December 1, 2013 Columns

School Matters: Response to Intervention—Turning a Challenge Into an Opportunity

The prospect of adding RTI to an already full workload can seem daunting. Think of it as rebalancing, not adding.

School Matters

Two federal laws, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the reauthorization of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, have changed how schools deliver and coordinate services to struggling students in special education as well as general education classrooms. Response to intervention—sometimes called a multi-tiered system of support—is a big part of this change and can present many opportunities and challenges for speech-language pathologists. RTI brings together teams of professionals to identify struggling students in general education and provide supports and strategies to help them reach their potential.

The opportunities

  1. SLPs often say, "No one knows what I do!" RTI gives SLPs the opportunity to engage more with classroom teachers and other school personnel and show them. After all, within the context of the Common Core State Standards, students are expected to develop skills to interpret words and phrases, compare and contrast, participate in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, and demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar—all of which SLPs work on every day. Take this opportunity to show that SLPs bring many skills—phonology, language and literacy, syntax and morphology, processing, and conversation skills—to help students succeed.
  2. Through RTI, SLPs can provide paperwork-free trial services to see if students respond to instruction, and then determine if special education services are necessary. Many school-based SLPs report success using short-term, intense treatment for some articulation errors. Others note success remediating other communication issues via RTI.
  3. RTI helps you collect data. Even when a student progresses through the levels of intervention, but is found to be a candidate for special education, RTI provides a wealth of data for the evaluation process.
  4. RTI provides greater visibility for SLPs in schools and the chance to educate others about communication disorders, what SLPs do, and how communication links up with literacy.

The challenges

  1. Implementing RTI while maintaining a large caseload can be challenging. SLPs must adjust the workload if they are to have time for RTI.
  2. Opinions about RTI procedural issues differ drastically from state to state, and even building to building. Can SLPs screen individual students at the request of an educational team? Is permission needed for these screenings? How much can be done within the context of RTI before the special education placement process should begin? How much can be done within the context of RTI before the SLP is viewed as providing special education outside of the IDEA-prescribed process? According to the U.S. Department of Education, many of these answers are determined at the state level. (ASHA is developing guidance on this topic. Watch the ASHA Community for announcements about the availability of this resource.)
  3. Administrators may have widely diverse opinions regarding whether (and how) to use SLPs in RTI, ranging from denying SLPs the opportunity to be involved in any way to leaning heavily on them for support—and making it difficult for SLPs to have enough time to provide services to students with individualized education programs.
  4. It can be difficult to find evidence-based strategies that work within the context of RTI.

What to do?

So how do you make RTI more of an opportunity—rather than a challenge—in your school?

First, engage in conversations with your school's leadership. Find out about their expectations and understanding of RTI and the Common Core State Standards. Also ask about workload adjustments and any training that would be available to you.

Then participate in training and gather resources:

Next, collaborate with colleagues. Many SLPs are interested in creating RTI strategies and materials. Consider developing a bank of strategies and posting it to the ASHA Community resources so others can use and add to it.

As with other issues, adopting RTI into the workload of school-based SLPs is an evolving process. SLPs are uniquely talented and skilled to support students via RTI, but they need the training, materials, support and workload to do it effectively. This is your opportunity to shine.

Deborah Dixon, MA, CCC-SLP, is ASHA director of school services.

cite as: Dixon, D. (2013, December 01). School Matters: Response to Intervention—Turning a Challenge Into an Opportunity. The ASHA Leader.


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