CRITERION 4: Ensure that underachievement is not due to lack of appropriate instruction in reading or math.

To ensure that underachievement in a child suspected of having a specific learning disability is not due to lack of appropriate
instruction in reading or math, the group must consider, as
part of the evaluation described in §300.304 through 300.306—

(1) Data that demonstrate that prior to, or as a part of, the
referral process, the child was provided appropriate instruction
in regular education settings, delivered by qualified personnel; and

(2) Data-based documentation of repeated assessments of achievement at reasonable intervals, reflecting formal assessment of student progress during instruction, which was provided to the child’s parents. §300.309 (b)

This step in the SLD identification process is designed to ensure that students are not identified as having an LD and needing special education when lack of appropriate instruction is the cause of the student’s underachievement. This is required for all eligibility methods.

Making a determination of eligibility for special education is a high-stakes decision for students. As such, it is imperative that this criterion be given considerable attention. It would be inappropriate for the school team to simply check a box indicating that the student’s underachievement is not due to lack of appropriate instruction in reading or math.

School teams should note that the requirement to determine the existence of appropriate instruction also appears in Criterion 1: “Failure to meet age- or grade-level State standards in one of eight areas when provided appropriate instruction…”

The requirement in Criterion 4 also aligns with a provision in IDEA’s broader requirements regarding determination of eligibility. Known as a “special rule for eligibility determination,” §300.306 (b) states that:

A child must not be determined to be a child with a disability under this part—

(1) If the determinant factor for that determination is—

(i) Lack of appropriate instruction in reading, including the essential components of reading instruction (as defined in section 1208(3) of the ESEA);

(ii) Lack of appropriate instruction in math; or

(iii) Limited English proficiency (300.306 (b))

  Reading Instruction

1208(3) of the ESEA defines the essential components of reading instruction as follows:

The term essential components of reading instruction' means explicit and systematic instruction in—

  • (A) phonemic awareness;
  • (B) phonics;
  • (C) vocabulary development;
  • (D) reading fluency, including oral reading skills; and
  • (E) reading comprehension strategies.


These essential components of reading instruction were drawn from the findings of the National Reading Panel (2000).


Math Instruction

Effective math instruction should include


  • (A) conceptual understanding;
  • (B) procedural fluency;
  • (C) strategic competence;
  • (D) adaptive reasoning; and
  • (E) productive response.
(National Mathematics Advisory Panel, National Research Council, 2008)

The requirements of Criterion 4 are more robust than the special rule for eligibility as they require documentation on which the determination is made. Specifically, the documentation should address the following:


  • adequacy of core instruction in reading and math,
  • qualifications of personnel delivering core instruction,
  • adequacy of interventions beyond core instruction (Tiers 2 and 3); and
  • communicating information regarding interventions with parents.

Fortunately, an RTI-based process provides helpful information in making several of these determinations.

Adequacy of Core Instruction in Reading and Math

Since RTI requires universal screening, data to evaluate the adequacy of core instruction should be readily available to the school team. A review of the number and percentage of students (in a class, grade, or school) performing below the benchmark based on age- or grade-level standards should be undertaken as part of Criterion 4.

If it is found that large numbers of students are performing at or below the benchmark, it should be concluded that there is a class, grade, or school problem with core instruction. In the face of such a finding, the core instruction problem should be addressed before individual students are moved into Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions.

If, on the other hand, the majority of students are performing at or above the benchmark, it can be concluded that there is not a class, grade, or school problem.

For more on determining classwide problems, review Examples of Effective RtI Use and Decision Making: Part 2—Reading , by Amanda VanDerHeyden

  The Center for Educational Effectiveness, Inc., conducted a study of recent educational literature and compiled a list of six essential practices of high-quality teaching and learning that cut across all content areas and grade levels. If general education instruction does not reflect these essential practices, it can be difficult to determine whether a student’s low achievement is internal to the individual or a consequence of poor instruction. This issue has large implications for schools in which large portions of students are not meeting standards on statewide assessments, thus meeting Criterion 1. For more information, see Implications Relating to Inadequate Implementation of RTI in Cautions When Using an RTI-Based SLD Identification Process.

Additional considerations relate to equitable access to instruction and teachers for students in certain subgroups identified in the ESEA. Some students (African American/Hispanic) may not be exposed to the same learning opportunities as their White peers due to bias of the instructor (Harber et al., 2012). This situation may potentially result in lesser quality instruction.

Lack of Access to Appropriate Instruction Due to Disruptive Behavior

When educators address disruptive behavior, time and attention is diverted from providing instruction in important content areas. Although good instruction can reduce the likelihood of problem behavior (Filter & Horner, 2009; Preciado, Horner, Scott, & Baker, 2009; Sanford, 2006), there are times when problem behavior interferes with the delivery of instruction. It has been calculated that an average discipline referral to the office results in 20 minutes of student time spent out of the classroom (Scott & Barrett, 2014). When examining whether student underachievement is not due to the lack of appropriate instruction in reading or math, consideration is given to issues associated with disruptive behavior. These issues may be related to instructional disruption that is associated with incidents of problem behavior and also teacher/principal disciplinary actions.

When a student is disruptive, instructional time is reduced due to the teacher responding to the behavior. Furthermore, students who engage in problem behavior are not engaged in the instruction. There is an inverse relationship between incidents of problem behavior and academic outcomes (Lassen, Steele, & Sailor, 2006; Morrison, Anthony, Storino, & Dillon, 2001).

Strategies to reduce disruptive behavior include the following:


  • Provide proactive, positive, consistent, and effective instructional strategies that promote active student engagement.
  • Implementation of positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) to prevent problem behavior from occurring (identify behavior expectations, teach behavior expectations, and acknowledge behavior expectations).
  • Provide a continuum of incentives and consequences consistently to address behavior based on severity of the behavior problem, with focus on keeping students in the classroom.
  • Provide supports to educators that help them implement the effective PBIS strategies with fidelity (training, coaching)

Some students miss out on access to instruction because the adults (e.g., teachers, principals) apply disciplinary consequences that are exclusionary (exclusion from the instructional environment). Examples of exclusionary practices include removal from in-class instruction, in- school suspension, and out-of-school suspension. Data show that students of specific racial groups (African American, Hispanic) are more likely to experience exclusionary disciplinary practices compared to their White peers (Losen & Gillespie 2012). Consequently, these students do not receive the same amount of effective instruction. Access to scientific, research-based instruction and intervention means that students should have equitable access. The implementation of behavioral supports to address disproportionality in discipline and race is critical.

Strategies for reducing exclusionary practices include the following:


  • All strategies listed above to reduce disruptive behavior
  • Reviewing school/district discipline policies to explicitly promote access to instruction.
  • Review the use and implementation of de-escalation strategies
  • Utilize data systems that provide regular information on use of exclusionary practices and apply this to data-based decision making and feedback to staff.

  The U.S. Department of Education has clarified the responsibility of districts in cases where an evaluation request is received for a student with an out-of-school suspension that meets the criteria of a disciplinary change in placement. For more information see Evaluation During Discipline Procedures in Cautions When Using an RTI-Based SLD Identification Process.

“A common error in RTI implementation is trying to treat systemic problems … as individual student learning problems that rapidly overwhelm the school’s capacity to manage intervention and [do] not produce the kind of widespread instructional changes that are warranted to ensure all students receive the instruction they need to master expected grade-level skills.”  (Kovaleski, VanDerHeyden, & Shapiro, 2013, p. 93)

Fidelity of Instruction

The school team must next determine if the general education core instruction was delivered with integrity. To do this, the team might consider data from the following sources:


  • observations of teacher performance through classroom visits and observations conducted by peers or specialists during the instructional period for the targeted content/subject area on a regular basis;
  • checklists for integrity of instructional delivery completed by teachers or observers as self‐check measures;
  • reviews of student work and interviews of students.

As with the determination of the adequacy of core instruction, if the fidelity of implementation of the interventions is in question, it is imperative that these issues be resolved. It is important to ensure interventions are delivered by qualified personnel in order to determine student response to that instruction and intervention.

  "Qualified" refers to an individual who has received direct instruction in a particular skill, has received feedback on the performance of that skill by an individual who has mastered the skill, and has had the opportunity to practice that skill in order to perform it accurately in a consistent manner.

Adequacy of Interventions Beyond Core Instruction (Tiers 2 and 3)

The school team must next assess the documentation regarding the adequacy of the supplemental interventions provided to the student beyond Tier 1. Known as
“fidelity of intervention implementation,” this includes close examination of key factors that must align with the intervention’s evidence/research base, as follows:

  • Suitability: the degree to which the intervention selected targets the student’s specific instructional need;
  • Integrity: the degree to which an intervention is implemented (taught) as intended; and
  • Sufficiency: the degree to which the intervention is implemented for an adequate amount of time (minutes per week and overall duration as per guidelines provided in the instructional manual) to achieve desired results.

Research has shown that “poor intervention integrity is the rule rather than the exception” (Kovaleski et al., 2013, p. 103). Therefore, this part of the determination should be thorough and deliberate.

School teams can use intervention checklists to verify the adequacy of the intervention implementation in terms of delivery and quality, such as the treatment integrity protocols compiled by Joseph Kovaleski.

Why Is Problem Solving So Critical to the Implementation of MTSS?

Problem solving is a systematic process designed to develop, implement, and evaluate evidence-based instruction and intervention strategies. The goal of problem solving is, first, to accelerate the academic and behavior performance of students to increase significantly their success in school and, second, to provide a common language/common understanding of why instruction/interventions must be modified, what will be done, how it will be done, and by whom. The process can be used with individual students, groups of students, classrooms, grade or subject levels, and entire schools. The process, by design, is collaborative and inclusive of all those individuals who have an explicit interest in the education of the students, including parents.

The problem-solving process typically consists of four steps and seeks to answer four questions: 

            Step 1:  What do we want the student(s) to know, understand, and do (Goal/Problem Identification)?
            Step 2:  Why is the goal not occurring (Analysis)?
            Step 3:  What are we going to do about it (Instruction/Intervention)?
            Step 4:  Did it work (Response to Instruction/Intervention)?

The problem-solving process is critical to the determination of eligibility for SLD for two reasons. First, the problem-solving process is central to the determination of the level of response to instruction/intervention. Second, Step 1 of the process seeks to answer another critical question—“whose issue is this?” Step 1 consists of five elements:  the goal to be attained (academic, behavioral, or both), the current level of performance of the goal, the desired level of performance of the goal, peer (or similar demographic) performance of the goal, and the gap between the desired and current levels of performance. The data from peer performance enable a school-based team to determine if a particular student evidences the concern or if the performance of a particular student is not different from the performance of his or her peer group. If an individual student is performing below expectation and so are peers of the same demographic, it is unlikely that an individual student issue is responsible for the low performance shared by so many others. An example would be comparison of an English language learning student to peers or the comparison of a student of a particular racial/ethnic group to same demographic peers.

For more information about establishing a multi-tier system of supports and implementing RTI, visit the RTI Action Network and the Center on Response to Intervention websites.

Communicating Information on Interventions With Parents

Parents are key partners in all aspects of RTI and may often provide information about the student and specific strategies that will contribute to improved student outcomes. This aspect of Criterion 4 should not be simply a one-way communication. Parents should participate in the problem-solving process and the regulations require that parents be notified if their child is identified as at risk and receive regular communications (both written and verbal reports) regarding the strategies employed and their child’s progress in instruction as well as interventions. Equally important, to maximize contributions from families, parents should be provided information about the RTI process as well as specifics regarding the role RTI plays in SLD identification. RTI is an opportunity to bring about meaningful change in family–school relationships, allowing for the creation of engaged partnerships between educators and families through collaborative, structured problem-solving efforts based on the sharing of information, goals, and responsibility (Reschly, 2009).


  Many states have developed RTI materials for parents, such as


In addition, the National Center for Learning Disabilities produced A Parent's Guide to Response to Intervention (RTI)

At a minimum the school team must determine, through data-based documentation, that parents, with the support of cultural navigators when appropriate, have been provided with and understand the results of repeated assessments of student’s progress. The U.S. Department of Education, in its interpretive comments issued with the federal regulations, defined data-based documentation as “an objective and systematic process of documenting a child’s progress.” Always keep in mind the parents’ primary language.

Additional requirements regarding parental notification are contained in Criterion 6, specific documentation for the eligibility determination. Therefore, it might be useful also to ensure these requirements are fulfilled as part of the information provided to parents in Criterion 4.

Specifically, documentation is required to show that the child’s parents were notified about

  • the state’s policies regarding the amount and nature of student performance data that would be collected and the general education services that would be provided;
  • strategies for increasing the child’s rate of learning; and
  • the parents’ right to request an evaluation.

  The U.S. Department of Education provided additional guidance on the requirement regarding data-based documentation of repeated assessments in its comments accompanying the IDEA federal regulations released in 2006. For more information, see Student Progress Monitoring in Cautions When Using an RTI-based SLD Identification Process.





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