Catch ‘Em Before They Fall:              

Response to Intervention

By:  Beth Peterson and Karen Donovan


SMC professors and students are learning about the implications of the latest authorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In 2004, Congress reauthorized IDEA renaming it the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA). Several significant changes were made.  Among the changes, the law now allows for students with specific learning disabilities (SLD) to be identified through a process called Response to Intervention (RtI) as an option to using the discrepancy model.  This is the first major change in the process of identifying students with SLD ever and has broad ranging implications for regular education and teacher training for all students. 

Using a Response to Intervention Model requires that a school be able to provide for universal screenings, frequent curriculum-based assessment, and research-based interventions for all students prior to assessment for special education.  The special education team can then use that data, rather than further testing, to determine the existence of a SLD.  A specific learning disability could thus be diagnosed if a student does not respond to several research-based interventions.

 The use of the discrepancy model to identify students with learning disabilities has been much maligned and has created several persistent problems that  RtI is designed to solve. There are four major issues with the discrepancy model.  First of all, the model is a “wait to fail” model where it is common to not be able to find a student eligible until 3rd or 4th grade when remediation is much harder.  Secondly, the discrepancy model has been shown to lack validity.  Thirdly, it requires intellectual testing which is costly.  Lastly, the discrepancy model is known to create both false positives and false negatives in the identification of students with SLD. For example, a student who has not had high quality instruction might be falsely labeled as a student with SLD.  RtI is an alternative to this troubled method of identification. 

 A three tiered school-wide approach to implementing Response to Intervention is recommended.  This approach has significant impact on regular education.

  •        Tier 1 involves the entire school participating in universal screening, the use of research-based 
          approaches, frequent data collection, teacher-designed interventions and curriculum-based
          assessments.  The educational support team may or may not be involved at this point.  Tier 1 is a regular
          education responsibility. 

  •       Tier 2 includes students identified by classroom data as at risk.  Research-based interventions are tried,       documented and evaluated.  More intensive targeted  remedial services are provided.  Remedial    
          personnel, at risk programs and educational support teams  are often involved.  This is also primarily a 
          regular education responsibility thorough the educational
          support team.

  •       Tier 3 students would participate in a special education evaluation and if eligible, be provided special
          education and related services.

 There are several perceived benefits of this change.  Some are greater parental involvement and satisfaction, immediate access to intervention, reducing unnecessary labeling and making data-based decisions. SCM will be learning more about Response to Intervention and weaving the skills and concepts needed to do it into courses. For more information try or,  and