Special Education Services and Response to Intervention: What, Why, and How?
Recently there has been an ongoing, at times acrimonious, discussion about the newest incarnation of the federal law that mandates special services for children with disabilities. At the heart of the controversy is a relatively new evaluation model referred to as Response to Intervention (RTI). Advocates and stakeholders have been very vocal in their opinions, leaving those down on the frontlines puzzled and confused. Teachers in particular are feeling frustration over yet another, seemingly arbitrary change in the red tape of special education, about which no one has consulted them or even really bothered to explain. Historically, teachers have felt, not unreasonably, a bit victimized by special education law. In 1975, they were told to step aside, that they were not skilled enough to teach children with special needs. Teachers were given a clear message that their role was to keep alert for disabled children and send them on to the experts. Over time, that message has transformed into something quite different; now they hear that they are evading their responsibility by pushing children onto the special education rolls. In addition, procedures for referrals have modified almost yearly; just when they understand the process, it changes. The purpose of this paper is to examine the circumstances that led up to the conception of RTI, and why many people believe it is a significant but necessary change to special education law. In order to understand the rationale behind RTI, it must be examined in the context of the federal laws which necessitated its creation, beginning with Public Law 94-142 (also known as the Education for Handicapped Act, or EHA, passed in 1975), and its subsequent reauthorizations, the most recent of which is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, or IDEIA. For purposes of brevity in this paper, the original act and its descendants will be collectively referred to as IDEIA, unless an issue specific to one particular version is under discussion.
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