Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing

Case Studies: School and Classroom Assessments—Response to Intervention in the United States

Beginning in 1975 in the United States, federal money was set aside for the education of children considered “handicapped.” Children considered handicapped because of their failure to learn to read or write were classified as learning disabled because of a discrepancy between expected achievement (on the basis of a measure of intelligence) and actual achievement on an academic test.

Several problems arose with this process. First, the number of children classified as learning disabled expanded enormously. Second, a disproportionate number of minority students were so classified. Third, it took an extended period before the discrepancy was considered sufficient for these children to be classified and receive the benefit of the financial resources set aside for them. In the reauthorization of the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), an alternative was introduced to address these problems. Fifteen percent of the money allocated for special education could be used for intervention programs intended to prevent the need to classify children as learning disabled. The premise was that, before limited achievement could be assumed to be caused by a learning disability, instructional interventions should be attempted in order to rule out the possibility of inadequate instruction.

There are few actual requirements of the law. It requires that children’s learning be monitored over time to determine whether instruction is effective (“data-based documentation of repeated assessments of achievement at reasonable intervals, reflecting formal assessment of student progress during instruction”). It requires that the instructional intervention is “scientific, research-based”—the definition of which is very broad. Finally, it requires that, in order to classify a child as learning disabled, there must be procedures and a committee (including the child’s parents), a relevant classroom teacher, and “at least one person qualified to conduct individual diagnostic examinations of children.”

Researchers and school districts have approached this in different ways. One family of Response to Intervention (RTI) approaches focuses on the use of intervention to identify students with learning disabilities. The other family of approaches focuses centrally on preventing students from needing to be classified as learning disabled. Examples of each are represented in these cases following, and a comparative analysis of the two is presented in Table 2.


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