2. RTI and Speech-Language Pathology

Writing in 2010, over two-thirds of the American schools are setting up RTI programs (cf. 1. RTI and Speech-Language Pathology), and activities are moving forward at a steady rate. How do SLPs fit into this picture? Is there a niche for them?

Policy information suggests SLP placement in RTI protocols is absent. For example, the U. S. Department of Education has issued a Guide for response to intervention. It turns out a wide range of personnel are candidates for participation but the Guide does not not indicate who should be on the team (c.f. 6 RTI Success).

The Guide does not spell out participation in critical interface Tier 3. One would expect related service staff to show up on the list of important figures to review performance data leading to Tier 2 replacement, continuation in Tier 3, or referral to special education. The Guide does indicate Tier 3 is weak in conceptualization, procedural detail and research support (c.f. 6 RTI Success).

From another source we learn there is no identified role for SLPs as RTI team managers. “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 should. Related services personnel are largely left out in the cold because they are thought to be clinical specialists rather than program-design specialists” (cf. 1. RTI and Speech-Language Pathology).

A REL West study of RTI progress in nine states indicated that RTI is being lead by general education leaders rather than special education leaders (cf. 7. RTI Success). RTI is associated with IDEA 2004 but it is not a dominant component. State-by-state development is uneven, and pupil diversity is not a significant concern. An overriding purpose of RTI is to cut down on the over-identification of learning disabled children. “Two states deliberately excluded the term RTI in naming their initiatives, according to respondents, to avoid its association with special education and to foster broader application.”

With reference to Tier 3, “New Mexico is the only study state whose documents explicitly identify the tier III intervention as a special education intervention, implemented as part of the student’s individualized education program.” The report gives many reasons why special education is not central to the process now.


In spite of the fact that RTI is associated with IDEA 2004 with mandates to reduce the number of at-risk children over-identified for special education, RTI is being shaped by general education leadership creating separate remedial pathways. Little leadership is coming from special education, especially to articulate the need for Tier 3 precision in support of eligibility decision-making and staff utilization. Related services personnel are invisible in the process though their clinical teaching skills are refined and relevant for applications to Tiers 2 and 3.

There is an historical pattern of segregating special education from the flow of school organization dating back to the times of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Tier 3 “struggling students” are likely to be taught by special education teachers with or without eligibility determinations. Tier 3 children are the ones regular teachers do not want in their classrooms. Such an outcome represents no change at all in what is being done now.

Learning a few differential teaching techniques for Tier 1 involves less effort than intensive Tier 3 one-on-one direct instruction throughout the week.

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