says.

I share your concerns about the way schools are implementing RTI. Most people responsible for RTI do not have the education and training needed to implement scientifically research based educational interventions. But that’s another can of worms.

Do not get Stuck in RTI Purgatory!

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21 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Wrightslaw 10/09/14 at 12:54 pm

    RTI process cannot be used to delay-deny an evaluation for eligibility under IDEA for an IEP. Read this from an Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) Memorandum to State Directors of Special Education.

    http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/rti.osep.memo.0111.pdf

    Read these articles (and follow all the links) about getting “stuck” in RTI
    http://www.wrightslaw.com/blog/?p=5783
    http://www.wrightslaw.com/blog/?p=5790

  • 2 Michelle 10/08/14 at 7:06 pm

    Can a school require a child be placed into a Special Education classroom setting without an I.E.P. while conducting an RtI. Stating the SPED setting is the Tier 3 and the SPED teacher needs to collect the data for the ARD to determine if the student can be successful in the general classroom setting?

  • 3 Linda 11/01/13 at 7:37 pm

    Yes, we have been told we HAVE to RTI students before referring for evaluation for special ed. Some student go through RTI for a year or more before admin decides testing is needed.
    Federal gov. may not see RTI as special ed, but gen ed teachers and admin see it as the “Door” to specia ed. They consider it the “Hoops” they have to jump through to get a student placed.
    Sad but true!

  • 4 Amelia 11/01/13 at 10:27 am

    We have students that have been in RTI for three years. Parents are being told by the special education coordinator that they can’t for-go RTI which is determined to be three tiers of 8 weeks. The Sp. Ed. Coordinator tells the parents that they can’t refer until the process is complete. Some of these students have already been identified to have existing disibilities by individual evaluations. They are still told no that the entire RTI process must be complete. Parents need to be told the truth about RTI and allowed to make the decision as to wether their child will be forced throught the entire process. They need to know that they have the right to do a referral inspite of RTI.

  • 5 nick 08/23/13 at 3:24 pm

    Can a school use RTI service minutes as a substitute for RSP service minutes?

  • 6 Jennifer M. 05/15/13 at 12:06 am

    Is it possible to opt out of RTI in Florida? My son got placed in a Tier 2 program because his reading accuracy and comprehension don’t “match”. He got 100% on accuracy and 4/5 on comprehension… and he was sick that day. The school flat out told me that he’s in the program to improve his testing skills for FCAT which I am opting him out of next year. He is missing out on instruction time in subjects he likes to go sit in RTI and do work well below his abilities with a teacher I would throw out of my house for the way she talks to children. I just don’t want DCF showing up at my door because the school called complaining that I’m not allowing him academic help. My other option is to move so we can go to the school across the street to the one he already attends.

  • 7 George 05/22/12 at 8:54 pm

    RTI is a bad joke on children who need special ed help and their parents and the community. I can interfund up to 60% of the catagorical special ed funding into the general fund of the district and never help those for whom the funding is intended by law. Also, the law specifies that you do not have to keep accurate records. All the district has to do is continue to keep children jumping through hoops and never identifying them. No matter what they do the funding never stops and they do not have to remediate the inate problem of the child.

    This is all a part of the privatization and corporatization of schools and children. Children are now revenue generators for contracts and pawns in a game with more money than the DOD. DOD’s budget is $648 billion and K-12 general fund only is over $700 billion. REAL MONEY FOR PRIVATIZATION.

  • 8 Cynthia 05/22/12 at 10:02 am

    What about Illinois which essentially states that the evaluation must include the RTI process? The way it is written appears to be circular reasoning to me – you can’t block an evaluation request by a parent, but the evaluation must be the RTI process. Am I misinterpeting this? Regulations state: b) Provided that the requirements of this subsection (b) are met, each district shall, no later than the beginning of the 2010-11 school year, implement the use of a process that determines how the child responds to scientific, research-based interventions as part of the evaluation procedure described in 34 CFR 300.304. When a district implements the use of a process of this type, the district shall not use any child’s participation in the process as the basis for denying a parent’s request for an evaluation.

  • 9 Deb H 01/16/12 at 3:47 pm

    I just came across a school district that decided to provide counseling as a service for a child under RTI. There is no parental consent involved. I was of the understanding that RTI was for reading and math. If behavior, which is part of the picture here, is an impediment the school cannot implement counseling on its own without parental consent under RTI. Am I correct in this? Thanks

  • 10 Wrightslaw 12/01/11 at 12:48 pm

    Melanie – I’m moderating the blog today and saw your comment. We do get an occasional lecture about people first language. But we shouldn’t and generally don’t revise comments by parents on the blog because some people dislike the wording used. In this particular post, note the block quotes denoting the participant’s questions. Pam restates these questions as she responds.

    You may be interested in Pete’s Editorial: Pete Wright – the Dyslexic, ADD/ADHD Attorney, When “People First” Narrows Your Focus at http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/pete.wright.add.htm and other comments regarding this on our Suggestion Box page on FB. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wrightslaw/258027171722?sk=app_6009294086

    Thanks for your feedback and for participating in the Wrightslaw Way Blog. ~Sue

  • 11 Melanie 12/01/11 at 10:14 am

    I have been an advocate for people with disabilities for 31 years. I am a parent of a wonderful man with Down Syndrome, and I am also an educator of children with disabilities.

    I was shocked to see the language used in the “Is RTI Equivalent to Special Education?” article.

    “People First” language was not used! “Federal law does not require schools to provide mentally retarded or emotionally behaviorally disabled children…”

    Come on you guys get with the program! As an advocacy and informational website you need to be an outstanding example in all writing! Don’t put the disability and label before the child!!!

    It is and has been for years “People First”!!!

    Melanie

  • 12 Mike 10/22/10 at 2:54 pm

    Some good comments, again it depends on your state’s guidance. In Illinois RtI is a required component of SLD identification only. I would say it can make evaluations faster as well.

    RtI cannot be used as an excuse to refuse an evaluation though. Guidance on that has been very clear in my state. I would also add that RtI components are only required when SLD is suspected not for any other categories. So there is still plenty of “traditional” evaluation occurring.

    Candace as for the funding issue, 15% of Part B funds can be used for coordinating and implementing early intervening services. RtI could certainly be early intervening services.

  • 13 Candace 10/21/10 at 10:04 am

    The confusion over RTI doesn’t end with SLD identification! In our work at IDEA Money Watch, we are seeing many school districts reporting that they are using IDEA Part B Recovery Act funds to implement schoolwide RTI.

    According to guidance from USED (available from our Resources page), this is NOT an allowable use of IDEA Part B funds. While schools could take advantage of the IDEA provision to reduce local spending on special education (under certain conditions) when federal funds increase, as they did by the Recovery Act allotment and use those “freed-up funds” for activities such as RTI, IDEA Part B federal funds are only to be used for the excess cost of special education.

    Ironic that a process being used to keep kids out of special education is – at least in some places – being funded with IDEA federal funds!

  • 14 Mike 10/20/10 at 5:07 pm

    Being a former school administrator and current education law attorney in Colorado, I can verify what Mimi has said, although in many instances I’m not sure if it’s a deliberate attempt to avoid providing services or if it’s simply a matter of ignorance (not that that makes it any better). Unfortunately if you have three different Rti presenters, you’ll generally get at least two wildly inconsistent explanations about what Rti is and what it’s supposed to look like; therefore the implementation is erratic at best.

  • 15 Melissa 10/20/10 at 4:49 pm

    In my experience, RTI was very effective. I had been trying for years to get my son qualified for services and became very fustrated with the system. It was obvious that he struggled with learning differences but was in that “grey area” that can’t qualify for help. It was only through RTI that he finally qualified. The only problem I had is that after he started receiving services, they were not very helpful. I found that teachers do not follow IEP’s very well, if at all. Also, teachers, including Special Ed, seem to do very well with kids who have a severe disability or who are average. But, the the kids in the “grey area” are being mis-treated and falling through the cracks. In my opinon, Public schools are only good for kids who are average. I have put my son in a private school for LD kids, and the difference is amazing!

  • 16 Erica 10/20/10 at 9:03 am

    I am a student currently training to become a special education teacher. Part of my training is learning how to implement RTI. While it sounds like some states have taken this program a little to far, RTI was originally meant to keep students from being over identified into special education because of environmental factors. It also was supposed to help students who have learning disabilities be identified sooner into special education so that they would not have to wait so long for the student to fail achievement tests to provide services. That doesn’t mean that states should just use RTI as a means of identification and IDEA-2004 does not say that that is the only way to identify. In theory it’s a great program but it seems to be misused across the states.

  • 17 Anita 10/20/10 at 12:09 am

    I have been in the school system for 31 years, the first 9 as a Special Education teacher and the last 22 years as a School Counselor. We have used psychological testing to determine eligibility for years. Why is it not important to use testing now? The results from the testing helps the Special Ed. teacher determine how to teach the child. RtI doesn’t tell you if the child has a short term memory, an auditory or visual deficit. RtI tells you, this child takes a longer amount of time to learn with many interventions.

    I believe more children will fall through the cracks wth RtI because teachers are fed up with numerous changes in eligibility and requirements involved with RtI. I have staffed at least a dozen children with learning disabilities in a year, but last year, I staffed only 3 children from a population of 1170 students.

  • 18 Steve 10/19/10 at 4:57 pm

    Three recent cases where RtI was the issue, 2 decided in favor of the parents and 1 in favor of the district
    Case name: El Paso Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Richard R. ex rel. R.R., 50 IDELR 256 (W.D. Tex. 2008).
    Ruling: Noting that a Texas district repeatedly referred a student with ADHD for interventions rather than evaluating the student’s IDEA needs, a District Court concluded that the district violated its child find obligations. The court upheld a due process decision in the student’s favor
    Case name: Delaware College Preparatory Academy, 53 IDELR 135 (SEA DE 2009)
    A new student’s extreme behavior should have led a Delaware charter school to refer him for an evaluation based on its observations alone, a hearing panel concluded. Neither the parent’s failure to provide copies of the child’s psychiatric records nor the district’s own use

  • 19 Mimi 10/19/10 at 10:00 am

    This is exactly what they are doing in SW Colorado. Constantly get told RtI first and then MAYBE we will evaluate. State Complaints are rolling out from this neck of the woods and we can only hope the State will see what we do. Parents must be diligent and willing to fight for their kids. RtI equals Refuse to Identify, period! It is the way our state chose to deal with kids with SLD. So many of them they felt overwhelmed and had to stop the process of identifying anyway they could.

  • 20 Scott 10/18/10 at 5:49 pm

    If a child is already qualified for SPED under orthopedic impairments, they receive Speech and Language and now there are concerns the child may have multiple learning disabilities and/or cognitive/processing disabilities. Does the child have to go through all of the RtI interventions prior to being evaluated for learning disabilities or cognitive/processing deficiencies?

  • 21 Mike 10/18/10 at 2:51 pm

    Great summary, it is also important to remember to check your state’s regulations as some states, such as Illinois, have mandated the use of RtI for specific learning disability (SLD) eligibility. That certainly doesn’t mean RtI entails a comprehensive evaluation, but it does require that RtI is a component in the evaluation.

    Also keep in mind RtI is a process that focuses on data-based decision making to match a student’s instructional needs to intervention, not just a new method to SLD eligibility.