School Mental Health Project

Response to Intervention

The concept:

Response to Intervention is finding its way into schools with a significant push from the federal government. Properly conceived and implemented, the strategy is expected to improve the learning opportunities for many students and reduce the number who are inappropriately diagnosed with learning disabilities and behavioral disorders.

The approach overlaps ideas about pre-referral interventions but is intended to be more systematically implemented with special attention to enhancing teacher capability to carry out "well-designed and well-implemented early intervention." The aim also is to improve assessment for determining whether more intensive and perhaps specialized assistance and diagnosis are required. (It is important to emphasize that the tactic involves specific and well-monitored plans for "identified" students and is not to be used as a delaying tactic related to getting students the interventions they need.)

Response to Intervention has the potential to build teacher capacity so that similar problems are prevented in the future. Implied in all this is that someone is working to ensure (1) classroom teachers have or are learning how to implement "well-designed early intervention" in the classroom, and (2) support staff are learning how to play a role, sometimes directly in the classroom, to expand the intervention strategies if needed.

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The process:

Response to Intervention calls for making changes in the classroom designed to improve the student's learning and behavior as soon as problems are noted and using the student's response to such modifications as info for making further changes if needed. The process continues until it is evident that it cannot be resolved through classroom changes alone.

Through this sequential approach, students who have not responded sufficiently to the regular classroom interventions would next receive supportive assistance designed to help them remain in the regular program, and only when all this is found not to be sufficiently effective would there be a referral for special education assessment. (If the problem proves to be severe and disruptive, an alternative setting may be necessary on a temporary basis to provide more intensive and specialized assessments and assistance.)

A core difficulty here is that of mobilizing unmotivated students (and particularly those who have become actively disengaged from classroom instruction). If motivational considerations are not effectively addressed, there is no way to validly assess whether or not a student has a true disability or disorder.

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The intervention context:

If Response to Intervention is treated simply as a matter of providing more and better instruction, it is unlikely to be effective for a great many students. However, if the strategies are understood broadly and as part and parcel of a comprehensive system of classroom and school-wide learning supports, schools will be in a position not only to address problems effectively early after their onset, but will prevent many from occurring. Such a broad-based system is needed to reduce learning, behavior, and emotional problems, promote social/emotional development, and effectively reengage students in classroom learning. This will not only reduce the numbers who are inappropriately referred for special education or specialized services, it also will enhance attendance, reduce misbehavior, close the achievement gap, and enhance graduation rates.

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Devising practices:

Response to Intervention is currently being operationalized across the country. While there will be variability in practice, the tendency is to proceed as if all that is needed is more and better instruction. Clearly, this is necessary. And, the emphasis needs to go beyond direct instruction. The key is truly personalized instruction (see below). And, because the context for this is a school, instruction must be supported by school-wide interventions focusing on enhancing supports for transitions and crisis events and home and community involvement.

But, there will be students for whom all this is insufficient. In such cases, some other forms of supportive assistance must be added to the mix inside and, as necessary, outside the classroom. Referral for special education assessment only comes after all this is found inadequate.

To spell out the classroom-based approach a bit:

For a range of resources from our center and links to other resources, begin with the our online clearinghouse Quick Find on:

Response to Intervention
http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/qf/responsetointervention.htm

***Also, take a look at the Quick Finds on

***And, if you would like to try a training tutorial, go to:

Classroom Changes to Enhance and Re-engage Students in Learning
http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/qf/classchange_tt/index.htm

***And, for even more, go to our continuing education modules on:

Enhancing Classroom Approaches for Addressing Barriers to Learning: Classroom-Focused Enabling
http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/contedu/cfe.pdf

***Finally, note that several other of the Hot Topics are relevant to this matter and refer to additional resources.


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School Mental Health Project-UCLA
Center for Mental Health in Schools
WebMaster: Perry Nelson (smhp@ucla.edu)