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RTI: Pros and Cons

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No system is perfect, and RTI is no exception. RTI has its own pros and cons. The pros of RTI are great and are not canceled out by the cons. However, educators, administrators, parents, and other advocates need to be aware of the cons and how to avoid them. Keep reading to learn all about the pros and cons of RTI. 

Response to Intervention or RTI can be a mixed bag at times, and my feelings on it greatly depend on the student in question. 

That’s because, in some cases, RTI is working with me, and in others, it’s working against me. Because RTI is not a perfect system. At times the pros are front and center, and other times the cons are really gumming up the work. 

But what are the pros and cons of RTI? And what can we do to minimize the cons? 

As a quick aside, this post is going to assume you’re familiar with the basics of RTI and how it’s implemented. 

If you’re unclear on the details, check out this post to learn the basics! 

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Response to Intervention can be great at times. If you work in a school, you might have teachers who think that every difficult student who is remotely behind needs special education.

Now their hearts are usually in the right place. They want what’s best for the student and to make sure that they get the support they need. 

However, in these cases, general education teachers might not understand that there are serious downsides to special education. 

The biggest one, of course, is that it limits contact with typically developing peers, which can impede the development of social-emotional skills. 

According to the law, kids need to spend as much time in general education as possible. 

RTI can be a big help with that. If you’re in an RTI state or school, then you and your colleagues can’t start the IEP process until they’ve been through all the tiers of RTI. 

The first thing an RTI specialist said to me when I finally started at a school was that she considered it her job to keep kids off my caseload. 

Now my caseload is slammed, and I appreciate it. 

Plus, it’s in the best interest of the kids that they get as much support as they can because it could just be they’re behind for reasons that have nothing to do with having a disability. 

Naturally, if they’re at tier three and it’s not working, then it might be time to consider evaluations to see if a learning disability is involved. 

Let me float you a scenario. 

It’s March or April, and you’re in a parent meeting for a kiddo that has been at tier 3 for most of the year. They’re not responding to those interventions, and maybe it’s time to consider evaluations. 

The parents are all for it, but the admin or the school psychologist, or the teachers recommend holding off till next year. 

They won’t have a finalized IEP in time for this year anyway, so is it that big a deal? 

It might not seem like it, but let’s fast forward. 

It’s September of the next school year, and things have shifted over the summer. The student has moved up a grade and has new teachers. There’s a new school psychologist who hasn’t gotten access to last year’s files yet. The principal quit over the summer, and a new one just started.

The parent asks about getting that IEP and is now dealing with professionals who have no idea the kid has already been through the tiers. So they say what they think is in the kid’s best interest and tell the parents they need to go through the tiers. 

Or, maybe, none of those things happen. Maybe it’s the same people who were in the meeting in April who think, “Well, it’s a new year; maybe they’ll do better.”

So the kid goes through the tiers again, and come March or April, they aren’t making progress again. The parents want evaluations, but it’s too late for an IEP this year, again. So they put it off. 

And the cycle goes on and on and on. 

Who suffers? The student, who probably has a genuine disability. 

I call it the RTI Failure Cycle.

If I had a way to fix this, I’d probably be making a lot more money from a professional development seminar I’d created.

There are some things I’ve done to minimize the impact on the kid. 

It’s called being proactive. If I have a student who is in the tiers for behavior interventions, tier 3 or 2, and I see it not working, I start making noise in January or February. 

Now I only have kids that are on the tiers for behavior. My students all already have IEPs for math and reading, so they can’t be on the tiers for that anymore. 

The end of my road on this journey is an FBA and a BIP, not an IEP, but these strategies can be helpful regardless of what’s at the end of all those tiers. 

When I’m putting this on everyone’s radar, they know it’s not working and that something else needs to be done. 

The school psychologist can tell you what data they need in advance, and you can all agree on what tier-three steps need to be taken. 

Then, and this is important, I set a hard deadline with a concrete goal. 

We all agree if they’re not responding by the deadline, we’re doing the FBA or starting evaluations, regardless of what time of year it is. 

And if I see we aren’t meeting the goal halfway through, I give everyone a heads-up. Then they should plan accordingly.

Now sadly, this might cost political capital. 

In a perfect world, doing your job and advocating for your kids wouldn’t be something you have to apologize for. However, if you don’t live in that perfect world, this is the political capital I would recommend spending. 

It might help keep kids out of an endless cycle of tiers. 

Now the fact that there are cons to RTI doesn’t mean you should write the system off. It can help a lot of kids if employed properly. So long as you’re aware of what the cons are and take time to avoid them, it can be very helpful.

If you enjoyed this list of the pros and cons of RTI, make sure to check out this other post on the Scarborough Reading Rope.

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