1. RTI and Speech-Language Pathology

Girl Scouts Marching on Main Street.

In our posts we have considered the importance of competence for collaborative education. We say current trends push hard on the traditional model of isolated small-room pull-out intervention. The skills required for collaboration rapidly must become best practice, at least in university speech and hearing clinics where first skills are developed. Otherwise they must be acquired through continuing education and school in-service. Competence includes knowledge of the history of special education, IDEA 2004, evidence-based programs, national implementation trends, team models and eligibility procedures.

In recent years motivated SLPs have struck up relationships with others to run meritorious cooperative programs. We call this Inspirational Collaboration. Now the trend is toward Mandated Collaboration, under IDEA 2004; schools impose programs on special education and general education personnel from the top down. The SLP role changes on the basis of perceived skill, availability and cooperation. Role modifications can come under “other duties as assigned” as stated in employment contracts.

There are no set guidelines as to who organizes collaborative school programs such as RTI and early intervention. School administrators, curriculum directors, psychologists and special education directors are vying for leadership roles, helter-skelter. In some instances district superintendents play a central organizational role and they should. Related service personnel are largely left out in the cold because they are thought to be clinical specialists rather than program-design specialists.

Reading or “literacy” is the key content battleground, as it were, when mandated collaboration is mounted. There is the widespread view in 2010 that reading is the essential skill for struggling students to avoid academic delay and special education placement. Regular classroom teachers historically have “owned” reading but it is now an ownerless interdisciplinary domain. Reading specialists surprisingly play lesser roles. SLPs are identified oral language specialists and not print specialists. There is a large body of research saying pre-print cognition is crucial to reading achievement but educators do not teach to cognitive precursors.

Response To Intervention is the strongest national movement justifying cooperative programs. Spectrum k12 survey data suggest some two-thirds of America school districts are engaged in setting up RTI programs. There are commercial packages available. School mandates for evidence-based programs place pressure on SLPs to collaborate according to the protocols purchased. It is costly for schools to buy commercial systems so expectations for willing participation run high.

SLPs should understand the significant congressional and research origins of RTI under IDEA 2004 regulations:

“The reports of both the House and Senate Committees accompanying the IDEA reauthorization bills reflect the Committees’ concerns with models of identification of SLD that use IQ tests, and their recognition that a growing body of scientific research supports methods, such as RTI, that more accurately distinguish between children who truly have SLD from those whose learning difficulties could be resolved with more specific, scientifically based, general education interventions. Similarly, the President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education recommended that the identification process for SLD incorporate an RTI approach” (IDEA Legacy).

The momentum of RTI nationwide means SLPs are in the path of an avalanche without much warning. However, SLPs are competent school employees who have the ready talent to make RTI work. It depends on the flexibility of special education directors and individual SLPS. In many cases SLPs will be pushed to the side regardless of their willingness to collaborate.

The regulations give emphasis to reducing the number of children misidentified as learning disabled pupils. This aim is being dropped. SLPs should advocate for reduction of over-identification as a means of ethically reducing caseload size.

It is unfortunate SLPs nationwide are tied down to moderately heavy caseloads at a time when they need flexibility to follow mandated educational trends. What happens to the traditional practice areas of voice, fluency and articulation?

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