Special Education Used as Intervention

Isn’t the system of interventions what special education is designed to do?

Some people think the PLC concept is just another version of special education. They suggest, “If the kids can’t cut it, why not just put them in special education? That’s why we have it.”

Veteran educators will quickly acknowledge that student failure is often not a result of a disabling condition, but rather is a function of student indifference to school, unwillingness to do the work, or a host of personal problems that interfere with a student’s ability to do what is necessary to be successful in school. If a school was able to identify every student who truly required special education services and did a wonderful job of providing those services, it would continue to face the harsh, cold reality that a number of its students were still not being successful. Furthermore, as the President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education (2002) concludes, in many schools special education has become a “first response” rather than a “last resort.” Psychologist Abraham Maslow (1966) observed, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail” (p. 15). If special education is the only significant intervention tool available in a school, it is inevitable that the school will come to rely upon that tool too frequently. A school with a multistep system of interventions arms itself with a variety of tools for meeting the needs of its students and thus is more likely to find the appropriate strategy.

Boones Mill, one of many schools highlighted under “Evidence of Effectiveness” on this website, is an excellent example of this principle at work. Prior to building its system of interventions for students, individual classroom teachers worked diligently to help students meet the standards of their grade levels, but when students continued to lag far behind despite the best efforts of their teachers, the students were recommended for special education. In 2000, Boones Mill ranked first among the 11 elementary schools in Franklin County in the number of students referred for special education testing. Within one year of building its system of interventions to provide students with additional time and support for learning through a number of different strategies, Boones Mill ranked last in the county in terms of new referrals for special education.

Sanger Unified District, also highlighted under “Evidence of Effectiveness,” provides another excellent example of meeting the needs of students through intervention rather than special education. It has been able to cut its referrals for special education by 50 percent.

The following are some very pragmatic reasons for looking for alternatives to special education. Systems of interventions and enrichment are more cost effective and far more fluid than traditional special education programs. If timely, directive, and systematic interventions are in place in a school, a student can be shifted from one level of support to another within minutes. This flexibility also extends to the duration of services. It is not unusual for a student identified with a disabling condition in third grade to still be receiving special education services as a senior in high school. When a school has developed a system of interventions, the goal is to provide the services only until students demonstrate they are ready to assume greater responsibility for their learning. The focus is on gradually weaning the student from the extra time and support as the student becomes successful in classes. The interventions, then, serve as a safety net if the student should falter, but they are not intended to be a permanent crutch.

Finally, the response to intervention (RTI) initiative outlined in the latest version of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) was specifically intended to reject the premise that a student’s academic difficulties represent a “special education problem.” RTI, like the pyramid of interventions we have advocated for years, operates under the assumption that whenever any student is having difficulty, it is a “school problem.” Rather than separating students into general education versus special education or “my kids” versus “your kids,” effective systems of intervention convey the message that every student is considered “our student,” and should have access to all of the available resources to resolve the problem.

Thus, those who would hope to deflect this problem to special education must recognize that the provisions of RTI now call for schools to have a coordinated, multilayered, systematic plan of intervention for all students. Special education serves a tremendously important role in a school committed to success for all students, but special education staff working in isolation cannot ensure all students will learn. When schools create a systematic process to provide additional time and support for any student who experiences initial difficulty in learning, all students can learn in “the least-restrictive environment” within a cost-effective and flexible framework.

Adapted from Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Karhanek, 2010, Solution Tree Press).

Maslow, A. (1966). The psychology of science: A reconnaissance. New York: Harper.



I am glad to see that there are others who are struggling with this. There have been many times when I have heard that a student needs to be referred to special education because they are low. At what point does differentiating instruction become a regular education probleM?

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I recently began long term 1st grade special education teaching position. I co-teach in a classroom with a general education teacher as well as servicing students in two other classrooms. There has been many times where I have felt like a teaching assistant rather than a co-teacher. We have limited time to plan together and most days I receive my colleague’s lessons plans at the beginning of school which leaves me little time to modify, pre-teach or differentiate the lesson for the students with special needs. I agree, it is quite frustrating when others are not considerate of your time and talents. In a co-teaching model the special education teacher should be working with all students, not just the students with IEP's.

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I also agree that Special Education is a solution at hand when a teacher might not know other solutions to help a child succeed. I understand the frustrations when you have 25 kids in a classroom and there is one sitting there taking so much time and you think "what about the 24 other children who are losing out on my time?" My school has started a great intervention program that is getting the "higher" learning support children back into the classroom or at least working with their peers in small groups outside of the classroom. We have a great PLC in place that is starting to incorporate Co-Teaching where the special education teacher will come in and support "their" student as well as anyone else who is having trouble in that subject matters. This is a win win situation for all involved and seems to be working very well at my elementary school.

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As I read the comments I see that it all boils down to time and money. Most teachers are pretty passionate about what they teach or they wouldn't do it - or do it for long.
Getting down to SPED. I honestly think we have created a marvelous mess, and it needs to stop. We have spent so much money funding a useless war, but education gets cut. We so clearly need to fund programs that will improve the lives of OUR SPED students. That includes educating gen ed teachers with little or no background in SPED and equipping SPED teachers with whatever they need. Our students' problems are our problems, and we have to stop turning a blind eye to them.
Yes, students are placed in RTI and left there.
Yes, some gen ed teachers do not want to deal with SPED students.
Yes, it is so difficult.
But it is our job to ensure that every student gets a quality education. I have the highest respect for SPED teachers, but I have never wanted to be one. (I am too much of a softie, and would cry my eyes the first time I had to teach a 12 year old to read). I do want to help my students learn everyday I teach.

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I do not believe there is anyway to make someone become a more effective teacher. That has to come from within. They have to want it. That person may just want to look at a career change.

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I currently work in a mental hospital with students who come and go sometimes within a week or even three days. So between the two teachers, we really can't do much PLC.

When I was in public school though I was there when our school was trying to change its mind frame to the PLC, RTI models. I believe it was hard for regular education teachers to grasp than the special education teachers. Regular education teachers were used to just referring a student to sped if they weren't performing well or had a behavior problem. Now there had to be interventions in place before they were referred which took some time that the regular education teachers didn't seem like they want to do or at least some of the ones I worked with. Before I did feel like it was regular students were owned by the regular teachers and they saw sped kids as my kids, like us vs them, instead of a team concept. I have been out of public school for two years so I am currently out of the loop of PLCs.

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I am a first year educator, yet I was just introduced to the significance of a Professional Learning Community. The Professional Learning Community serves as two purposes: "to improve instructon and learning beyond test scores and to take advantage of each teacher-learning activity." Furthermore, I would like to commend all professional educators that are comitted to students and their learning. Educators are outstanding members of Learning Communities.

I disagree that PLC is another version of special education. Special education is defined as a sevice or support part of the educational system wherein professionals either consult with teachers or provide a considerable amount of direct instruction and collaborate with others who also teach and work with students with disabilities. For educators, a special education program should be the "last resort" instead of the "first response" when students encounter challenges in a learning environment.

Also I believe that "good teachers are also learners, and they recognize that they need to keep learners throughout their careers if they are to improve." Professional Learning Communities is a collective action that empowers the teachers to master their abilities to be the best educator in the 21st Century!

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What about the teacher who uses laziness or the lack of trying as an excuse because they do not know how to effectively work with students who have multiple disabilities? Mostly new teachers or career changers who think that this profession is soooo easy, yet they struggle, yet they refuse to participate in the different forums that address teacher needs because they believe that their day ends once the last child is gone. How do you approach these teachers to get them to turn around and what other suggestions would you make to help them become effective teachers?

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At my school we thankfully have RTI in place and the teachers are starting to believe in the process. Even though I still fight on a daily basis of teachers just wanting to place their student straight into my self contained classroom when they start to struggle on a subject. When an intervention starts to work teachers seem amazed that the process does indeed work if they give it a chance. Like others who have responded I have confidence that if all schools give this method a chance it will work and benefit both students and teachers in the long run. Teachers must know though that it will take some time to make sure the students is in the LRE by trying different interventions and documenting.

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Jan Bauman

As a special education teacher I am glad to see the multi-step levels of intervention. A large number of our students are not proficient and our school has not made AYP the last two years, but now after implementing multi-step levels of intervention along with evidence of effectiveness our team approach is showing growth for the whole school. As we grow and are able to add more interventions I see our students progressing even more. This is an exciting time for education. Students not making progress are not automatically referred for testing and special education placement. Yahoo.

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I agree with the DuFours as well. When we meet as a team to discuss students who are not performing academically we often agree that the student is unmotivated or just lazy. If that is what the team identifies as the problem we then write a plan for motivation strategies and set up another conference with the parents. Too often we also find that many parents want their children to qualify for special services because to them the burden of extra help and motivation falls on someone besides themselves.

My school is working diligently on the problem of identifying special ed. students and how best to serve them. We failed to meet AYP because of this subgroup and have done away with special education students being self-contained. I have two special ed students in my homeroom and they stay for my science class. They are mainstreamed for several classes before returning to the special ed teacher. We are hoping that they will experience more success.

As for the many students who do not qualify, they have gone through the necessary interventions and gotten some degree of service. Our mission is to educate, no matter what the underlying issues are.

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I agree that special education has become a first response rather than a last resort issue with students. Too many students are referred and tested for special ed who could successfully learn in a regular education classroom with the appropriate accommodations which is where I feel the PLC comes into play. The school I work at doesn't currently have a school-wide PLC, but each teacher/team work as a whole to do whatever is necessary to help each child succeed. With that said, all students are not always successful, but each student has been offered every opportunity to succeed through intervention, RTI, tutoring, etc. I would love to continue to learn more about the PLCs available in our surrounding counties.

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I am a Special Education teacher doing co-teaching of 4th and 5th grades this year. Last year, I was totally pull-out. Special Education is very hard and requires a lot of dedication. Teaching anything in the special education field takes an excessive amount of time and patience. Like the DuFours stated, a lot of general education teachers believe that investing time to do interventions on struggling students is extra work for them. I have seen it time-and-time again where students are placed in RTI and stay there for forever; not getting the interventions they need to help them advance toward the standard being taught. Some teachers are so quick to push a student into special education and not examine their teaching style or the student's learning style. Little consideration goes into what is best for the student and a lot of concentration goes on the student does not need to be in "my class". I struggle with a general education teacher telling me to handle "my students" and they will handle theirs. I am not utilized in some of my classrooms were there is two certified teachers that have the same capabilities to teach the students an objective. I also feel like Dufour that if the district school system would invest the money to fund credible and reliable intervention programs, then a lot of students who are in RTI will be able to move back into the general curriculum. There are programs out there that work (tons of research), but the school system does not want to invest the money or time. I thought the main objective was to do what is best for the children.

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Shelly Gleckler Buckner

Having been both a general ed and special ed teacher I completely agree with the DuFours "that student failure is often not a result of a disabling condition, but rather is a function of student indifference to school, unwillingness to do the work, or a host of personal problems that interfere with a student’s ability to do what is necessary to be successful in school." I see too many times that students are placed under the special ed label too quickly. I see many times that special ed teachers are viewed as "different" or "not the same as" general ed teachers, because we dont typically deal with as many students a day, week, or year like general ed. I have overheard numerous times that special ed is looked at as only those that deal with severe disabilities, when in fact, we could be used as a major resource.

In a prior school district they were using the RTI very effectively. It was used in all situations from learning to behavior and no student slipped through the cracks, or labeled too quickly. RTI is a great way to begin the PLC. Teachers, Administrators, Counselors, etc get together to discuss a student, looking at their entire educational career - to - behavior, patterns, progress, any sudden changes, etc. the student is then brought into this process and they are then able to provide any information they will or can about the concerns... now obviously at the early ages the students comments were minimal, but as they get up into middle school and high school the students are more open to share when in a situation they are comfortable to share. RTI organizes the steps to locating underlying issues/events causing the behaviors or lack of progress. Which in the end kept numerous students from obtaining an improper label. We all dislike having more documentation to keep up with however, in the end this documentation is what guides us in providing the best interventions necessary for student success. I wish all school districts could be using this method of intervention effectively if for nothing more than an organized guide of how, when, and what we are doing for our students individual needs.

I strongly believe that implementing PLCs into our schools/districts can make our jobs as teachers easier. In the classroom we try to promote being a community (family-for the younger ages), but if we were modeling this concept openly for our students to see and incorporating their comments into the realm, then carrying the community concept over into the classroom would flow easier.. It will definitely take a lot of work to get started but the end result will be a positive one.

In the end, I am confident the long-term results will benefit not only teachers, but students too.. the chance they are being mislabled will be greatly lessened.

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This article reflects exactly how I feel. I am a special education teacher. I teach the self contained room. Some regular ed teachers refer to me as the last stop for some students. At times, I feel that my room is the dumping room. I get so aggravated at that. Whenever a regular ed room can not handle a student, they are placed in my room. This is not fair. So many students are being labeled SPED incorrectly. I wish there was a way that we could make this stop, so unfair.

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Laura M

I am a special education teacher and fully agree with this article. Too many times a teacher has referred a student to special education, under the RTI process, and I have denied them. A student needs to be incredibly low and show a disability- not just laziness or lack of trying. It seems that when a student gets too low for them to "handle" in the class, they just hand them off to special ed. That is becoming increasingly more and more common as teachers are cut and class sizes increase. However, it's very difficult for us to give the support to teachers when our caseloads are increasing as well. I have worked in an amazing school that had the RTI process in full swing, and then the next year due to budget cuts, it fell apart. It seems to be a cycle that I am unsure of how to break out of it.

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I think a lot of schools run into this problem. The most helpful thing you could do for your students who fall into this category is keep a paper trail. Show that you are using research based interventions on whatever the child is struggling in (phonemic awareness, comprehension, vocabulary, math concepts skills etc.) and keep track of the child's progress. What am I suggesting is actually a tier 2 intervention from the RTI model. Decide on area that needs more intensive intervention and choose a research based intervention to try to remediate the weakness. After keeping track of the child's progress for 6-7 weeks, evaluate the child's data and decide to either keep using the same intervention if they are progressing at a good rate, change the end goal if the child has succeeded it, or use a new research based intervention if your student still is not making appropriate gains. Do the 6-7 week cycle again and if your student is not showing growth, push to talk to someone about the child.

Once you go to meetings or approach your school psychologist, you will have hard evidence that the child is not performing as he or she should be and needs to be considered for evaluation or at least a team meeting with more than just you there to discuss this child's academic needs.

Our school has an RTI binder with strategies teachers can use. Does your school have anything like that in place for you? If not, let me know and maybe I could send some strategies over your way. Hope this helps!

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I am a special education teacher. I am very disheartened by the lack of involvement of the special education teacher that trodgers is speaking about. I love collaborating and working with my general education teacher. In fact, we have started to create center teaching so that both of us will be able to have a greater impact on all of our students in the classroom. It sounds as though that particular teacher has lost sight of why she is there, and that it is all about helping students learn. I applaud you for your caring and concern for your students. They are blessed to have you as their teacher.

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Teachers were overwhelmed, because as stated above, often times when a student isn't achieving as a teacher thinks he or she ought to be, the child is then referred for special education testing. When a child doesn't end up qualifying for services, some teachers I worked with were angry at the thought of the students being so low and having no help in "teaching" them. Really, I felt that the special education students were too slow at processing or performing for the general education teachers, so they wanted someone else (the special education teacher) to take care of the child for them. Last year our school really started using RTI, as I feel, in the way it was meant to be used. Things were a little rocky, but this year, teachers seem to have a better grasp as to what is expected of them in the process of helping students and what that means for their classroom in reference to the 3 tiers of intervention.

As a special education teacher, I want to collaborate and co-teach with my colleagues when I am in their classrooms. Most teachers and I start out strong, planning together and utilizing me as an extra teacher to help teach necessary skills and concepts while in their classrooms. As the year progresses, I have found that teachers think they are too busy to plan with me, and then I become more like a glorified aide who tells students to put their name on their papers and check their work. I did not go to college to do that. It really frustrates me when I am bored in someone else's class because students are doing worksheets and I am standing in the back of the room. Sometimes, worksheets and practice are necessary when another teacher is in the room, I understand that, but not every day.

Special education teachers are great resources and want to be involved in the inclusive classrooms if the general education teachers will open up their classrooms, trust the special education teachers, and utilize the extra teacher in the room for the hour or so that the special education teacher is available!

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I am teaching ESE inclusion this year, for the first time. I have been so overwhelmed emotionally with this position. No one is coming to my room on a regular basis to assist or provide interventions. I am completely on my own. I never went to school for teaching special education so as you can imagine I am having confidence issues and experiencing burnout. I have 11 regular ed and 7 special ed students. I feel like they are all so different so how can I effectively reach all of them and provide all of their needs. Many of them lack abilities that we deem basic and it's so frustrating.

This year my principal gave each teacher one every team a leadership role. I am the RTI-Academic leader, ironically. The teachers on my grade level are supposed to come to the weekly grade level PLC and present which students they are having difficulty with. The team makes suggestions for interventions and the teacher tries them for an appropriate amount of time, recording the outcomes. They come back if the first interventions did not work for another set of suggestions and continue taking data. If after that nothing is working, I set up a meeting with the staffing coordinator to hold an RTI meeting to consider what the next step should be and eventually if they qualify to be tested.

As much as we may sometimes dislike recording everything for data purposes, I do like the fact that students are given time to respond to various strategies before being labeled as having learning disabilities. Since teaching ESE this year, I definitely wouldn't want anyone to be labeled with something they don't truly have. It's stressful enough without throwing children in the mix who don't need to be there.

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Morning, Sandie- I am a general education teacher (4th grade). At my school, we have two ED (Emotionally Disturbed) classes. These students can do the work; however, it benefits them more to be in a smaller class where they can receive extra help. The special education students are mainstreamed into the regular classrooms. From this mainstreaming, I am required to provide these students with interventions in the classroom. Then when they get pulled for other services, those teachers provide interventions, too. We then have to log the intervention(s) and the weekly progress within our county to keep track of what children are receiving. Lastly, my school has quarterly data days where we sit down with administration and discuss the interventions students are receiving. We take this time to see what is working, what is not working and if students need to be changed in or out of groups. I hope this information is of some use to you!

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I teach first grade and one problem I have ran into is that when a student of mine actually needs special education the system does not want to test them for special education because of how young they are. While I do understand this it saddens me to see the children struggling with their work. Has anyone else ran into this problem at their school?

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I am a speech and language improvement teacher/Speech Language Pathologist. I find that at my school, not enough students are referred to receive special education services. There is a system in place where students who are falling behind are encouraged to come in the mornings before school for extra help. They are also encouraged to sign up for after school programs at the school to receive help in math or English language arts. I find that the students that take advantage of extra help or after school are students that are not falling behind but need help with a particular topic. The students that need the help do not show up. This topic was appealing to me because I feel that my school should implement some other programs during the school day to meet the needs of these students. Hopefully things will be different in the upcoming school year.

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As a first year teacher in a public elementary school I am very excited that my school participates in both RtI and PLC. They are both functioning the roles they were meant to be used as and we have a wonderful special ed. dept. that assists the rest of the staff in planning interventions and assessing the progress or non-progress of the students.

I am hoping to one day be on the RtI team at my school as I am working on my Masters in Reading and Literacy for Pre K-6th grade.

I know the PLC teams we have at the school meet regularly and they try to have a member from all different areas of the school on each team. I truly believe that five or more minds will be able to find solutions to the problems or struggles our students are facing. Keeping the goal in mind of success for all students make the work of improvements worth it. I want my students to understand the idea of investing in their own education and that we teachers are here to help them do the hard work.

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As a special education teacher I have found that in my school there are specific teachers who feel that any students who do not "get it" in the first try need special education services. These teachers are mostly concerned about the scores these students will have, which are viewed as a reflection of their teaching. I have watched a few students tested for services that were no where near needing services. Needless to say all it did was take up the special education teacher's time to do the testing for a student who just needed a little extra help or a different way of doing things.

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Although general education students, I can understand your frustration. Too many students are being identified as special needs. I often see how educators are constantly referring students for special needs testing.I believe that this should be the last option implemented. Personally I feel that classrooms that provide special education should contain a small amount of students, in order for each student to get the special attention that they need.

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I am a certified special education teacher and mom to a special education student. Over the years I have been in the school system, I have seen teachers send kids for a special education evaluation because they couldn't get the student to do anything. From the teacher's standpoint if the student goes to special education then she does not have to deal with him anymore. It is a serious misuse of the system.

I have seen the RTI system be abused also. Teachers learn quickly what to put in that system to get the results they want. Better data information reduces the work they will have to put into helping a student and if they want to get rid of a student they can knit-pick everything the child does until they get him out of their hair and sent to special education. It is quite sad. If some teachers put as much time into helping the student as they do getting around the system the child might surprise them all.

From a parent point of view, once my daughter got in special education it looks like she will never get out. I don't feel that her teachers are trying to teach her to cope with her learning disabilities and to learn how to be able to keep up with the normal paced classroom. I give her strategies and the teachers ideas and I see no results. It is a vicious cycle.

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I really like the comments that were made about the interventions not becoming a permanent crutch. Being an aide with the special education department at my school, I have seen numerous students accept the mentality of being at a lower level than the rest of their classmates. I believe that the interventions have got to hold the students accountable for getting them to the next step. They have to be goal oriented, and have a drive to succeed in a normal class setting.

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I am a special education teacher in an elementary school and work primarily with students who are diagnosed with learning disabilities. This past year, I had the opportunity to work together with other teachers in the third grade as part of the RtI process. I felt that I was an integral part of the team because I could offer the general education teachers alternative ways to break down skills. There are many students who are identified as having a learning disability when in fact, they are just missing a few pieces to the puzzle. Being a special education teacher and part of the team has helped to cut down on the amount of students who are actually tested. The fact that RtI can offer varied levels of intervention and provide teachers with a team approach is, in my experience, proving to be effective.

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I am a special education teacher in a high school setting. The main focus of my job is working with non-diploma students, but I also co-teach with general education teachers. My high school is large for our county, but small when compared to the nation's high schools. Our special education population is extremely high. Because we are at the high school level, many of our special education students have been labeled since about 3rd grade. We are told not to dismiss our students from special education, even if they have made significant progress. Therefore, there we are giving these students a crutch when they don't need one. This can be very frustrating, especially when the students know that they can work the system.

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I am a special education teacher, LD resource to be exact. Last year was my first year teaching, so I experienced several "firsts." I teach at an at-risk high school and we underwent the accreditation process. In preparation for that, PLCs were created as a part of the High Schools That Work reform. There were many different PLCs all geared toward improving the school and the students’ achievement. I was a part of the PLC that promoted parent involvement. I will agree that for a long time students have been wrongly labeled as students with some sort of disability. When in actuality, the “disability” is secondary to behavior, often times. I am an inclusion teacher, which means, I go into the general education classes everyday. Overall, I worked well with the classroom teachers; however, some of them expected us (special education teachers) to be miracle workers, in my opinion. Some of the general education teachers were not very receptive to our views and ideas. I agree with trodgers that collaboration would greatly benefit our students. I strongly believe that our students should fully utilize the resources afforded to them. The downfall, however, with the special education students at my school, is that they become spoiled and lazy. They are always looking for an easy way out and do not give their all in completing assignments. I want them to learn but I also want them to understand the value of hard work.

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Heather Haynes

I am a special education teacher working with students with multiple disabilities. I have a self-contained unit but I also include my students in general education as much as my schedule allows. From observing what goes on with the other special education services provided for students with less intense disabilities at my elementary school, I see a lack of differentiation among the classroom teachers to truly account for the differences in students, especially in the K-2 grades. I feel that the classroom teachers are relying on the intervention specialists to provide that crutch for the students instead of offering more intense levels of interventions, thus increasing the number of students receiving special education. I definitely see a lack of weaning students off of the services once they have been established. As special educators we have to teach our students a system that yields success for them but that also works within the larger system of our society. We must give the students the tools they need to function independently using their individualized systems so that teachers are no longer permanent crutches for the students.

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Currently in my school district we use RTI (Response to Intervention) as a school wide intervention. This is the first year that I have been able to try and implement the RTI in my classroom. I believe in this intervention model because you can provide the student with individual strategies and since it is a 3 tier model that is used before making a referral to special education, it really can limit the students who just need some more practice and the students who really need special education services. I have worked in other districts where teachers just expect a student to receive special education services when they have students who struggle instead of trying to find ways to help the student. Once a student struggles, some of the teachers in my previous school district no longer felt they needed to help those students and would say it is special education teacher problem now. The RTI intervention takes time and the teacher must work at collecting the data and doing the intervention. It is our responsibility to make sure we do our job RTI lets regular education teachers know that they have tried to help their students with all the resources they have available.

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Our school has been using a reactive approach for identifying our special needs students. Last year, I serviced sixteen students with special needs in the third grade. I struggled to find time to create differentiated lessons, give individual instructions, and complete the overwhelming load of paperwork. This year, we will be using the proactive RTI approach. We have blocked the mornings for language arts by adding an additional forty minutes and have adopted a new reading series that is scientifically researched-based. Our classrooms will be self-contained except for the language arts tiers. We do not have PLC in place, although we do have grade level planning time. I would like to initiate a PLC. Does anyone have any advice to assist me in this task?

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I have had a similar experience as trodgers. My school started PLC's a couple of years ago, and it has been extremely misused. It is started after a long day of teaching and goes until about 5:30. The principal does most of the talking and usually wants people to just agree with her. My school has only one special education teacher, and he is ineffective. He generally prefers to spend his time gossiping. When he does work with the students, he simply does the work himself and has the students copy it down. This creates problems with the other students. This coming school year, my team has decided to work with the students on a moderated level ourselves and use the special aid teacher as an aid.

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I work in a rural county as a special education teacher at the high school level. I see all too often that you seem to have two types of general education teachers in this region: those who want to help and those who just want the best. The latter always seems to direct any child that might not get a concept on the first try to special education services. This has become very frustrating for me, especially since these seem to be the same teachers who get to school right at the bell and leave in the same fashion.

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I am a high school teacher and we are also having issues with properly identifying students that need help versus those who just are not trying. In my classes, it seems as though lazy has become a reason for assigning a student to special education. We have attempted to implement the RTI process in our school, however, the administrators and guidance counselors were not sure how to do it, so we have not seen a very effective use of the system yet. We have started putting special education students and teachers in the regular classroom, however this is a stress on the special education teachers and regular classroom teachers as well. Last year I had eight special education students in a class along with twenty-four regular education students. The overall number of students in that class was too large and the special education teacher could only be their twice a week at most. Does anyone have a better inclusion model that could help fix this problem?

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I am a general education teacher, and this is also my first time participating in a PLC. Overall, I have had mostly negative experiences with the special education teachers. Since I teach Read 180, an intervention program for struggling readers, I teach the majority of the special education students for 6th grade. In addition, I teach all of the students who are below-grade level in their reading abilities. Thus, my students are in dire need of additional intervention strategies and support to succeed in school and in life. During my first year of teaching, a special education teacher was scheduled to come into my general education classes at least once a week. However, I hardly ever saw her. When she did show up, she was late and just sat dormant in a seat in the back of the classroom. She did not work with students, which is her primary job. My second year of teaching involved me teaching all of my special education students by myself. Once again, the special education teacher did not uphold her responsibilities. I had to strive to provide a well-rounded curriculum that met each of their individual learning needs. As one can imagine, this was an extremely difficult task. I had to research outside resources and employ the help of our school's Reading Coach to provide appropriate modifications and accommodations. I feel that I, as well as our students, could have been much more successful if I could have collaborated with the special education teacher on a continual basis. I plan on working with my team members to develop intervention methods I can implement before referring them for special education classes. This way I can ensure that I have tried to offer every opportunity for our students to learn in an effective manner.

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Sandie Fuller

I am a special education teacher and my school is experiencing the same problem of over identification of special education students. My classes have become so large that I cannot give the individualized services that I would like. We have an intervention in place but all the paperwork says is that no progress is seen and this is written on each intervention and eventually referred to special education. There is no evidence that true intervention has taken place within the regular education classroom. Special education IS the first response and not the last resort. Im frustrated. I would like to hear of PLC's that are working in other schools. I want to share new ideas within my school. I would appreciate any success stories to share. Thank you! Sandie Fuller

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I teach in Las Vegas, NV and the school I am at sounds like we are doing the same thing. We are also Title 1 and have all of the interventions and small groups. Our school sees improvement every year so I agree that it does work. The only problem I see with how my school does it is, all students are included in the whole group lesson. After the lesson, the struggling students are pulled out for their interventions. Interventions are always done during Science/Social Studies time so the struggling students always miss these subjects. There are some students at my school who have not done any Science or Social Studies all year. To me this is kind of sad, but I do realize the importance of the interventions and I know that they do work. Small groups are definately more powerful for these students and for most of them this is what they need. Special education is not always the answer.

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This is my first year being able to participate in a PLC. My school had just adopted the program and was using it as a way to look at our students, focus on the target students, and discuss what we were going to do to bump them up. It was nice to be able to talk as a grade level team about what we have tried in our classrooms and what we can do in the future to improve our instruction. In the past, my schools answer to a student who was having difficulty achieving in the classroom was to have them work with the special education teacher. This started to become ineffective. The larger the group of special education students became, the less help and individual attention everyone was receiving. This past year we did not have any interventions in place, and I think it had a detrimental effect on our students. I am excited for this upcoming year. We are implementing a school wide intervention block that will give each student in the school at least a half hour to participate in an intervention. I am hoping this will be a way to give students extra help before just plopping them with the special education teacher.

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Staff at www.allthingsplc.info

Hi Bethany,
For specific information on and examples of systems of intervention/enrichment in PLC schools, please see “Evidence of Effectiveness” schools and districts on this site and read Raising the Bar & Closing the Gap: Whatever It Takes (Solution Tree 2009)

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We are at an exciting crossroads in education. RTI and it's emphasis on PLCs, professionals working together on behalf of students and student achievement, has raised the awareness of the capability of teachers to meet students' needs in the classroom. I am often reminded that PLCs are action oriented. What do we as teachers do to make sure students learn? We don't get together in a collaborative group to admire the problem, we leave with a plan that we believe is a solution to improving the classroom in someway, to meet student needs. We monitor progress and review decisions. We have good data that many students can be spared large learning gaps if we PREVENT further difficulty by intervening in proactive and intentional ways. Our statewide percentage of students with learning disabilities is down to 30% from 52% since we began RTI training in the state 10 years ago. It shows that many students do not have a disability, but need to learn in other ways. We as educators putting our heads together for the sake of students make this happen!

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This school year I teach in a classroom for students with severe behavior needs, so I am not too involved with the RTI process for learning/academic areas. However, in my previous school as a resource teacher, RTI wasn't around like it is now and there was constant frustration for children who were struggling in the classroom, but did not qualify for special education services. I'm sure every state has different qualification guidelines, but in Kentucky there had to be a certain discrepancy between their ability (IQ test) and their performance (academic testing). If there wasn't, and they didn't have a diagnosis of ADHD or something to qualify as OHI, there just wasn't anything we could do. This was so frustrating to us as teachers, to the parents, and was most unfair to the student. It is very refreshing to see this RTI process at work now. When we have that struggling student, we now have different tiers of interventions in place for that student. They work their way through those tiers, with constant progress monitoring. If they still do not make the expected progress, they are then referred for special education services. It is now the last resort as it should be. I just love Abraham Maslow's quote: "If the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail”....we now have many more tools to more effectively help our students.

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Our administrators say that our school has always had inclusion classrooms, but next year we are going to have one co-teach class per grade level PK-5. The teacher next door to me, who was my mentee, is going to be the co-teach teacher for our grade level, she has already been paired with one of our certified special education teachers and they have been given a list of who their IEP students will be for next year. My team is a very supportive team and we are all prepared to help out our fellow teacher as necessary. But, we are still very concerned about how this process is going to work. Several of the posts I've read have been from teachers that have a very supportive system set up at their schools. I know that the first year is always the hardest and we will have a lot of "tweaking" to do. Where my major concern comes in is how will the students that have been RTI'd but don't have official IEP's be disbursed among the rest of us? And, during the RTI process what will happen if it is determined that the student does require additional services? What about the students with severe behavior issues? I know that these are questions for my administrators, but if you have any feedback or answers about your experiences and solutions is it greatly appreciated.

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Working as a special education teacher in a middle school, collaboration has been difficult, but still in the process of improving. It's very important for administration to realize that the general education teacher needs to be on board and willing to work with a special education teacher. I have had experiences where the general education teacher pretty much did whatever it was she wanted to without consenting me as the special education teacher, which caused me to have to run around to make accommodations and modifications according to IEPs. I have also worked with general education teachers who were more than willing to include me in their planning, have valued my opinion, and allowed me to become part of the class. Support from all teachers is extremely important when it comes to special education. If this does not occur, the students could be negatively effected.

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Joe Tornberg

The past several years my district has mandated the Student Success Teams recommend a number of interventions tried prior to any special ed testing. After a set period, teachers may bring the students back to the Team if the interventions did not work. Teachers in my district believed this was a cost saving method. After reading the Blog, I now understand why my district has placed this added layer prior to testing most students.

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I have just recently read articles on collaboration with the special education teachers and the general education teachers. I love the idea. From the research I have done, it seems that too many teachers think a student should be referred to special education if they are struggling/failing in the classroom. It is not that the student needs special education, they have different learning needs that need to be addressed with the general education teacher. That being said, I feel that the special education teacher should be a wonderful resource for the general education teachers. Within the articles that I researched, many schools are now requiring special education teachers to be part of grade-level planning. I understand that timing is always going to be an issue, but isn't this a fabulous idea in theory; both education teachers working together for the best interests of the students. Maybe if the doors of communication were opened wide, there would be a lot fewer unnecessary referrals that waste a lot of time.

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This past year I attended the PLC conference in Seattle and was impressed and excited to see what PLC offers districts, administrators, and teachers in the way of professional development. My group was excited most by the intervention portion of the event. I know as a general ed teacher I want to incorporate all my students into the classroom. The problem my school is facing is we are underfunded for extra support. We are trying to adopt many of the changes that the PLC recommend, but with these limited funds were seem to be hitting a brick wall. The blog above fits our school to a tee! If kids aren't making it in the classroom we are automatically referring them for special education.

I would like to find out how other schools with limited budgets are able to incorporate interventions in their schools. We are open to suggestions.

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I am very pleased with our special education teachers who work in collaboration with regular classroom teachers to provide the interventions needed to ensure success of all our students. We try to incorporate where special education teachers come in the regular classrooms and provide small group instructions while the AIG teachers are working with the high performing students, and classroom teachers and assistants are working with all the other students meeting the needs of all students. Many students needs to be placed in special education program but not all qualify and fall short. RTI and its multi teir intervention strategies have been very effective in placing a child in special education. By collaborating and working together we can meet the needs of all diverse students in our school.

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For the 2008-2009 school year I was a long term substitute teacher for AIS Math and small group instruction math for grades 2-5. I had to collaborate with the general education teachers to ensure the academic success of my students. I found for the most part that I was the one seeking out information and support for my students. I wanted to follow along with the general education teacher as much as possible. If I did not collaborate with the general education teachers I would have not known where they were in the curriculum. I did this for the success of my students and thier students as well.

I know no matter where I may teach as a hired teacher or a substitute, I will collaborate with my colleges to ensure the success of my students and my teaching skills. For now I will utilize sites like this one to become part of a PLC. I am also hoping that the school who employees me will be a collaborative community.

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I think that it is amazing that you have that much support for your students. The school I teach in is Schoolwide Title I and we have two title teachers, literacy coach, and a math coach. Most of our classrooms are small due to the Early Intervention Program model. We have pullout but they are overwhelmed by the numbers that need the help so they do push in as well. We are non-union and do not have tutors. I was wondering our your tutors certified or are they equivalent to what we call paraprofessionals? I would love to know more about the model that your school uses for intervention.

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As gill.ron0 said we have Title 1 teachers and educational technicians. They are scheduled around the clock through the week doing the best they can. During times of testing such as the MEA, NECAPS or NWEA they are around helping students. During those times they do not have the time for interventions. We also have our special education resource room that has their high case loads. To be put into special education there is a long process and some students just don't qualify.

For the last several years our school has been working on creating PLCs. In the fall of 2009, in our first, second and fifth grade classrooms we started using our essential outcomes and smart goals to have intervention and enrichment once a week. In my fifth grade classroom, my grade partner and I met on Friday afternoons during a common planning time. We talked about the smart goal of the period and grouped our students into either two intervention groups and an enrichment group or one intervention group and two enrichment groups. We worked together with our special education teacher to make three possible groups. We also did not use "intervention" or "enrichment" group names. We just categorized the groups as the teachers' names. We have finished our first year with this and every class will be doing this starting in September in math. Our fifth grade class we will be beginning to create our essential outcomes and smart goals for language arts next year. Creating these intervention groups fills in holes for regular education students. Many students do not qualify for services such as Title 1 or special education. This intervention helps the students that excel but have a hard time with a certain goal, such as long division or adding fractions. Also, it helps students that need extra intervention time that may already be in programs such as special education or Title 1.

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I work in the Bridgeport School District in the State of Ohio, and I want to inform PLC on how we incorporate interventions in the classroom. Our school has a program called Title 1 which involves three union teachers and two tutors. They pull small groups of students out of the general classroom who have the most difficulty. This leaves the regular classroom teacher with around ten to seventeen students per subject. Each teacher and tutor have relatively small groups, hence we think our students are getting the most help in areas they need the most. This past year we were rated Excellent for achieving the goals on the Ohio Achievement Test. I think our method is working and our students seem to enjoy the smaller groups.

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I am fortunate to have colleagues who want to collaborate with me to help my students. However, I teach preschool and many times when I have raised concern over students, I am told that they are too young to be formally assessed in any way. It seems that when people hear the word "preschool" they lower their expectations. Over the last few years I have learned how much children in preschool are capable of if we give them a chance to show us.

What type of interventions and assessments are available at the preschool level? I believe that if we can catch issues early on, we give those students a greater chance at success in Kindergarten!

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This article really made me think. I am an elementary learning support teacher, and I really enjoy my job. However, my classroom is very crowded and more children are being identified each week. I often feel that rather than collaborate with me and work together to give the students the interventions that they need to be successful, the general education teachers feel that my students are just that: "my" students and not their problem.

I would love to see my school incorporate more interventions in the classroom to help students who are struggling but may not qualify for special education services. I would also love to see the general education teachers collaborate with me more to help our students succeed. I wish that I could serve more of my students in the general education classroom by co-teaching and pulling small groups within the general education classroom to help to meet the needs of all students.

How does your school meet the unique learning needs of students with special needs? What types of interventions are put in place before the student is referred for special education services?

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