The timing was ripe earlier this summer when Ed Shapiro visited Capitol Hill to talk with congressional staffers about methods of identifying and helping young children who have difficulties learning math and reading.
Days after Shapiro shared his expertise, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that Pennsylvania and 16 other states and the District of Columbia had qualified to compete for second-round funding totaling as much as $3 billion or more from the Race to the Top program.
Race to the Top is a $4.35 billion U.S. Department of Education program designed to promote innovation and reform in K-12 schools. It was funded by Congress through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or federal stimulus package, of 2009.
Shapiro, professor of school psychology and director of the College of Education’s Center for Promoting Research to Practice, was invited to Washington, D.C., to discuss one educational innovation that is known as Response to Intervention (RtI).
RtI was endorsed as a new option for assessing learning disabilities in children as young as kindergarten age in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act passed by Congress in 2004. Shapiro and Nanette Fritschmann, assistant professor of special education, received a competitive grant in 2008 from the U.S. Department of Education to launch a national training program in RtI for school psychologists.
Moving beyond labels
At the Capitol Visitor’s Center this summer, Shapiro and his colleagues discussed the latest RtI research and how it has been successfully applied in classrooms throughout the U.S. His visit, and those of other researchers, were sponsored by the Response to Intervention Action Network of the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
“RtI has really taken hold in all corners of the country as an effective, proven method of assessment, early intervention and prevention of the development of learning and behavior problems” says Shapiro. “RtI is mainly about matching instruction with student needs, at all levels, without labeling children.
“At its core, RtI is about getting services and academic enrichment for those who need it, not about labeling or identifying those only in need of special education.”
Shapiro’s colleagues concur. An Education Week article about the testimony given at the Capitol Visitor’s Center reported Steven Kukic as saying, “It’s not a general education initiative and it’s not a special ed initiative. It’s an ‘every ed’ initiative.” Kukic is a board member of the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
According to RtI Adoption Survey 2010, 87 percent of K-12 school district administrators say RtI has reduced the number of special education referrals, while more than 75 percent report gains in adequate yearly progress. The survey was conducted in April by the American Association of School Administrators, the Council of Administrators of Special Education, the National Association of State Directors of Special Education and other education organizations.
“RtI is a national movement that has really come into its own in the past few years, and any legislation coming from Washington, D.C., needs to reflect that,” says Shapiro.