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February 17, 2009


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My district is currently transitioning into RtI. My elementary school and one other in my district were chosen to pilot the program next year. All of our staff development this year is focused on piloting RtI next year. Many of us had concerns as far as specialists like OTs and Speech therapists. We were concerned about how would their role change since now they are placed mostly by IEPs. With RtI, the number of IEPs will decrease as students are receiving interventions. Also we only have one psychologist for our whole district, so we were wondering how her role in the RtI process would be used at all schools. Do you have a suggestion for how to inform parents of the RtI process? We usually use the district website, a monthly newsletter, and our "meet the teacher" night to relay important information, although many parents still have questions. We have concerns that parents may have questions as to why their child may be receiving interventions from a "special ed" teacher.

Lynn Boyer

Changes in roles of teachers and related services personnel is a question that comes up early in the process of implementing RTI. Speech therapists may be transitioned to working not only with children who have IEPs but also in areas of early intervention with kindergarten or first grade classes. They are often used to provide leadership, professional development, and classroom instruction in phonemic awareness, for instance. Since RTI is really, at this point, targeting students who are struggling to master reading/language arts and math content and to manage their behavior, the likelihood that there will be a substantial reduction in the number of students identified as speech/language impaired is small. Likewise, students who typically receive OT services will most likely move through the special education evaluation process following the requisite interventions and monitoring because their learning challenges are reflective of disabilities and not a lack of instruction or opportunity to learn.

Psychologists are always full of questions about the RTI process because decisions about the student’s future services include assessment and evaluation data that the psychologist does not always provide. There is a an important role for the psychologist to transition into, however. Many psychologists have been trained in curriculum-based measurement and can contribute substantially in a school as it determines what forms of progress monitoring it will use to assess a student’s response to ongoing interventions. Teachers sometimes feel this is a role they wish to play because it’s an extension of their instruction. A principal has to look at all the human resources in a school, however, and help all of them to see the contributions each can make so that the goal can be achieved. In the early stages of the RTI process, there are invariably some responsibilities that are released while others are gained. Everyone learns and grows. And, trust me on this, all of those involved spend time reflecting on their own beliefs and how different their lives will be. The most important lives that will be different, however, are those of the children. They will get the early attention they need and be able to prosper in ways they couldn’t -- and didn’t -- before.

When West Virginia piloted RTI three years ago in 11 elementary schools, we identified a “project coordinator” in each school who kept the state aware of the issues that arose and the status of implementation. RTI is a complex process, and having someone to oversee it in the early stages “on the ground” is a good idea. Psychologists filled the role of project coordinator in five of the schools. We worked from the very beginning with our school psychologists association. We have not always agreed on our course of action but by having them in the conversation with us we at least know where we disagree and can talk about the reasons behind decisions.

States are ensuring that families know about RTI through multiple methods. Some you are already doing, but you might consider one other. Pamphlets or short booklets can be created and distributed to parents in K-3 classrooms as a start. West Virginia’s is online at the following link, but I believe there are others. http://wvde.state.wv.us/osp/ResponsetoInterventionParentsGuide.pdf

It’s very important that concerned parents understand that waiting to evaluate a student is not just a delay tactic on the part of the school, but that the time is being spent to provide explicit targeted instruction to determine what particular aspects of learning to read or do math or manage behavior need attention. There is general agreement in the field that the interventions will continue throughout an evaluation timeline, should one ensue, so that the eligibility committee has all the most recent data to consider when it makes a decision about IEP services.

The brochure can explain as well that staff/faculty in a school are being used in new, different and integrated ways and that on occasion a student who does not have an IEP will be instructed during intervention by a teacher who primarily serves students who DO have IEPs. That teacher is one of the teachers in the school with the knowledge of how to directly address the student’s difficulties and to contribute to the decision about future service needs. It is important to assure the parents of students who DO have IEPs that their children are not receiving less services because a special educator is working with unidentified students. A special educator’s first responsibility is to meet the needs as expressed on the IEPs of every child for whom he or she is responsible. While there is room for much discussion of whether a child who is not on an IEP should have access to the services of a special educator, I like to think that we are moving away from each teacher in a school having only one role. We have so many children who struggle to read and do math and manage their behavior that we must use every person who has the knowledge and skills to interact with and instruct the students in a manner that is marked by the urgency of the need.

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