RtI Misconceptions by Dr. Quentin Woods

The following is a guest blog post from Dr. Quentin Woods of Dr. Q Consulting, an educational consulting firm specializing in innovative thought, systems thinking and conceptual inquiry. In this post. Dr. Woods writes about the common misunderstandings that exist about RtI in Texas.

Recently, I met a high school algebra teacher who was resistant to implementing an RtI process for his freshmen students. He adamantly believed that RtI was not mandated by federal or state law, and therefore he was not required to implement such a process. To back up his claim, he had found an article on the RtI Action Network website written by the Kansas Commissioner of Education, Dr. Alexa Posney.

Dr. Posney begins her article very plainly, “Response to Intervention (RtI) is not mandated by federal law or federal regulation. In fact, the phrase ‘response to intervention’ never appears in either federal law or regulation.”

Unfortunately, it is comments like this that only exacerbate the confusion surrounding RtI and are counterproductive to RtI specialists like myself. Since I did not want to veer too far off the purpose of our visit that day, I told him I would reply to him in an email about his concern that RtI is not mandated in federal or state law.

Please read my reply to him below:

Good Evening, Mr. Not Gonna Do RtI!

Thank you for meeting with me and the RtI freshmen team this morning. I felt our meeting was very productive, and I’m so glad we agreed to progress monitor your struggling students using [a specific intervention program]. I wanted to follow up with you about your concern that RtI is not legally mandated. First, let me validate what you said. RtI is an optional means to determine one’s eligibility for specific learning disability. This is plainly stated in IDEA Section 300.307, Specific learning disabilities, and you can see the actual law below. 

I will reference it several times here. 

Sec. 300.307 Specific learning disabilities 

Statute/Regs Main » Regulations » Part B » Subpart D » Section 300.307 

300.307 Specific learning disabilities. 

(a) General. A State must adopt, consistent with §300.309, criteria for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability as defined in §300.8(c)(10). In addition, the criteria adopted by the State— 

(1) Must not require the use of a severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability, as defined in §300.8(c)(10); 

(2) Must permit the use of a process based on the child’s response to scientific, research-based intervention; and 

(3) May permit the use of other alternative research-based procedures for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability, as defined in §300.8(c)(10). 

(b) Consistency with State criteria. A public agency must use the State criteria adopted pursuant to paragraph (a) of this section in determining whether a child has a specific learning disability. 

Source: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/regs/b/d/300.307 

First, 300.307 (a) states, “a State [i.e. Texas] must” adopt criteria for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability (SLD). Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the State of Texas is obligated to create a process to determine if a student is/has SLD or not. 

In Section 300.307(a)(2) is where we see the actual words RtI. However, notice they are lowercase, and it was never intended to become the buzzword we hear so much about today. So, what we know so far is that Texas is obligated to create a process to determine one’s eligibility for SLD, and this clause states that Texas is “permitted” to use a process based on RtI. 

In Section 300.307(a)(3) it states that Texas may use an alternative research-based process (other than RtI) to determine eligibility. So, yes, Texas can use RtI or some other process like it. What comes next is key. 

Lastly, Section 300.307(b) states that a public agency, in our case [your] ISD, “must” use the State’s criteria for the determination of SLD. Therefore, [your] ISD is obligated to follow Texas’ process for determining eligibility of SLD. 

Now, let’s look at Texas Administrative Code, Chapter 89, Adaptations for Special Populations, Subchapter AA, Commissioner’s Rules Concerning Special Education Services. I have the text below as I will reference it here several times. 

Specifically, we are looking at 89.1040(c)(9) listed under Eligibility Criteria. For time sake, I won’t go into great detail here. Much of this is identical to the language used in IDEA with one significant exception. 

(9) Learning disability. 

(A) Prior to and as part of the evaluation described in subparagraph (B) of this paragraph and 34 CFR, §§300.307-300.311, and in order to ensure that underachievement in a student suspected of having a specific learning disability is not due to lack of appropriate instruction in reading or mathematics, the following must be considered: 

(i) data that demonstrates the student was provided appropriate instruction in reading (as described in 20 United States Code (USC), §6368(3)), and/or mathematics within general education settings delivered by qualified personnel; and 

(ii) data-based documentation of repeated assessments of achievement at reasonable intervals, reflecting formal evaluation of student progress during instruction. Data-based documentation of repeated assessments may include, but is not limited to, response to intervention progress monitoring results, in-class tests on grade-level curriculum, or other regularly administered assessments. Intervals are considered reasonable if consistent with the assessment requirements of a student’s specific instructional program. 

(B) A student with a learning disability is one who: 

(i) has been determined through a variety of assessment tools and strategies to meet the criteria for a specific learning disability as stated in 34 CFR, §300.8(c)(10), in accordance with the provisions in 34 CFR, §§300.307-300.311; and 

(ii) does not achieve adequately for the student’s age or meet state-approved grade-level standards in oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skill, reading fluency skills, reading comprehension, mathematics calculation, or mathematics problem solving when provided appropriate instruction, as indicated by performance on multiple measures such as in- class tests; grade average over time (e.g. six weeks, semester); norm- or criterion-referenced tests; statewide assessments; or a process based on the student’s response to evidence-based intervention; and 

(I) does not make sufficient progress when provided a process based on the student’s response to evidence-based intervention (as defined in 20 USC, §7801(21)), as indicated by the student’s performance relative to the performance of the student’s peers on repeated, curriculum-based assessments of achievement at reasonable intervals, reflecting student progress during classroom instruction; or 

(II) exhibits a pattern of strengths and weaknesses in performance, achievement, or both relative to age, grade-level standards, or intellectual ability, as indicated by significant variance among specific areas of cognitive function, such as working memory and verbal comprehension, or between specific areas of cognitive function and academic achievement. 

Remember that IDEA gave us RtI as one optional way to determine eligibility for SLD. Notice here that language isn’t used. You find the actual words RtI in 9Aii and the identical language of IDEA in 9Bii1. It is evident that the commissioner (then and now) was intent for Texas schools to use the RtI model for determining eligibility for SLD. The only possible mention of another process would come from the language used in 9Aii “but not limited to,” but even this is a stretch. Even if the commissioner considered RtI to be one way to determine eligibility, I still conclude that RtI (or an extremely similar research-based process) is mandated in both IDEA and TEC. 

To suggest that RtI is not mandated, would be the equivalent of saying that [your] ISD doesn’t have to have teacher evaluations. It is true that districts in Texas don’t have to use T-TESS, but they do have to have some form of teacher evaluation that follows the guidelines found in TAC Chapter 150.1001. Similarly, Texas school districts and charters are mandated to have criteria to determine the eligibility of SLD, and it is my understanding that your district will use the RtI model to fulfill this obligation. 

Hopefully, this alleviates your concerns about the requirements of RtI, and please feel free to ask questions or express other concerns. Certainly, we haven’t figured it all out yet. We still struggle with RtI, specifically with how to keep the process simple yet documenting it effectively. Have a wonderful weekend, go [his school mascot]! 

Quentin Woods, Ed.D. 

Dr Q consulting, LLC 

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