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Session 4, RTI Symposium 2003 Summary
Angela Inkster
January 20, 2012
Simon Fraser University

In 2003 The National Research Center on Learning Disabilities held a symposium on the topic of Responsiveness to Intervention (RTI), a model of early identification and intervention for children with learning difficulties. In Session 4 of the symposium presenters and discussants address the topic of how “unresponsiveness to secondary intervention should be operationalized in an RTI approach to learning disabilities”. The first presenters, Vellutino, Scanlon, Small & Fanuele (2003), distinguish between reading disabled and non-reading disabled children though early intervention in Kindergarten and Grade 1. The second paper, by Torgesen (2003), deals with issues of operationalizing RTI with older children. The discussant, Compton (2003), summarizes and comments on the findings of the presenters in Session 4, and draws a comparison of RTI to giving a child “a nudge”. “The nudge” is a metaphor he uses throughout his paper to refer to the extra assistance that some children require to be successful in school. While the first two presenters address the operationalization of RTI at different ages, all three papers are in agreement on two issues: first, that RTI distinguishes the role of experience from biology, and second, that more work is needed on RTI and the current protocol for learning disabilities in schools.
Both Vellutino et al. (2003) and Torgesen (2003) use RTI as a model to identify children with learning disabilities, however, Vellutino et al. (2003) look at early intervention while Torgesen (2003) addresses reading difficulties at grade three and beyond. The focus of the interventions vary because age differences of the children studied. Both Vellutino et al. (2003) and Torgesen (2003) look at phonemic awareness, however, Vellutino et al. (2003) uses sound and word level measures with Kindergarten and Grade 1, while Torgesen (2003) focuses on comprehension with older children. Vellutino et al. (2003) are strong believers in early
Running Head: SESSION 4, RTI SYMPOSIUM 3 intervention. Their study shows that early and ongoing testing, in combination with research-based tutoring, can greatly reduce the number of at-risk children by grade one. Vellutino et al. (2003)’s use of RTI also identifies a smaller group of children in need of more intensive remedial attention. Torgesen (2003) agrees with early intervention and believes that with the ideal model and delivery of RTI most children will have adequate word level reading skills by the end of grade 2. However, Torgesen (2003) also suggests the use of RTI with children in late elementary, middle, and high school. After providing an intervention for older children with reading difficulties, they saw most improvement in areas of phonemic decoding, while the same children continued to struggle with comprehension. Therefore, the children identified as learning disabled in Vellutino et al. (2003)’s study presented different reading weaknesses than those identified in the study by Torgesen (2003). The findings of both studies indicate that more information is needed about the changes in learning disabilities as a child develops, and the requirement of age-specific RTI models.
An important topic of discussion in all three papers was the use of RTI to distinguish prior experience and instruction from biological reasons for learning difficulties. There is agreement across the papers that RTI is a good method for making this distinction. Vellutino et al. (2003) and Torgesen (2003) concur that most reading difficulties at an early age stem from deficits in a child’s previous experience and instruction. Often these children are no longer considered at-risk after a