It has come to the attention of the Special Education Unit that there is some misunderstanding regarding the use of Response to Intervention (RtI) relative to the referral of children for special education consideration. This memorandum is intended to clarify the appropriate use of RtI relative to referral for special education services.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not allow the State education agency or any local education agency to have a policy, practice or procedure that would obstruct access of any student to the process of referral for consideration of the need for special education services. Regarding the use of RtI, that means that RtI can not be used to intentionally delay or obstruct a child’s referral for special education consideration. RtI can not be used arbitrarily as a ‘pre-referral’ practice that could obstruct a timely referral to special education. This includes consideration under all of the categories of disability addressed within the IDEA, including but not limited to Speech or Language Impairment and Specific Learning Disabilities.
It is always appropriate to use RtI or other early intervening strategies and programming as a means to address, through a data-based process, potential contributing factors to learning deficiencies, such as lack of adequate instruction in core academic areas, poor attendance, high mobility, etc., that can result in poor performance that is not disability based. However, it is not appropriate to have a universal practice of first instituting RtI with students rather than initiating appropriate referral to special education.
If it is appropriate to refer a child to special education, then the first step is conducting a Referral Conference. Options for actions resulting from a Special Education Referral Conference include the following:
* Evaluation not recommended due to lack of supporting evidence of need
* Return child to current program without additional general education supports
* Return child to current program with additional general education supports, to include, as appropriate, RtI
* Modify/Accommodate child’s current program in general education
* Consider the need for a Section 504 referral/review
* Initiate a Comprehensive and/or Specialized Evaluation of the child, if deemed appropriate
RtI or other early intervening services can be a part of the above Special Education Referral Conference options for action, though ideally initiated at the earliest signs of any student demonstrating unsatisfactory academic achievement or behavioral concerns.
Special Education Unit personnel will address the appropriate use of RtI as a part of SEA monitoring of local education agency programs, or whenever a complaint is filed regarding this issue under the Complaint Procedures of the State. While the use of RtI is highly supported within the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) and Special Education Unit as demonstrated through the ADE’s ‘Closing the Achievement Gap’ (C-TAG) initiative, it must be used in the manner intended within general education.
Certainly, information gained through the use of RtI would be useful in any consideration of a child’s need for special education services, especially in the determination of the presence of a Specific Learning Disability (SLD), and the following language included within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and State special education eligibility determination criteria for SLD should be noted:
“To ensure that under achievement in a child suspected of having a specific learning disability is not due to lack of appropriate instruction in reading or math, the group must consider, as part of the evaluation described in 34 Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) 300.304 – 300.306 A. Data that demonstrates that prior to, or as a part of, the referral process, the child was provided with appropriate instruction in regular education settings, delivered by qualified personnel; and B. Data-based documentation of repeated assessments of achievement at reasonable intervals, reflecting formal assessment of student progress during instruction, which was provided to the child’s parents.”
This is not meant to imply that RtI must have been employed prior to any referral for special education consideration, which would not be in keeping with the Child Find requirements of the IDEA. Again, it is not the federal intent to obstruct referrals through the use of a Response to Intervention process.