RtI, IEP & 504

Parents of struggling learners will likely hear the terms RtI and IEP. These two terms are the names for programs designed to create, assess and implement educational support services. In Decatur schools, your instructional coach is probably the best person to help you understand these terms. If you suspect a problem with your child, the RtI process is probably one of the first steps in assisting your child with her learning.

You may also hear the term 504, which refers to things that will give a physically disabled or learning-disabled child equal access to the programs and services that other children receive. Examples might include extended time on tests, wheelchair ramps, audiobooks, etc.

RtI Process

Children who struggle in public school may be candidates for a program called Response to Intervention, or RtI. RtI is a program designed to give additional support (interventions) to struggling learners. RtI candidates may include children who pass CRCT but still show a need for extra support in a specific area(s) such as spelling or writing. The RtI process is new and it’s still evolving. It’s rather slow, and can be difficult to explain and administer.

In a nutshell, the child will participate in “interventions.” This might be a special activity or a special peer group for reading, phonics, spelling, math, etc. at her level. She might participate in speech remediation or work with a support teacher on supplemental activities.

The process begins at Tier I with some basic activities/interventions in the classroom. An RtI team (teacher, instructional coach, psychologist, etc.) will meet with parents and periodically assess the effectiveness of the interventions. If the child makes good progress with the support activities/interventions, they will continue.

If progress is less than expected, the interventions will intensify (up to Tier II, III and IV) based on the results of the assessment. If the required interventions fail to show the desired improvement over time, the student may qualify for SLD (Specific Learning Disability) and obtain an IEP to further specialize her educational program.

IEP Process

The IEP process is the method for developing an Individual Education Plan. This is a specialized education plan specifically designed to meet the individual needs of a child with a physical disability or SLD (specific learning disability). An IEP is developed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and may require the school to provide programs and services beyond those that are offered to other students. A child may qualify for an IEP if interventions fail to produce the desired improvements in learning performance, but there are several steps involved before a child gets an IEP.

The child will first go through the RtI process to determine how much and what types of interventions will be effective. The child will also take educational and psychological testing to determine his/her strengths and weaknesses. The teacher will collect data and work samples to give a comprehensive picture of the child’s work. An IEP committee will review the information and determine whether or not the child is eligible for an IEP.

An IEP for a dyslexic child would likely include a specialized type of reading instruction, and might include special instruction for math, spelling, handwriting, etc. based on the specific needs of the child. The IEP can also include accommodations and modifications such as extended time on tests, audiobooks, keyboarding in lieu of handwriting, etc.

It’s important to understand that even though a child has a diagnosis of dyslexia (reading disorder and/or disorder of written expression), he/she may not qualify for an IEP.

504 Accommodation Plan

A 504 accommodation plan comes from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 is a national law that protects individuals from discrimination based on their disability. The nondiscrimination requirements of the law apply to employers and organizations that receive financial assistance from any Federal department or agency. Among other things, Section 504 applies to children with learning disabilities (as well as physical disabilities) in public schools.

Section 504 is confusingly similar to –and different than– the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). A 504 Plan seeks to “level the playing field,” eliminating impediments and barriers (such as stairs) that exclude people with disabilities. An IEP (developed under the IDEA) is more about educational services, and can require schools to provide programs and/or services beyond those that are available to regular students.

“Unlike IDEA – which focuses on the unique educational needs of the student – Section 504 looks at comparing the education of students with and without disabilities.” From Wrightslaw/Section 504 and IDEA:Basic Similarities and Differences

A student might qualify for a 504 Plan even though he/she is deemed ineligible for an IEP. An IEP is more comprehensive and more difficult to obtain than a 504 Plan. A student who qualifies for an IEP AND a 504 plan would usually have the 504 accommodations built into the IEP.

A 504 Accommodation Plan for a dyslexic child would include accommodations, modifications, adaptive materials or technology that makes learning more accessible to him/her. This might include typing on a laptop instead of handwriting an assignment, extended time on tests, using audio textbooks rather than hard copies, etc.

Here’s a short article about the difference between a 504 plan and an IEP.