At both the State and Federal levels, the terminology response to intervention, response to learning, or response to instruction is being replaced by the term multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS). The multi-tiered system of supports is a comprehensive system of differentiated supports that includes evidence-based instruction, universal screening, progress monitoring, formative assessments, research-based interventions matched to student’s needs, and educational decision making using student outcome data. MTSS can be used for making decisions about general, remedial, and special education, creating a well-integrated system of instruction that is guided by student-outcome data.
IDEA and MTSS
In the reauthorization of IDEA in 2004, new requirements regarding the identification of children with specific learning disabilities came into effect. In the regulations, section 300.307 concerning specific learning disabilities states:
(a) General. A State must adopt, consistent with Sec. 300.309, criteria for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability as defined in Sec. 300.8(c)(10). In addition, the criteria adopted by the State—
(1) Must not require the use of a severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability, as defined in Sec. 300.8(c)(10);
(2) Must permit the use of a process based on the child’s response to scientific, research-based intervention; and
(3) May permit the use of other alternative research-based procedures for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability, as defined in Sec. 300.8(c)(10).
Since publication of the final regulations, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) in the U.S. Department of Education has received requests for clarification of some of these regulations. The complete document from OSERS regarding RTI can be found at http://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/letters/revpolicy/tpevlrvl.html.
Letter of guidance from OSEP dated March 6, 2007, states: An RTI process does not replace the need for a comprehensive evaluation, and the results of an RTI process may be one component of the information reviewed as part of the evaluation procedures required under 34 CFR §§300.304 and 300.305.
A comprehensive evaluation requires the use of a variety of data-gathering tools and strategies even if MTSS is used.
What Is a Comprehensive Evaluation?
In conducting the evaluation, the PEA must:
- Use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information about the child, including information provided by the parent that may assist in determining eligibility and deciding upon the content of the IEP (including information to enable involvement and progress in the general education curriculum and participation in appropriate activities);
- Not use any single measure or assessment as the sole criterion for determining whether the child has a disability and for determining an appropriate educational program; and
- Use technically sound instruments that may assess the relative contribution of cognitive and behavioral factors, in addition to physical or developmental factors.
The team must also ensure the following:
- Assessments and other evaluation materials include those tailored to assess specific areas of educational need and not merely those that are designed to provide a single general intelligence quotient;
- Assessments are selected and administered so as best to ensure that if an assessment is administered to a child with impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills, the assessment results accurately reflect the child’s aptitude or achievement level or whatever other factors the test purports to measure, rather than reflecting the child’s impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills (unless those skills are the factors that the test purports to measure);
- If the child is limited English proficient, the assessments measure the extent to which the child has a disability and needs special education rather than measuring the child’s English language skills;
- The child is assessed in all areas related to the suspected disability, including, if appropriate, health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, general intelligence, academic performance, communicative status, and motor abilities;
- Assessments of children who transfer from one PEA to another within the same school year are coordinated with the prior school to ensure prompt completion of full evaluations;
- The evaluation is sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child’s special education and related service needs, whether or not they are commonly linked to the disability category in which the child has been classified; and
- Assessment tools and strategies provide relevant information that directly assists a team in determining the child’s educational needs.
The Arizona Technical Assistance System (AZ-TAS) evaluation document is available at this URL: http://www.azed.gov/special-education/files/2012/02/evaluation-aztas-6-13-12.pdf .
Requirements in Using MTSS as Part of the SLD Identification Process
If a PEA chooses to use MTSS as part of the identification process, the PEA will submit an Assurances Letter to ADE for the use of MTSS as part of the SLD eligibility process. The PEA must include all required components and must receive approval from the Arizona Department of Education/Exceptional Student Services prior to implementation. Annually on August 1st, the PEA will submit an MTSS Continuance for continued use of MTSS; in addition, the PEA should provide a copy of any updates to the MTSS plan at that time. The PEA will submit a new Assurance to the ADE/ESS if additional schools, content areas, or grades are using MTSS within the PEA.
In using MTSS as part of the SLD identification process, the PEA will assure the Arizona Department of Education, Exceptional Student Services (ADE/ESS), that the PEA has in place the following requirements:
- The general evaluation requirements identified in 34 C.F.R. §§300.301–300.306.
- The additional evaluation procedures for identifying children with SLD as specified in 34 C.F.R. §§300.307–300.311.
- Scientific research-based instruction (as identified in the ESEA §9101 (37)) in the areas of the curriculum in which MTSS will be used for the identification of SLD.
- Data-based documentation through repeated assessments of achievement (progress monitoring) that a student has not made adequate progress in the general curriculum in spite of a systematic approach and tiered interventions delivered by qualified personnel.
- A district-approved implementation plan for the adoption/use of MTSS for SLD eligibility.
Additionally the PEA understands that:
- At any time a public agency believes a child may be eligible for special education services, the agency must promptly request parental consent to determine if the child needs special education and related services (34 CFR §300.309(c));
- If a parent requests an evaluation, the PEA may choose to either request permission to evaluate or if the PEA chooses to decline the parent’s request for evaluation, the PEA must issue the prior written notice required under 34 CFR §300.503;
- MTSS does not replace a comprehensive evaluation and all other requirements required under 34 CFR §§300.301–300.306 (Evaluations and Reevaluations) are applicable;
- 34 CFR §300.311(a)(7) requires that when a child has participated in a process that assesses the child’s response to scientific, research-based interventions, documentation of the eligibility determination must include a statement that the child’s parents were notified about—
- The state’s policies regarding the amount and nature of student performance data that would be collected and the general education services that would be provided,
- Strategies for increasing the child’s rate of learning, and
- The parent’s right to request an evaluation;
- MTSS may not be used to delay a parent’s request for evaluation of their child for eligibility for special education.
Link to the MTSS Assurances form: MTSS Assurances Form
Additional Resources for using MTSS for SLD identification from the RTI Action Network. http://www.rtinetwork.org/getstarted/sld-identification-toolkit
For more information regarding MTSS, please visit the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support Page.
Melissa De Vries
Director of State Initiatives & Flagstaff Office
Exceptional Student Services/School Improvement
Arizona Department of Education
3100 N. West St., Suite #300
Flagstaff, AZ 86004
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