Response to Intervention in New York State

When the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was reauthorized in 2004, a new element called "Response to Intervention" (RTI) was added to the law.  The addition of RTI to IDEA is based on the precept that RTI can potentially provide a more accurate and earlier identification of students as having learning disabilities than the previous "discrepancy model" which required students to be two grade levels below their expected achievement, resulting in what some dubbed the "wait to fail" model. There also exists a concern that too many students are classified as having learning disabilities when lack of appropriate and adequate early instruction are the actual culprits. The process of RTI aims to identify early strugglers and intervene adequately so that those who may have gone on to later be diagnosed as having learning disabilities will receive sufficient instruction to bring them up to and maintain grade level.  

Generally speaking, RTI consists of a scientific, reasearch-based  intervention process that begins with all students in the early grades (ideally K-3 according to most experts in the field) receiving high quality, scientifically-based instruction.  As instruction progresses, students who are struggling are increasingly provided a more intensive and individualized level of instruction.  RTI models may consist of a number of tiers, although most models use two to five, administered over a specified period of time.  If a student reaches the final tier and continues to experience difficulty, it is at that point a referral for an evaluation for special edcation services is most likely made. 

RTI is still a relatively new process and one that has led to much debate among educators, policymakers, advocates and parents. In New York State, the State Education Department's regulations have given school districts the option of using RTI to assist in the identification of students with learning disabilities but have not required it.  However, current state regulations call for a complete phase-out of the discrepancy model for students in grades K-4 by 2012.

Most of the research that has been done on RTI has demonstrated its efficacy for reading-based disabilities but more is required, especially in other areas where learning disabilities emerge such as mathematics. The impact of RTI on older students has also not been fully examined.  While federal and state regulations have been in place for a while, how school districts implement RTI and interpret state and federal regulations is the crucial issue that has yet to be seen on a large scale in New York State.  There exists a concern that RTI will be used as the sole criteria to identify a student as having a learning disability.  This is not how it was intended to be used and LDA does not support this use of RTI.  According to New York State's regulation, RTI is to be used in a general education setting as a "pre-referral" service (meaning prior to a referral for an evaluation to determine eligibility for special education services).  It is the data from the process of RTI and not the process iteself, that can and should be considered during a complete psychological evaluation.  Federal law and state regulations state that no single criterion can be used to make a determination of eligibility for special education services.

Parents of students who are or who will participate in an RTI process must ask questions and be kept apprised of their child's progress along the way.  Parents also need to know that under federal and state law, they can request an immediate referral for a comprehensive psychological evaluation at any point in the process.


Helpful Links & Publications:

Memo from U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Program says RTI Can't Delay/ Deny Evaluations. Click here to read memo.

New York State Education Department's Parents Guide to Response to Intervention

New York State Education Department's Response to Intervention Guidance for School Districts

New York State Response to Intervention Technical Assistance Center

Responsiveness to Intervention: Questions PARENTS Must Ask

Responsiveness to Intervention and Learning Disabilities: A Report Prepared by the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities (PDF)

The Learning Disabilities Association of New York State Statement on Response to Intervention as a Model for Identifying Students with Specific Learning Disabilities Under IDEA 2004, Cover Page - January, 2006 (PDF)

The Learning Disabilities Association of New York State Statement on Response to Intervention as a Model for Identifying Students with Specific Learning Disabilities Under IDEA 2004, continued - (PDF)