Let’s Just Do PSW…

A boy is writing in his notebook while reading.

Recently on the listerv for school psychologists, there has been some chatter about potential changes in New Jersey law such that they no longer may be required to use an Ability-Achievement Model to determine eligibility for Specific Learning Disability (SLD). I congratulated them on the listerv, but a number of postings were about interest in patterns of strength and weakness as the preferred method (PSW).

I’m definitely not alone in strongly opposing PSW approaches, but what was interesting–and not unusual–was a couple of postings were about the necessity of adopting PSW as the remedy to not doing Ab-Ach discrepancy, because so many of the components to do quality Response to Intervention, a greatly preferred method, are not in place. Implementing RTI as a method of determining eligibility for SLD is a specialty of mine so I’ve encountered this question/challenge many times. I thought I would share my response with you here.

Here’s my take away from these comments and I’m not trying to be critical because in large part, what you say is “true.” Implementing an “RTI” approach to SLD eligibility really well IS very difficult…and because of variables beyond the control of the School Psychologist. How many times have I faced this situation and this question as a consultant: How can we do RTI until we (a) get quality Tier 1 to address the Determinant Factor of “Appropriate Instruction,” (b) get our Benchmarking in place where our GE teachers USE the data to communicate with parents that a student is NOT making adequate progress in the general curriculum, as required as another Determinant Factor at regular intervals DURING instruction, (c) we’ve provided an appropriately intensive, research-based intervention for a reasonable interval–or have a justification that the student’s needs are so intensive that they exceed even the most intensive and reasonable intervention that general education can provide, and (d) we have evidence that the intervention(s) provided to the student have not reduced the gap with research-based progress monitoring tests like CBM.

Yup! Wouldn’t it be great if GE teachers were better prepared to teach things like reading and language arts, especially to preK thru Grade 3 and to at risk and EL students and did NOT use FP, Workshop, Cueing, leveled readers, LLI, and other practices that fail to meet the needs of too many students? And wouldn’t it be nice that schools used more powerful interventions in GE–and SE, too? And good grief. Here we are 40 years after the first article was published on research-based, simple ways to monitor progress in reading, particularly directed at SE and kids at risk. And school report difficulty finding progress data.

What I’ve seen too many times as a consultant is this. Employing an RTI approach is much more “difficult” that other ways like Ab-Ach or even PSW. My own state has regressed in our Regs, now “permitting” the Ab-Ach again after lobbying that RTI was “too hard.”

Think about that…providing a more intensive intervention (for a while) and monitoring progress (for a while) is too much work for schools.

The net effect is to say “we’ll let the SP ‘decide.” Collecting Ab-Ach discrepancy is psychometrically flawed and immoral but it’s relatively “easy” for team members to have opinions about it. PSWs–we should never refer to THEM as singular because that miscommunicates that they are interchangeable and they are not–are NOT at all easy for others to understand and now decision making power shifts much more to a single individual as well as a single method (consistent with IDEA?) but it’s easier than RTI.

Again, I’m not trying to be judgmental. For 6 months, I was the RTI consultant for Chicago public schools, over 600 of them. Over 400,000 students in a state that required RTI for SLD in their regulations. Many talented SPs, administrators, teachers, and staff in CPS. Years later I was on the Mayor of Chicago’s Literacy Task for to Improve Outcomes for SE Students. Change is extremely hard. The status quo or something close to it is much easier.