順利在那兒以" 一般幼兒"身分 "畢業"
Is an Early-Help Program
August 16, 2007; Page B1
School districts have long complained about the high cost of special education. Now, spurred by changes in federal law, many are pursuing a contentious new strategy designed to reduce the number of children who need to be in such pricey programs.
Known as "response to intervention," or RTI, it aims to bring early help to children struggling in regular-education classrooms and thus avoid having to provide them with special-education services later, when they typically cost 50% more per student. While few educators and disability advocates disagree with the theory behind RTI, some fear that, in implementation, it could become an excuse for shortchanging children with some of the most common disabilities.
Under 2004 revisions to the federal special-education law, states must permit the use of RTI, and districts can use as much as 15% of their federal special-education money to pay for help in regular-education classes.
Chicago, Minneapolis and dozens of Iowa school districts have already adopted forms of RTI. Illinois and Delaware have announced plans to make it mandatory for all of their schools, while California and Florida have launched related training campaigns for teachers. The fast-growing Elk Grove Unified district, near Sacramento, Calif., has used RTI to reduce its special-education rolls to 9% of its students, down from 16% when the program began a decade ago and well below the nationwide average of 14%.
The push for RTI is the latest chapter in a long-running battle over just how far schools should go to educate disabled students in regular classrooms. Observers say RTI could boost such mainstreaming to unprecedented levels by shifting resources away from separate special-education programs and requiring regular-education teachers to tackle tougher learning challenges in their own classrooms. "It's a real paradigm shift in the field," says Ronald Dumont, a psychology professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J.
RTI has also gotten a big boost from the Bush administration's $1 billion Reading First program, whose literacy programs were designed to be part of RTI. Reading First has been controversial because some federally funded advisers who recommended the software and books for the program to school districts have financial ties to publishers of the curricular materials.
In most places, RTI is being directed at children with so-called "specific learning disabilities." Created under federal law, the fast-growing category includes dyslexia and other mental processing disorders that prevent children from listening, speaking, reading or computing up to their potential. SLD students account for about 46% of the nation's 6.1 million special-education students, up from less than a quarter in the 1970s.
To determine whether a student has SLD, schools have traditionally looked for disparities between the IQ scores and achievement-test results of low-performing children. Usually, such disparities don't become apparent until the later years of elementary school.
RTI supporters call that a "wait-to-fail" approach. They maintain that many children now in special education are simply victims of poor instruction and wouldn't need expensive special-education services if they had gotten extra help as soon as their problems surfaced. They say minority students, in particular, are overrepresented in special education when they may just need better schooling. In some cases, school districts have adopted RTI-like strategies as part of a settlement of related civil-rights litigation.
Under RTI, children are generally considered for special education only if they don't respond to a gradually intensifying series of closely monitored interventions. "It's both more humane and more cost-effective to screen for problems early and intervene at younger ages than it is to attempt to treat problems after they are firmly established," says Daniel Reschly, a professor of education and psychology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
Even so, the process can be confusing for parents like Karen Callender, of Long Beach, Miss. She encountered a form of RTI last fall when she asked local school officials to evaluate her third-grade son, Keith, for special-education services. He had recently been hospitalized in a psychiatric ward for two weeks, and physicians had diagnosed him with mood disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dysgraphia, a processing disorder that makes it difficult for him to write legibly.
Ms. Callender says school officials refused to evaluate Keith, saying they could handle his problems via interventions in the regular classroom. "I've still never gotten anything in writing saying what these interventions are," says Ms. Callender.
Long Beach school officials declined to discuss the case, citing federal confidentiality laws.
Researchers say various studies have proved that such interventions benefit younger children with reading problems. But when it comes to older children or other subjects, such as math, "we have precious little to go by," says Thomas Kubiszyn, director of school psychology training at the University of Houston.
Meanwhile, there are no standards for what the RTI process should look like or how long the various tiers of intervention should last. Without limits, some fear RTI could become a "gulag of general education," says Douglas Fuchs, a special-education professor at Vanderbilt.
Under the federal special-education law, parents could short-circuit the RTI process with a written demand for a full special-education assessment, but disability attorneys say many parents aren't aware that they have such rights. In the meantime, students in RTI aren't covered by the federal laws that require specific record-keeping, case monitoring and due-process rights for special-education students.
Disability advocates in Mississippi and Alabama say some school districts in those states are keeping sloppy records on interventions or using them to inappropriately deny special-education services. Chicago's RTI system, known as "school-based problem solving," has come under fire from advocacy groups and others. A 2005 report by a monitor appointed by a federal judge found that the system was "misunderstood and misused by staff, resulting in delays in referral for evaluation of students with disabilities."
Carlette Boler, a mother of three, says that despite the classroom struggles of her daughter, Octavia, she had to hire an attorney last year to get the Chicago school district to assess the eight-year-old for special education. According to records filed as part of related administrative-law proceedings, the case manager at Octavia's elementary school thought the girl had to first undergo problem-solving, though because the manager had never received any related training, nothing was done.
A spokesman for the Chicago school district declined to comment on the case but said staff at the school involved did receive training during the 2005-2006 school year.
Teresa Garate, chief of staff for Chicago's office of specialized services, says the district's initial attempt at RTI, launched in the late 1990s, was plagued by high staff turnover and the lack of a computerized system for tracking the progress of students undergoing such interventions. She says the system is being revamped with stronger monitoring tools, adding: "I guess you learn from doing."
Write to Robert Tomsho at firstname.lastname@example.org