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Lehigh wins competitive grant to develop national training program for “Response-to-Intervention”



Ed Shapiro

Lehigh University has won a competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education to create a national training program for school psychologists on the process of Response-to-Intervention (RtI).

The $800,000 grant was awarded to Ed Shapiro, director of Lehigh’s Center for Promoting Research to Practice and professor of school psychology, and Nanette Fritschmann, assistant professor of special education. Both are faculty in Lehigh’s College of Education.

Response-to-Intervention has recently gained national recognition as a program that involves a process of school-wide change—one that focuses on preventing the development of academic and behavior problems. The process can also be used to effectively identify young students with specific learning disabilities.



Nanette Fritschmann

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) promoted RtI as a new option to assess learning disabilities. Until the law was enacted, educators and school psychologists relied almost exclusively on intelligence and achievement tests to identify discrepancies between a student’s potential and actual academic achievement.

The purpose of Lehigh’s four-year program is to train graduate students who are becoming certified school psychologists as specialists in the development, implementation, and facilitation of RtI, particularly in urban and rural settings. School psychologists will be trained to implement RtI in both elementary- and secondary-school settings, spanning all academic disciplines.

Five diverse school districts from eastern and central Pennsylvania will serve as project sites for the study, including Northern Lehigh (Lehigh County), Upper Darby (Delaware County), Abington (Montgomery County), Central Dauphin (Dauphin County) and Cornwall-Lebanon (Lebanon County).

“This is a prevention model that is transforming the way we work with children,” says Shapiro. “Response-to-Intervention is really a framework that allows educators to get resources—which are already so scarce—to all children and to provide special education resources to the students who need it the most.”

RtI is a multi-tiered process in which students’ academic and learning skills are comprehensively evaluated. At an early age, beginning in kindergarten, students who are underperforming academically are given tailored educational instruction in addition to their normal classroom assignments. Those that still struggle are given targeted, intensified interventions to address their learning difficulties.

How well students respond to those interventions is closely monitored by a collaborative team of school professionals including psychologists, teachers, and educational specialists. The intent is to prevent the escalation of a student’s learning problem, rather than waiting until the problem occurs in later years.

“In the past, we haven’t put enough focus on key outside variables—the classroom environment, cultural impacts, differences in instruction—that can help better define why a student isn’t succeeding, “says Fritschmann. “What we’re trying to realistically learn is why some students don’t respond to high-quality curriculum and content.”

Lehigh faculty in school psychology and special education have championed the practice of RtI for more than 20 years. They frequently conduct training workshops and webinars on the topic with the National Center for Response to Intervention.

The Center for Promoting Research to Practice was awarded a previous grant, Project MP3, from the U.S. Department of Education to study RtI in K-4 classrooms, with a particular focus on reading. The new grant builds off the results of Project MP3.

--Tom Yencho


Posted on Tuesday, September 16, 2008

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