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A Way to Help Students Before They Fail

More schools are using a process called response to intervention to see if a child might have a learning disability. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Now, we continue our series on learning disabilities. We look this week at a process used to identify problems and help children avoid failure in school. This process is called response to intervention, or R.T.I.

Lynn Fuchs is a special education professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She studies R.T.I. and says more and more schools in the United States are using it.

Learning disabilities are neurological disorders that affect different skills. Federal law requires public schools to help disabled students through special education services and individualized programs.

The first step is finding which children need help. Professor Fuchs explains that the traditional way is to test students who are failing. But research shows that failure can lead to depression, and that can make improvement in school very difficult.

So some schools are using response to intervention as a way to identify problems much earlier. The growing interest also results from concerns that some children placed in special education programs do not truly have a learning disability. They may just need extra help with skills like reading or math.

Response to intervention supplies that extra help. R.T.I. provides specially designed instruction for children who have scored low on general tests.

Professor Fuchs says the process usually involves about eight to ten weeks of small group tutoring. The intensive work uses research-based methods of instruction. The students are tested, sometimes as often as every week, to measure progress.

Those who improve after the instructional intervention go back to their normal classroom activities. Those who do not might be declared learning disabled. But Professor Fuchs says most school systems require additional testing to confirm the presence of a disability.

Some teachers and administrators believe response to intervention can reduce the number of students put into special services. Professor Fuchs tells us this has not been proven. But studies have shown that R.T.I. can solve learning problems for some students, especially young children. And, at the same time, it can identify others who need much more help.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. Our series on learning disabilities continues next week. The reports are online at with transcripts, MP3 files and links to additional information. I'm Steve Ember.