This was my comment on Nancy's latest piece: "Thanks for this and the discussion, Nancy. New Jersey is looking to formally adopt the RtI model statewide. I’m actually testifying about it tomorrow morning. I do not support it. As a state, NJ has not been doing special ed well. And while many will argue that “quality” is an issue that is difficult to address, it is made much worse when districts have get a “pass” on having to properly identify students in a timely manner. We already have that going on. Why put a gold sticker on a lousy practice that leaves us with students finally being classified in high school?
To the point about having properly trained teachers in the classroom who actually know how to identify what’s in front of them. Yes! I’m in districts all over the state and consistently, the younger teachers have little to no experience with identifying or knowing how to intercede on behalf of their students.
The paranoid parent advocate in me thinks this is purposefully done. The end goal is to get rid of special ed entirely."
Put this move to implement RtI in context with a likely soon to be created Special Education Ombudsman position...working out of NJDOE, no less. Is it just me? Why the disconnect? Legislators have clearly recognized the need for help for students and parents. Theoretically, NJDOE already has OSEP to handle that. And, now they want to implement a system then further removes accessibility to timely, appropriate intervention. Frustrating, to say the very least.
Here is my written testimony to the NJ Senate Education Committee:
16 November 2015
New Jersey Senate Education Committee
Testimony on Bill S445 – Response to Intervention (RtI)
Thank you for this committee’s dedication to engaging the special education community and for continuing to sponsor bills with the aim of making education accessible for all.
While the idea of tiered system, as RtI is, sounds appealing on the surface, I would like to offer a different perspective for consideration, from the ground level. As an advocate, I speak with many parents and teachers around the state, and indeed in other states. Universally, special education services are harder to secure and the quality of services from one district to another is hugely variable.
When a system like RtI is put in place, it means that students with disabilities are put on an assembly line. If Tier 1 doesn’t work, onto the next. At Tier 3, if not working, then the student, hopefully, will finally be referred to the Child Study Team for a full evaluation for special education services. How much time is lost? There are no timeframes in RtI. It is subjective and relies on the ability of general education teachers, especially in the lower grades, to identify the difference between a learning disability and a student who may just be learning more slowly than their peers, but is still learning. In upper grades, this is even more problematic because precious time has already been lost.
We already see this happening. Students are placed in the general education setting of Basic Skills Instruction (BSI), sometimes for years. The reason BSI hasn’t worked for many students is they simply have an unidentified learning disability. Dyslexia probably being the most common. Districts can honestly tell parents their children are getting extra help. The problem is, it’s not the right help. RtI will be a great enabler for districts that already stash children away in BSI.
I ask you to consider more stringent guidelines for the framework. The timeline from one Tier to another should be short. The requirement to assess whether skipping the next Tier in favor of an evaluation for special education must take place. The “assessments” should either be specifically spelled out or listed as examples for districts and parents to choose from. The education and professional development (PD) for teachers, especially general education teachers must happen annually. PD should focus on the actual identification of learning disabilities. Finally, a referral to the Child Study Team for an evaluation for services should never be redirected to RtI.
I implore you to consider the timeline for these students. How much time is too much time to waste? A couple of months ago you heard testimony on the necessity for high quality pre-school. And, the importance of that kind of early intervention on the impact on special education classification. Why should that be any less important in the K-12 setting?
Thank you, as always, for your time and consideration.