Parents are usually right about their kids. If yours is not achieving in school, RTI is not the only answer.

Go with Your Gut

I have decided to write this month’s piece based on some recent experiences with two 6-year olds whom I saw for diagnostic assessments and inquiries from parents wondering how to get their struggling children services in the schools. This rekindled some of my frustrations relative to RTI (Response to Intervention).

First, a disclaimer: It is not my intent to beat up the public schools, educators, or anyone involved with teaching kids. As I told a family recently, “Go into the IEP meeting assuming that everyone in that room wants to do the best for your son.” My dearest friends are educators (I practiced as a public school speech-language pathologist); and none of them went into teaching saying, “I’m not going to do right by my students.” I understand the challenging context of providing services to students in today’s educational environment in the US public schools. There are many constraints due to limited resources, not to mention demands placed on teachers relative to standardized testing.

So, that said, here is what I am experiencing. RTI, in my opinion, has solid underpinnings. RTI is a three-tiered approach. According to the RTI Action Network of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, RTI includes:

  • “High-quality, scientifically based classroom instruction. All students receive high-quality, research-based instruction in the general education classroom.
  • Ongoing student assessment. Universal screening and progress monitoring provide information about a student’s learning rate and level of achievement, both individually and in comparison with the peer group. These data are then used when determining which students need closer monitoring or intervention…Student progress is monitored frequently to examine student achievement and gauge the effectiveness of the curriculum. Decisions made regarding students’ instructional needs are based on multiple data points taken in context over time.
  • Tiered instruction. A multi-tier approach is used to efficiently differentiate instruction for all students. The model incorporates increasing intensities of instruction offering specific, research-based interventions matched to student needs.
  • Parent involvement. Schools implementing RTI provide parents with information about their child’s progress, the instruction and interventions used, the staff who are delivering the instruction, and the academic or behavioral goals for their child.” (

Hey, that all sounds great, right? It does. In theory. What I am finding in practice is that our students with dyslexia (i.e., a specific learning disability) are waiting for up to three years (or even longer) to get the systematic, individualized instruction they need. Moreover, after three years, in addition to falling further and further behind, their self-esteem has taken a beating. This needs to change. A study in the Journal of Pediatrics (Ferrer, Shaywitz, B., Holahan, Marchione, Michaels, & Shaywitz, S., November, 2015) found that “the achievement gap between typical and dyslexic readers is evident as early as first grade, and this gap persists into adolescence. These findings provide strong evidence and impetus for early identification of and intervention for young children at risk for dyslexia” ( This study verifies what we have known for years. Early intervention is key to improving outcomes for students with language-based learning disabilities, of which dyslexia is one.

Of importance is that parents think that they need to wait to pursue a special education referral for their child. This is not so. RTI does not preclude asking for a special education evaluation while your child is moving through the tiers of RTI. We have a lot of information on DyslexiaHelp about the special education process that can help you advocate for your child.

If your child is not achieving in school, don’t wait. I recently diagnosed two kindergarteners, age 6, with dyslexia. The data were very clear—bright kids with strong receptive language skills and significant deficits in phonological processing (i.e., phonological awareness and rapid automatic naming) and knowing the alphabet. These kids need a structured literacy approach now, not three years from now.

It is my experience that parents are usually right about their kids. They may not know exactly what is going on, but they know that something is not right. If your gut tells you that something is amiss with your child’s academic trajectory, go with your gut. Persevere. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. And, remember, your child’s school team does want your child to succeed.

As always, I thank my partner at 3LI, Dr. Lauren Katz, for her thoughtful review of these pieces.