The diagnosis of a learning disability must consider how well the student responds to intervention. The “Response to Intervention” (RTI) model refers to a process that highlights how well students respond to changes in instruction in the classroom. Individual students’ progress is monitored and results are used to make decisions about further instruction and intervention. Essentially, schools can use the RTI process to help students who are struggling academically or behaviourally and to identify students who may have learning disabilities.
A brief summary of the RTI process taken from the National Centre on RTI website, reads:
“With RTI, schools identify students at risk for poor learning outcomes, monitor student progress, provide evidence-based interventions and adjust the intensity and nature of those interventions depending on a student’s responsiveness”.
The National Centre’s website is very comprehensive and explores the RTI approach in detail. Visit www.rti4success.org for more information.
What does the RTI process look like?
The RTI process typically has three waves (or three tiers) which cater for the needs of all students within the classroom. Each wave provides differing levels of support and should focus on how to make the student more successful rather than focussing on the student’s lack of success. Providing high quality instruction in literacy and numeracy ensures schools are better equipped to identify and cater for the needs of students with both learning difficulties and learning disabilities. Using programs that are supported by reliable research evidence is central to this approach. The use of a structured synthetic phonics program is crucial to reading and spelling instruction, as is the use of programs and teaching strategies to target and support additional areas of need such as working memory, vocabulary, comprehension and number work.
Adopting the RTI model has the potential to reduce the number of students who present with learning difficulties as a result of poor instruction and/or curricula. It also allows for earlier identification of students who continue to fail to make progress despite high quality instruction and evidence-based intervention. It is at this point that an individual assessment to determine whether the student meets the criteria for learning disability diagnosis may become important. A combination of RTI and individual assessment is important in diagnosing learning disabilities.