Pete & Pam Wright on What’s Wrong with RTI for Students with LD
Pete and Pam Wright produce the Wrightslaw special education website, books, and newsletter, and conduct advocacy training programs for parents around the country. Pam is a psychotherapist; Pete, a prominent attorney, won the 1993 landmark Shannon Carter case before the U.S. Supreme Court, benefiting children with disabilities. In an interview with Smart Kids’ Sheryl Knapp, the couple went on the record about the increasingly pervasive trend to intervene first and then evaluate—a strategy promoted by IDEA 2004 known as Response to Intervention (RTI).
SK: Are you finding that schools are doing a better job interpreting and implementing RTI than they were when it first was introduced?
Pete: We are seeing more emphasis on the concept of RTI, but what does that really mean? Many school districts tell parents, “No, we cannot do a comprehensive evaluation of your child until we have tried RTI.” Children are spending months—or years in RTI.
That’s like saying, because you have a stomachache, I will tell you to take two aspirin a day, and if that doesn’t work a week later we’ll try 10 aspirin a day, and if that doesn’t work we’ll try a bottle a day… and once we know that none of these work, we’ll do a comprehensive diagnostic assessment with a gastroenterologist specialist.
SK: Are the schools using RTI as a diagnostic tool in itself then?
Pete: More like a delay tactic, used to postpone evaluations.
Pam: In theory RTI sounds good: We’ll give an intervention and after two weeks we’ll measure. But the success depends upon having teachers who are proficient in understanding and measuring progress, skills, and reading methods—and that’s not happening. That’s going to take a lot of time to happen. I think that’s the real Achilles heel of this program.
SK: So you don’t think that RTI is making schools implement more research-based practices?
Pete: I think that’s certainly the intent, and there may be districts that are doing that, but those aren’t the districts we hear about. We hear about districts that use RTI to delay doing a comprehensive evaluation to see what the kid’s needs are.
Pam: Change in schools takes a lot of time. I always think about trying to turn the Queen Mary around in the middle of the ocean; you don’t just turn her on a dime. For RTI to work, millions of teachers will need to learn how to use research-based teaching methods and how to measure and monitor student progress. School districts have no desire to do these necessary things. That’s a huge problem.
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