Response to Intervention (RTI) is a U.S. based reform effort designed to systematically add more regular education intervention to struggling kids prior to the use of special education. From what I understand, it actually is possible to effectively use RTI to shore up the cracks of language delay that are frequently so hard for professionals to fill. I am skeptical, however. I’ve heard and read many glowing recommendations of the theoretical underpinnings of RTI, usually along these lines:
All kids start at level one – basically a regular education classroom, where general education teachers provide differentiated instruction. Progress is frequently monitored with kids deemed not making enough of it then being moved to level two. Level two students receive supplemental instruction with lower student-teacher ratios and more progress monitoring. Kids not making enough progress at level two then are considered for level three, which is special education. A pyramid figure generally symbolizes the number of kids that are supposed to be at each level, with the most at level one, proceeding geometrically to level two, and ending up at the smallest, top part of the pyramid – where very few kids are supposed to be at level three.
So how can RTI be used to improve language services? Well, under RTI, educators are supposed to constantly monitor the progress of all kids. One of the things about language is how difficult this is. It is easy to miss a problem spot because of the complexity of language, and kids with language problems often compensate by using less of it. Kids with language deficits – and critically, not just kids with IQ/language discrepancies – then must be given good language “support.” As there is currently no research supported language intervention that has been validated for use with kids of higher functioning than the severely autistic kids receiving ABA therapy, it seems likely that this support would mirror the often subjective methods SLPs currently use to provide language therapy.
Modern models of special education in the United States, operate from two general assumptions about learning. One is that some children, when simply presented with material from textbooks and teachers’ mouths, can pretty much teach themselves. The other assumption is that about 10% of children can’t. RTI seeks to add another assumption – some kids can sometimes, but not always, teach themselves. This seems a good assumption to add, actually. Incidentally, though probably not coincidentally, RTI theoretically reduces the amount of special education kids, and special education is more expensive than regular education.
RTI was not designed to be a short cut. No educational reform or special education initiative ever has been. The problem is when the nice theories run into the harsh realities of being underfunded. The original Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, later reworked as the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) of 2004 has been one of the best bits of educational theory ever, but it’s long run up against problems of funding. For anyone who ever wants to know what an ideal educational system would look like, one only has to look at the features of IDEA – each kid has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) with goals that are updated at least yearly. And progress is constantly monitored with kids and parents frequently updated. And each kid is supposed to be individually assessed at least once every three years to ensure nothing is missed. IDEA is awesome, so why don’t we extend it’s features to all kids instead of trying to continually scale it back? Oh yeah, the answer is money.
So how can RTI be used to improve language services? We could devise a system where all kids are individually assessed for language, then we could devise interventions, probably along the lines of Objective Language Therapy, basically an extension of ABA’s discrete trials to other, higher levels of language. We could write goals for kids with language deficits, and then let parents, teachers, and the kids themselves know how they’re progressing toward reaching those goals. We could rewrite the goals as the kids progress, with the ultimate goal being age appropriate use of each language structure. We could do all of this, because we know that giving kids individualized rather than collective attention works, or we could continue to put our money somewhere else besides where our mouths are, and continue to roll out new underfunded initiatives in the hopes that one of these shortcuts end up working. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I know which path we’ll keep taking.
This article has a lot of good info about rationale and research of RTI.
This post is part of a May blog hop organized by Speech Language Literacy Lab. 31 different blogs posting unique information specifically on RTI, each day in May – all can be accessed by clicking here.