The Rules Committee is therefore soliciting input and inviting members of the public to attend a meeting to discuss these and related issues on Friday, November 14th (further details within). As we explain below, Decoding Dyslexia Arizona believes the Arizona rules related to SLD determination require substantial overhaul. We hope you will agree and join us in urging the Rules Committee to develop and propose critical revisions to the rules.
School districts in Arizona need guidance related to the implementation of "RTI"
Congress amended the IDEA in 2004 and in 2006 required states to adopt rules permitting local school districts or other local educational agencies to implement Response to Intervention ("RTI") systems as part of the process of identifying students with learning disabilities. Under RTI, struggling students receive access to targeted interventions in the context of general education so that schools can determine whether the students' difficulties stem from inadequate instruction as opposed to learning or other disabilities. Although all states, including Arizona, adopted rules permitting the use of RTI, the federal IDEA regulations did not provide specific regulations related to the implementation of RTI, instead leaving those decisions to the states.
The Arizona Board of Education, however, never issued rules regarding how the RTI process should be integrated with the special education evaluation process. As a result, there exists both uncertainty and tremendous variation in procedures from one Arizona district to another with respect to whether and how to use RTI at all and, when it is used, how the substance and timing of intervention relates to the special education evaluation process.
Some Arizona districts wait too long to evaluate students with potential disabilities
For example, many districts -- not only in Arizona but nationwide -- have insisted that students complete the entire RTI process (spanning many months and in some cases years) before they will consider conducting a special education evaluation. In the intervening time period, students who actually do have learning disabilities do not receive instruction that meets their specific needs. In 2011, the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education issued a policy memorandum instructing states that under federal IDEA regulations, districts may not use RTI to delay or deny a special education evaluation. This critical federal guidance has not been explicitly incorporated into Arizona's special education rules.
Some Arizona districts apply improper criteria in evaluating students for potential disabilities
Beyond the RTI process, schools in Arizona also appear to need more guidance regarding appropriate criteria for the evaluation of learning disabilities. The federal IDEA regulations prohibit states from requiring local school districts to use the "severe discrepancy formula," because the formula -- standing on its own -- is no longer considered a reliable test for the identification of learning disabilities The regulations also require schools to consider a variety of assessment tools and not to rely on only one tool to decide if a child has a learning disability. Yet because of the lack of explicit state rules, parents are reporting that schools and districts throughout Arizona routinely deny students access to special education on the grounds that they do not satisfy the "severe discrepancy" test, without considering additional information.
Recommendations of Decoding Dyslexia Arizona
Decoding Dyslexia Arizona will urge the Rules Committee to recommend, and the Board of Education to adopt, rules that are consistent with the position of the RTI Action Network on determination of specific learning disabilities. We share the overarching goal of the RTI Action Network, which is "to guide educators and families in the large-scale implementation of RTI so that each child has access to quality instruction and that struggling students – including those with learning and attention issues – are identified early and receive the necessary supports to be successful." We urge you to review the position statement for specific details.
About the RTI Action Network
The RTI Action Network was originally founded by the National Center for Learning Disabilities and the following partners:
- American Federation of Teachers (www.aft.org)
- International Reading Association (www.reading.org)
- National Association of Elementary School Principals (www.naesp.org}
- National Association of School Psychologists (www.nasponline.org)
- National Association of Secondary School Principals (www.nassp.org)
- National Association of State Directors of Special Education (www.nasdse.org)
- National Education Association (www.nea.org)
Many other organizations have signed on as partners in the network's implementation process, including:
- American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (www.aacte.org)
- American Association of School Administrators (www.aasa.org)
- American Occupational Therapy Association (www.aota.org)
- American School Counselor Association (www.schoolcounselor.org)
- ASCD (www.ascd.org)
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (www.asha.org)
- Council for Exceptional Children (www.cec.sped.org)
- Council of Chief State School Officers (www.ccsso.org)
- Council of Administrators of Special Education, Inc (www.case.org)
- Federal Resource Center (www.aed.org/Projects/resourcecenter.cfm)
- International Dyslexia Association (www.interdys.org)
- IDEA Partnership (www.ideapartnership.org)
- IRIS Center (http://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu)
- Matrix Parent Network (www.matrixparents.org)
- Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center (www.rrfcnetwork.org/mprrc)
- Northeast Regional Resource Center (www.rrfcnetwork.org/nerrc)
- School Social Work Association of America (http://www.sswaa.org)
- Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (www.tesol.org)
- Southeast Regional Resource Center (www.rrfcnetwork.org/serrc)
- Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative (www.urbancollaborative.org)
Lend your voice
The Rules Committee announced recently that it will host an open meeting on Friday, November 14th, 2014 from 10:00am to 12:00pm at 1535 W. Jefferson Street in Phoenix regarding its proposal for new rules governing special education evaluations, eligibility, and IEPs. Prior to the meeting, members of the public may provide written input by sending an email to the following address: AZBoardRuleCommitteeInBox@azed.gov. The Rules Committee intends to submit its recommendations to the Arizona Board of Education, which has legislative authority to enact revisions, some time in the spring or early summer of 2015.
Please take a moment to review the position of the RTI Action Network and consider urging the Rules Committee to propose an overhaul of the SLD determination rules. And as always, feel free to begin or join a conversation or provide suggestions or input by submitting comments below.