Response to Intervention (RtI): Not a Pre-referral for HI Certification
By. Teresa Sundberg
You don’t need to be in the field of education to notice that your local school districts are reacting to the state and federal budget cuts to education. Many school districts have had to lay off existing teachers, support and related service staff caseloads are becoming larger, and class sizes are growing. Currently, approximately 10% of federal education funds are allocated to the States for use in Special Education and with less money for local educational agencies (LEA), filling in the gaps of meeting the needs of students with disabilities becomes less attainable. One school-wide initiative that schools are currently using to minimize students need for special education is Response to Intervention (RtI). In this article, I want to provide a brief description of RtI and give parents resources for learning more about your child’s school model. At the same time, I would also like to encourage parents to make sure that their child with a hearing loss receives the appropriate accommodations and services crucial to their academic and social success.
In accordance with the reauthorization of IDEA 2004 (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), The National Association for the State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) and the Council of Administrators of Special Education in compliance with No Child Left Behind, put forth a set of policy considerations and implementation of Response to Intervention (RtI) for schools across the nation. At the National Center on RtI, it states that the four essential components of RtI are:
- A school-wide, multi-level instructional and behavioral system for preventing school failure
- Progress Monitoring
- Data-based decision making for instruction, movement within the multi-level system, and disability identification (in accordance with state law)
RtI was designed to help identify struggling learners early on before the need for special education. Each Local Educational Agency (LEA) has developed their own model based on the core principals set forth by the NASDSE.
I remember first hearing about RtI through the various workshops being held at the Intermediate School District. As a Teacher Consultant for the Hearing Impaired, my initial reaction after examining the multi-tier level of support (pyramid) was to wonder how a child with a hearing loss would benefit from any instruction or level of support if he or she couldn’t hear? For example, when teachers are addressing literacy skills in small groups within classrooms, the background noise alone may be impeding the HI child’s ability to hear and understand instruction. In reference to this, Cheryl Deconde Johnson, The President of Hands and Voices, wrote an excellent article shortly after RTI was set in motion. In RTI- What it is and What is isn’t, she said, “RTI strategies are tools that enable educators to target instructional interventions to children’s areas of specific needs as soon as they become apparent. A hearing impaired child’s first need is to hear what is being taught before targeting instruction.” This emphasizes the fact that if your child has a medical diagnosis of a hearing loss, you have every right as a parent to request an initial evaluation for special education if you feel that he or she has an educationally significant hearing loss. Your child would more than likely need to have an IEP or 504 Plan in order to take advantage of a personal FM system that will be monitored by an educational audiologist or teacher consultant for the hearing impaired. It’s important to remember that a school cannot deny or delay a referral on the basis that a child has not gone through the RtI process.
The other thing to consider is that professional support staff that understands the unique needs of hearing loss such as Teacher Consultants for Hearing Impaired and Educational Audiologists should be asked to consult with the classroom teacher as well as parents to ensure that the HI child’s needs are being met. I have spoken with many general educators about the supports and accommodations suggested to them as part of the RtI process in their school districts, and most are consistent with the same recommendations I would suggest to classroom teachers in addressing students with hearing loss in their classrooms. Maybe you’ve heard the expression, “Best practices for hearing impaired children are often best practices for all children.” Unfortunately, many teachers have not been in-serviced on the signs of hearing loss unless they have had an HI child in their classroom. Here are some of the considerations that teachers are asked to consider when implementing best practices in their classrooms.
- Staff awareness of signs of hearing loss
- Classroom acoustical considerations
- Classroom communication and accommodations including; consideration of classroom distribution system
- Hearing conservation
- Frequent checks for comprehension
- Good lighting
- Reduction of visual/auditory distractions
- Predictive routine with structure and paired with language
- Use of graphic organizers/outlines and written procedures
- Pre-tutoring vocabulary
- Differentiated instruction
- Link to prior knowledge
I recommend to parents that they first make sure their child has the appropriate accommodations and amplification including hearing aids and/or classroom and personal FM systems. Take time to explore their child’s school district policy on RtI and ask their child’s teacher how they are using strategies in their classrooms to address your child’s needs. Please refer to the following websites for more specific questions related to the RtI process. www.nasdse.org and www.rtiprogress4success.org (The National Center for the Response to Intervention)