How are you doing with RtI?

A recent decision from the 3rd Circuit illustrates how RtI, when properly implemented, can reveal whether a student needs special education services or not.  There were two eligibility decisions made by the IEP Team. When the student was in first grade, the Team determined that he did not have a learning disability and so was not eligible for special education services.  When the boy was in second grade, the IEP Team had a new evaluation that showed he had autism. They declared the student eligible and began providing services. 

But the litigation was over that first determination. The parents argued that the eligibility determination in second grade was 14 months too late. For today’s Daily Dawg, I want to highlight the court’s analysis of the first eligibility determination when the student was in first grade. This is one of the few cases that describe and analyze a district’s use of RtI—Response to  Intervention.

The school began providing interventions to the student early in first grade due to behavioral and academic concerns.  This included extra reading lessons, an after-school basic skills class, and positive behavioral interventions. In late October the parents requested an FIIE which the district did.  The parents also presented a 48-page report from an independent expert who concluded that the student had a learning disability.  That report included testing that revealed a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability.  Meanwhile, the intervention team continued to meet and continued to report good progress. Taking all of that into account, the IEP Team concluded that the student did not qualify. 

The court held that the district properly determined that the student did not qualify as having a learning disability, despite the severe discrepancy between achievement and ability.  The court held that IDEA allows the use of the “severe discrepancy” method but does not require it: “A school district does not violate its child find obligation by disregarding the results of the severe discrepancy approach.” The court also held that even if the school does use the discrepancy model, it only establishes that the student has a disability. The student may still not qualify due to lack of educational need.

This is where the RtI data came into play.  The school did an excellent job of putting together an intervention team, providing interventions, and monitoring for results, which were good.  This convinced the hearing officer that the student did not qualify.   While this case is an affirmation of the use of RtI, notice that the key to the decision is the way the district implemented RtI with fidelity. There are four critical parts to that:

  1. A team to develop the plan.
  2. Interventions targeting areas of concern and implemented with fidelity.
  3. Monitoring for results.
  4. The results were good.

How is your school doing with RtI?  Anecdotally, I hear a lot of reports of districts claiming that they are implementing the procedure with fidelity, when in fact, there is little data to back that up.  If you want to have a solid foundation for your decisions about a student’s need for special education, you have to implement  RtI as it is supposed to be done. Which isn’t easy.  The failure to do so can led to sloppy decision-making that will not hold up when challenged.

It's J.M. v. Summit City BOE, decided by the 3rd  Circuit on July 1, 2022.  The opinion is cited in Special Educator at 81 IDELR 91.


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Tomorrow:  Toolbox Tuesday.