Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Reducing Disproportionate Minority Representation in Special Education Programs for Students with Emotional Disturbances: Toward a Culturally Responsive Response to Intervention Model

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Reducing Disproportionate Minority Representation in Special Education Programs for Students with Emotional Disturbances: Toward a Culturally Responsive Response to Intervention Model

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of this article is to present an argument for the need for culturally responsive Response to Intervention (RTI) as an approach for reducing disproportionate minority representation in Special Education Programs for Students with Emotional Disturbances. We present an overview of the RTI model as initially intended for use in determining IDEA eligibility category of Specific Learning Disability (SLD), discuss current literature that examines the use of RTI for evaluation of Emotional Disturbances (ED), and highlight research-based instruction and intervention practices of culturally responsive pedagogy. Then, we discuss the integration of such practices into an RTI model for the evaluation of ED. Our intent is that through discussion and development of a culturally responsive approach to RTI for culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students who display social, emotional, and behavioral difficulties, disproportionate representation and assumption of within-child deficits, can be effectively addressed and remedied.

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The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was rewritten and signed into law in December 2004. The previous version of IDEA placed emphasis on individual student performance assessments administered during the sixty-day IDEA evaluation period. In the case of evaluation for suspected Emotional Disturbance, based on the Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team's (MET) judgment about students' social/emotional functioning compared against a list of criteria for the eligibility category. Changes in IDEA led to the addition of another way to determine eligibility for Special Education and related services, specifically, the Response to Intervention (RTI) model (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2004). RTI is defined as "an inadequate change in target behaviors as a function of intervention" (Gresham, 2005, p. 331). Initially, the movement toward RTI was promoted as an alternative for the identification of Specific Learning Disability. Determination of a child's eligibility for Special Education under this category previously relied on documentation of a "significant discrepancy" between ability and achievement through the use of standardized assessment tools. Research has demonstrated that the use of this IQ discrepancy model for determination of SLD contributes to the disproportionate representation of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students in special education (Donovan & Cross, 2002). The improvements in IDEA associated with the use of the RTI eligibility determination model are also being applied to evaluations for other eligibility categories including Emotional Disturbance (Gresham, 2005; Kavale, Holdnack, & Mostert, 2005).

Regardless of the suspected disability "category", the addition of the RTI eligibility determination model to IDEA brings the consideration of interpersonal and institutional factors which may prevent or contribute to students' academic and social/emotional problems. This signifies a shift from the previous evaluation focus of looking for within-child deficits as evidence of disability, to a broader and more contextual analysis of day-to-day interactions and institutional infrastructures that impact student achievement and behavior. RTI also moves away from the "wait to fail" (Klingner et al., 2005) mentality special education has historically been accused of supporting, where children have to struggle significantly before receiving specialized support. Just as RTI supports broadening the unit of analysis and considering a child's strengths and needs within educational and cultural contexts, RTI also stresses the use of evidence-based intervention practices before special education referral. This marks an important acknowledgement of the general education setting as where we must place responsibility for student progress.

The use of the RTI approach implies that general education must assume active responsibility for the delivery of high quality instruction, research-based interventions, and prompt identification of individuals with disabilities, while collaborating with families as well as special education personnel. …

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