Snippets – November 12, 2015 – RTI and Special Education – Guest Post by Dr. Everett

This week’s Snippets is a guest post from Dr. Kathy Everett, Director of Programs and Interventions and Principal of Slana School. You can reach her at

Help! My Child is Failing in School

At some point in your child’s educational career, they may struggle academically. Too often parents and/or well-meaning teachers suggest having the child evaluated for special education. But that is not the only course of action nor should it be the first path to take in helping your child. Copper River School District, as with other districts across the country, has embraced the Response to Intervention (RTI) Tier Program to support students in being academically successful. All students are in Tier I and administered universal screenings such as the MAPS assessment. Some in our school community may not be familiar with the RTI process and the differences between RTI and special education. This article will help to explain both.

When your child is having a hard time with school work, they can become extremely stressed and withdrawn. Some can get angry while others start to feel like they are stupid or not as smart as their friends. Parents will sometimes wonder “What did I do wrong?” Michael Thompson, PhD contends most parents “haven’t necessarily done anything wrong” but that does not mean they can’t help work through the problem.

RTI provides a framework to support all students using a tri-tiered triangle model that addresses both academic instruction and behavioral support (often referred to as Positive Behavioral Intervention Support, or PBIS or PBS). The tiers of the triangle represent universal instruction for all students and increasing levels of interventions for those students who need them, including those for special education students. A problem solving approach is used to analyze the data and make decisions about appropriate instruction and interventions. So how is this different than special education you might ask?

Special education on the other hand requires a student to meet specific eligibility criteria outlined by the US government through comprehensive evaluations. Special education means providing specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability. Supports (such as modified learning outcomes, extended time, or modified assignments) are intended to level the playing field due to the disability of a child, not to make things easier for them. Special education is designed for those students who are mentally, physically, socially and/or emotionally delayed. Evaluating and placing a child in special education requires an eligibility to address the student’s needs that cannot be met within the traditional classroom environment.

So what does this mean for you as the parent of a student is struggling? You can ask your child’s teacher to place them in the RTI process. The teacher will then have to apply various strategies to see what may help your child be more successful in school. The teacher and the parent will coordinate to see how the various strategies are helping or not. Each student in Tier II or III will be progressed monitored, which means the teacher will evaluate either weekly or monthly how successful the strategies are in improving the student’s performance or behavior.

In addition to working with parents, the teacher will work within their school RTI program to address and solicit help from other teachers. If the various supports do not seem to be making a difference in improving your child’s performance or behavior in school, then a referral to special education will be made. Special education will require comprehensive testing to evaluate if there may be a disability. The process is designed to not over identify students but to be able to provide supports as needed. Should you have any questions about the process, feel free to contact the Programs and Interventions Office at the Copper River School District for more assistance.

Published by

Michael J.


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