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Policy & Politics

Laws like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) make sure schools are accountable for student progress and that each child gets an appropriate education. For those of us who aren’t lawyers, these resources tell you how these policies affect your child — in plain English. Go to In Depth: Special Education on our sister site, LD OnLine, to get more information.

Click below for the answer to the following policy and politics question:

Question 1: I tried to read about NCLB and its impact on my LD child, but I am confused. Is there any information about this law that is easier to read?
Question 2: What does "adversely affecting educational performance" actually mean when considering speech services for a child? Does a child have to be failing to be considered eligible for speech services?
Question 3: Does RTI have the potential to reduce disproportionality in Special Education?
Question 4: How does RTI fit in with other policy initiatives?
Question 5: How can I get teachers and staff to buy in to the RTI process?
Question 6: If I were a leader in a district and we decided we wanted to implement RTI district-wide, what would be the top three things you would encourage me to figure out first?

Question:

I tried to read about NCLB and its impact on my LD child, but I am confused. Is there any information about this law that is easier to read?

Answer:

Like many complex federal laws, The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) can be confusing. Fortunately, a Parent's Guide to NCLB was published by the U.S. Department of Education. It includes an overview of the law, explanations of key terms and provisions, ways the law can help your child and an NCLB checklist for parents.

Another website, Wrightslaw, provides excellent information on legal issues in special education for parents. It is hosted by Peter Wright, a lawyer with expertise in special education law. Here, you can read and get information on the federal laws that govern special education as well as interpretations, commentaries and cases involving those laws.

The following link will take you to the section specifically about NCLB.


Question:

What does "adversely affecting educational performance" actually mean when considering speech services for a child? Does a child have to be failing to be considered eligible for speech services?

Answer:

"Adversely affecting educational performance" is a phrase from the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). The interpretation of this phrase has been debated for many years. Many students are doing fine academically, but still have a speech impairment. Because school systems often include adequate oral communication as part of their performance standards, children with only a speech impairment can receive services.

For more information about IDEA and Special Education, visit the following sites:

You may find helpful information from the American Speech–Language–Hearing Association (ASHA).


Question:

Does RTI have the potential to reduce disproportionality in Special Education?

Answer:

Response from John Hosp

I think RTI has a great potential to reduce disproportionality. Traditionally the focus in disproportionality has been looking at counting the numbers of students within various subgroups, in different categories or placements, in order to identify disproportionality. However, within RTI the focus on improving student outcomes really provides an opportunity to change how we think about disproportionality.

Through the high-quality instruction that is culturally and linguistically responsive we have the opportunity to ensure that we are focusing on the needs of all different groups of students and all students individually. One of the ways to make sure we align this is through assessment, another key component to RTI, and looking at the assessment used through RTI of screening and progress decisions that we need to make and the assessments that go with them — it really gives us the opportunity to focus on the improved outcomes for individual students as well as various subgroups of students to make determinations of how they are performing. One of the considerations for me is to look at the evidence-based interventions, and not just the general quality — the general efficacy — of the interventions, but also how different individuals or different subgroups of students may respond differentially so that when we are judging an evidence-base we are considering the different groups and how they may respond rather that just considering the general efficacy of an intervention.

So these characteristics are not necessarily specific to RTI, the high quality instruction, use of assessment, date-based decision making, but as core characteristics of RTI they are some of the vehicles we can use to address disproportionality.


Question:

How does RTI fit in with other policy initiatives?

Answer:

Response from Evelyn Johnson

So, I think it's important that instead of asking how RTI fits in with other policy initiatives you ask, "What is the purpose of our school?" And while we might get a lot of variability across schools when we ask that, ultimately most schools would probably give some answer that related to improved academic, social, and emotional outcomes for the students that they serve. In that regard, RTI and PBS and tiered service delivery models in general provide a really nice framework for thinking about how to fit all of the various initiatives and research-based practices that we know are highly effective for students really well, and they do that by focusing our attention on first improving the core instructional program for our students. We can do that by evaluation of our performance benchmarks, our academic assessments, our behavioral assessments, and taking a good, hard look at whether what we are doing is generally effective for most of our students before we proceed with interventions for those kids who are at risk for not meeting our academic and behavioral outcomes.

So, in evaluating our core instructional program, what the RTI framework does for us is gets us as a staff to look at what things are going really well for us and what things aren't going so well for us. We primarily look at assessment data in order to start those decisions but we don't stop with assessment data. When we find that there's a problem, for example, let's say we see that most of our students are not meeting our academic outcomes in the area of math. We don't just look at ways to immediately improve math test scores, instead we take a look at the curriculum, we take a look at the instruction, we maybe take a look at the qualifications of our teachers. We may have really terrific elementary school teachers but they may all specialize in the area of reading and writing and not have strengths in math. So, that would indicate a need for a professional development in those areas, and so through that systems approach the RTI framework really allows a school then to consider which policy interventions, which pieces of the research knowledge base would be most appropriate for solving their particular problems in order to help them reach those goals of improved academic and behavioral outcomes for their students.


Question:

How can I get teachers and staff to buy in to the RTI process?

Answer:

Response from Evelyn Johnson

So Larry Summer's is quoted as saying "in the history of man nobody has ever washed a rental car," and the point of that quote is that without ownership school staff probably isn't going to buy in, 100%, to the RTI process and without that ownership of the process they are much less likely to implement it well, and its much less likely therefore to be successful. And one way that we found to get teacher buy-in is to really ensure that all staff have an opportunity to voice their concerns about the process, to express their concerns about the changes in their roles that they make counter as a result of implementing the RTI process, and also to ensure that as schools shift from using data to make decisions about students, that the one component that is not lost is also getting the teacher's experience and knowledge base in their personal relationship with their students; not taking that part out of the equation.

In other words, we want to respect what teachers bring to this process, and if we don't do that then you are not likely to get the level of buy-in and ownership of RTI that you probably need in order for it to work well.


Question:

If I were a leader in a district and we decided we wanted to implement RTI district-wide, what would be the top three things you would encourage me to figure out first?

Answer:

Response from Daryl Mellard

Think of it like planning your summer vacation because you could probably just get in the car and drive and get some place or maybe you could talk to folks around the table like, "Gee kids, what do you want to do on your summer vacation," "what would make a great summer vacation?" "Gee I wonder where we might go to have those kinds of fun events." Would it be shopping, would it be snorkeling, would it be hiking, would it be fishing? Alright so the connection then with the school district would be kind of the same way. I need to get people around the table who might help me understand why we want to go pursue these set of activities around Response to Intervention. So that would include my classroom teachers, my building administrators, probably some parents, school board members, folks that can help me identify what it is we want to accomplish and how would we know if we were successful. Those would be important considerations.

The other piece would be recognizing how Response to Intervention might help me with meeting requirements of other initiatives such as, No Child Left Behind, or what I might be considering in improving my services for students in special education or other students who are just at risk. So those are to get started anyway I want to have the right people at the table and help me figure out how we would know if we were being successful.

Then, I probably want to have some sense of short-term outcomes and maybe also some long-term outcomes because like planning the vacation there's those things that we would want to get started early on and then once we're on the trip we get a better sense of how things are working. So on the short-term, it might be: what would be those markers that we're on the right track? That the work we are doing around Response to Intervention and those components are making a difference for our students, and for our staff, and for the quality of services. Then in the long-term we might be able to look further at the performance of those students on other measures; their retention rate in school, their grades, their performance on state assessments. We might get a better sense about their participation in the variety of academic activities as well as their performance on academic and behavioral screening. The big question might be, well where should I start with these multiple components that are part of RTI, is it better to start with screening, or progress monitoring or organizing our tiers? But the simplest way to maybe get started would be those that would give us kind of an immediate impact.

Something that would really let us get started and get some momentum going so we can demonstrate our success because it's going to take some effort. We want to implement pieces that will demonstrate to those who haven't quite bought into the idea of RTI that it's worth our time, and worth our effort. Probably, I'd want to consider what are those events, what are those pieces about RTI, on which I can get broad agreement, on which I can get folks engaged, one thing is to get them to agree, yeah that's a good idea, the next thing is to get them engaged, because now we are talking about their behavior changes and then also the observable changes that we might see with participants as well, as we put all of that together.

"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you'll go." — Dr. Seuss