With special education costs and enrollments soaring, schools are trying to help students with learning problems before they need special education services that typically cost 50 percent more per student. What’s known as “response to intervention” or RTI is controversial, reports the Wall Street Journal. Some fear children who need special ed won’t get the extra help.
RTI is designed for children at risk for a “specific learning disabilities” diagnosis. Nearly half of special education students are diagnosed with SLDs such as dyslexia; that’s doubled in a generation.
To determine whether a student has SLD, schools have traditionally looked for disparities between the IQ scores and achievement-test results of low-performing children. Usually, such disparities don’t become apparent until the later years of elementary school.
RTI supporters call that a “wait-to-fail” approach. They maintain that many children now in special education are simply victims of poor instruction and wouldn’t need expensive special-education services if they had gotten extra help as soon as their problems surfaced.
In Elk Grove, a Sacramento district, 16 percent of students were in special education, higher than the national average of 14 percent. RTI cut that to 9 percent.
The Journal story suggests RTI may delay diagnosis for kids who really need special ed services. And clearly some school districts are learning how to intervene effectively. It would have been nice to hear from parents whose children were helped in kindergarten and first grade, learned to read well and never received a disability label.