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How are Children Identified to Receive Special Education Services?

A boyHave you heard teachers say something like, "We can’t identify your child for special education because we have not gone through the response to intervention process yet"? Ever since the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004, students are required to go through a response to intervention (RTI) process before being identified for special education. The intent of these laws is to make sure that children receive quality instruction and to help those who are struggling before they need to be placed in special education. It is a preventative process rather than a "wait to fail" model.

Response to intervention has been helpful because many schools are implementing research-based methods for teaching reading and math to all students. Therefore, fewer students should fall behind and need services. There is significant data to suggest that there are fewer students identified with specific learning disabilities, as well as behavioral and emotional disturbances since RTI was widely implemented. [Summary and links to the research ]

If a child begins to struggle in school, the school staff works together to intervene. They set up research-based instructional strategies to teach the child and a monitoring process to assure the student is responding to the changes in instruction (Response to Intervention). If the child does not respond to the intervention, they are further evaluated to determine whether they need to receive special education services.

According to experts in the field of special education, the RTI process includes:

  • Research-based instruction and behavioral support for all children
  • School-wide or district-wide screening to figure out which students need closer attention
  • Research-based interventions matched to student need
  • Use of a collaborative approach by school staff
  • Ongoing monitoring of student progress
  • Follow-up to make sure the intervention was implemented appropriately
  • Parent involvement throughout the process
  • Adherence to the timelines specified in IDEA 2004 and in the state regulations

For more on the Response to Intervention process, the National Association of School Psychologists website explains it in more detail.

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