Background Federal laws have issued clear expectations for schools regarding their obligations to educate diverse groups of students well. This legislation includes the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA). NCLB aims to ensure the academic growth and achievement of all students regardless of their race, ethnicity, fluency in English, disability or socioeconomic status. IDEA 2004 continues the federal mandate, in effect since 1975, for schools to provide all children with disabilities a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE), and also contains some important revisions with clear implications for general as well as special education. These revisions encourage the implementation of research-based interventions that facilitate success in the general education setting for a broad range of students. In particular, school districts are allowed to use a process known as Response to Intervention (RTI) as part of identification procedures for learning disabilities, by far the largest category under which K-12 students in special education are served, roughly half of all special education students nationwide (see www.ideadata.org).
RTI models grew out of research suggesting that traditional approaches to identifying learning disabilities are seriously flawed and that students sometimes end up in the special education system not due to genuine disabilities, but other factors, such as inadequate general education practices and limited opportunities for extra help for struggling students (e.g., Fletcher et al., 1994; Lyon, 1996; Spear-Swerling and Sternberg, 1996), including those students acquiring English. RTI involves providing scientific, research-based instruction and intervention matched to student needs, with important educational decisions based on students’ levels of performance and learning rates over time. Rather than limiting the provision of instructional and social/behavioral supports for those students classified under a particular label or program, supports are provided to allstudents, based on individual needs.
The basic principles underlying RTI hold considerable promise for helping Connecticut schools to improve education for all students and address the large disparities in performance within the state. These basic principles have been embraced by the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) for a number of years, as well as supported by state legislation and policy. Furthermore, numerous ongoing projects and initiatives in Connecticut, such as those involving collaborations among researchers, teacher educators and public schools, provide a strong foundation for the implementation of RTI.