Academic journal article Childhood Education

Examining Sociocultural Factors in Response to Intervention Models

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Examining Sociocultural Factors in Response to Intervention Models

Article excerpt

As a prelude to the reauthorization of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004, President Bush charged a Commission on Excellence in Special Education with evaluating the current status of special education on the national, state, and local levels (President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002). One of the Commission's recommendations concerned the need to implement and support early intervention and identification systems so as to decrease the number of students who were found to have a specific learning disability, the largest disability category represented in the population of students with special needs (Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, 2005).

The 2004 reauthorization of IDEA incorporated recommendations in the Commission's report regarding the implementation of a response to intervention or instruction (RTI) model for the identification of a specific learning disability (SLD). This action was a response to decades of debate regarding identification approaches emphasizing the requirement for a discrepancy between a child's IQ and his/her academic performance to diagnose a specific learning disability (Lyon et al., 2001). Since Dr. Samuel Kirk coined the term "learning disability" in 1962, children diagnosed with this condition were determined to be those experiencing significant and unexpected underachievement in one or more academic areas, given their potential to achieve, as assessed by an intelligence assessment (Hallahan & Mock, 2003). Thus, a learning disability could be identified in any one of the following academic areas: oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skill, reading comprehension, and mathematics calculation or reasoning. The etiology or factors contributing to this unexpected underachievement were considered intrinsic, or residing within the child. Education and psychology professionals came to believe that specific, individual neurological or information processing deficits, related to cognitive processes underlying knowledge acquisition and expression, were responsible for the academic underachievement experienced by students diagnosed with a specific learning disability (SLD).

One concern with this formula for identifying an SLD is the need to wait until a sufficiently large enough gap in IQ and achievement emerges, necessitating potentially years of academic failure before identification. The discrepancy approach also contributes to disproportionate representation of minorities in special education, due to misidentification (over- or under-identification) as a result of biased referral and assessment practices (Donovan & Cross, 2002; Drame, 2002; Obiakor et al., 2002).

Use of an RTI process to identify specific learning disabilities, in lieu of the traditional eligibility determination process, constitutes a significant policy shift. This policy change has even broader implications beyond SLD identification, given that draft discussion language for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind Act (ESEA/NCLB) released in August 2007 includes RTI as "a required provision for state plans and as a possible intervention model or strategy for low-performing schools" (Council for Exceptional Children, 2007). As RTI models are implemented by schools and districts across the United States, fundamental changes in how general educators address the needs of struggling students are being explored.

The revised eligibility criteria for determining the existence of an SLD included several changes or additions to the criteria described in the 1997 IDEA Act (Council for Exceptional Children, 2006). For example, the first step in the eligibility determination process now includes documentation of under-achievement, in relation to a child's age or attainment of state-approved grade-level academic standards. In the prior definition, age or ability level, as assessed by an intellectual assessment, were the benchmarks for underachievement. …

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