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SRBI - Connecticut is getting this wrong

posted Oct 6, 2011, 7:26 AM by Diane Willcutts   [ updated Oct 14, 2011, 7:19 PM ]

1.    Is it reasonable for the state to require districts to use Scientific Research Based Intervention (SRBI) to identify students with learning disabilities even if SRBI is not yet in place in all schools in the District? 

Federal guidance:  No.

Connecticut guidance:  Yes. 

Although most districts do not yet have a cohesive SRBI program in place, Connecticut guidance requires that all districts use SRBI as part of any evaluation of a child with suspected learning disabilities.  

In contrast, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs has stated that  “. . . research indicates that the implementation of any process, across any system, is most effective when accomplished systematically, in an incremental manner, over time.  If an LEA (school district) chose to ‘scale up’ the implementation of the (SRBI) model gradually, over time, as would be reasonable, the LEA could not require the use of (SRBI) for purposes of identifying children with SLD until RTI was fully implemented in the LEA.”

Although the Bureau required that all Connecticut districts have in place SRBI no later than June 2010, it is clear that many schools do not have SRBI in place and the Bureau has not attempted to verify whether this has properly occurred.  Per an email to me from Perry Murdica at the Bureau of Special Education, “we have not formally collected this information and have no immediate plans to do so.”

2.            Must a child complete all tiers of SRBI prior to being referred to special education?

 Federal law:  No. 

Connecticut regulations and guidance: Yes, maybe no, no.  Not clear.

This is a source of widespread confusion in Connecticut, and many districts are improperly using SRBI to delay a timely special education evaluation.  

A recent OSEP memo to state directors of special education states that, "States and LEAs have an obligation to ensure that evaluations of children suspected of having a disability are not delayed or denied because of implementation of an RTI (SRBI) strategy. . . “

One difficulty in Connecticut is that the state regulations are not aligned with the federal, with the federal regulations (300.309) indicating that alternative procedures may be implemented prior to or as part of an initial evaluation, whereas the Connecticut regulations (10-76d-7) say these procedures must be implemented before a referral is made.

The proposed state regulations (10-76d-7) also seem internally contradictory, stating that:

A.              Prior to referral, alternative procedures must be explored.  But then

B.              Notwithstanding Item A, districts must accept referrals for evaluation and convene a PPT (presumably even if alternative procedures have not been explored).  And then

C.              There must be prompt referral to a PPT of children who have even marginal attendance, behavior, or academic performance.

Items B and C are consistent with federal “child find” regulations, which require that states have a process in place to promptly identify students with disabilities “regardless of the severity” of the disability.  Item A may mislead (has misled) Districts to committing child find violations.

The Connecticut Bureau’s Analysis of Comments to the Proposed Special Education Regulations (September 2011) seems to contradict Item A, stating on Page 39 that “as specified in IDEA 2004, families and school personnel always have the right to refer a student for consideration of eligibility for special education services by requesting an evaluation at any time, including prior or during the SRBI process.” 

3.             Does a child’s response/lack of response to SRBI determine whether or not a child has a learning disability?

Federal guidance:  No.

Connecticut guidance:  Not clear.

Connecticut districts and families have demonstrated considerable confusion about this issue.  The federal regulations (§300.304) are much more clear, than the proposed state regulations (10-76d-9), with the federal regulations explicitly stating that no single measure may be the sole criterion for determining eligibility.  This is further supported in the Federal Register/Vol. 71, No. 156/Monday, August 14, 2006/Rules and Regulations, which states on Page 46648 that “An RTI process does not replace the need for a comprehensive evaluation.”  Page 46646 also states, “the evaluation of a child suspected of having a disability, including an SLD, must include a variety of assessment tools and strategies and cannot rely on any single procedure as the sole criterion for determining eligibility for special education and related services.”

To align state regulations with IDEA, Connecticut regulations should use the same language as is found in OSEP’s interpretation of the federal regulations,  “the evaluation of a child suspected of having a disability, including a learning disability, must include a variety of assessment tools and strategies and cannot rely on any one procedure as the sole criterion for determining eligibility for special education.”