First, the Tennessee RTI 2 framework is a three tier system. All advanced and regular education children are automatically placed in the first tier, called Tier 1. This happened at the beginning of this school year.
Then, three times per school year, fall, winter and spring, students are given a universal screener (test).The screeners may vary per districts, so check with your district to see what universal screener they are using. This screener is meant to catch students who are at risk of failing in math or reading and places them in the appropriate intervention tier. All students who score at the 25th percentile or below on this screener are placed in Tier 2. And students who score at the 10th percentile or below are placed in Tier 3. Tier 2 and 3 are considered intervention tiers. The interventions should be designed to match all of the student's deficit areas and progress monitoring is done throughout the RTI-2 process.
What about students who need more services? When are they identified? Where does special education fit in?
We, Parents of Tennessee Children who have Learning Disabilities, were concerned about that, so we started digging deep into the TN RTI-2 framework. After talking with numerous experts in the field, we think it's important to understand the mindset behind RTI. In a nutshell and in parent friendly terms, the RTI-2 framework in TN is blurring the lines of Special Education and General Education.
We have been told by numerous people that the thought process behind this move is to reduce the number of Individual Education Plans or IEPs, which is what most special education parents cherish. IEPs give us legal backing to push for an education for our children who have different needs than the general education setting provides.
Here’s where the lines blur – The creators of TN RTI-2 believe that if general education was made stronger (via Tiers), then there would be no to little need for special education in High-Incidence Disabilities. Yes, you read that right – no to little need for special education in High Incidence Disabilities.
What is a High Incidence Disability?
Students with high-incidence disabilities make up 80% of all students with disabilities. Friend and Bursuck (2012) says students with High-Incidence disabilities share these characteristics:
1. Often hard to distinguish from students without disabilities, especially in non-school settings,
2. Often display a combination of academic, behavioral and social problems.
3. Can meet same standards as students without disabilities when highly structured interventions are put into place.
Point three is telling. Is the 30 to 45 minutes of RTI per day enough to be considered a highly structured intervention? Some schools are using computer programs as their intervention time. Is that a highly structured intervention? What about accommodations? Some of these children do have unidentified learning disabilities, which are not going away even with RTI. It doesn’t work that way.
So, what’s a parent of a child who does truly need an IEP to do? How do you qualify with this new blurry-lined system?
In Tennessee, RTI-2 has become the "new" test for determining a disability, so a child has to show unresponsive to the interventions being used in tier 3 before being considered for special education services. Here is the kicker -- NO ONE can agree on what equates to "responsiveness" to instruction. There is "NO" universal definition of responsiveness. No one has a handle on what responsiveness means and yet it is the new benchmark and now the only criteria for establishing a specific learning disability (SLD) and thus special education services.
Parents, we encourage you to read the following article in its entirety and then reread the TN RTI-2 Framework manual and see if it makes more sense now that you have some background information to the mindset behind RTI. We would also recommend talking with your district to make sure they aren't developing their own version of RTI framework that they will be following. Bottom line - ask as many questions as you can and stay informed.
We are not against RTI, but once it becomes a means to deny IEPs to children who truly need them, we need to re-evaluate the system and make our voices heard.
Parents of Tennessee Children who have Learning Disabilities
- Article on RTI -> http://www2.emich.edu/coe/porterchair/documents/douglas-fuchs-blurring-of-special-education.pdf
- RTI 2 Manual -> http://tn.gov/education/instruction/docs/RTI2_Manual.pdf
- RTI 2 Implementation Guide -> http://www.tncore.org/sites/www/Uploads/RTI2%20Implementation%20Guide-FINAL-08.22.13.pdf
- RTI 2 State Contact Info -> http://www.tnspdg.com/pdf/RTIContactInfo.pdf
- RTI Federal Memo: RTI Federal Memo 2011 -> https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/osep11-07rtimemo.pdf
- The IDEA State Complaint Resource Center is designed to provide parents, advocates and attorneys with information and resources to assist in using the State Complaint process effectively. We believe the IDEA State Complaint process is underutilized as a tool for improving the compliance. Check out: www.ISCRC.org