Washington State Association
of School Psychologists    

Uniting school psychologists to support all students through advocacy, leadership, and professional development. 

2019 Spring Lecture Series

The 2019 Spring Lecture Series is now open for registration! Click here to find more information and register!

Archived Spring Lecture Series

You can now access previously aired Spring Lecture Series, dating back to 2014, for a discounted price! Please go here for more information.

Call for Action to Prevent Gun Violence in the United States of America

WSASP is proud to endorse the the “Call for Action to Prevent Gun Violence in the United States of America” authored by the Interdisciplinary Group on Preventing School and Community Violence. For more information and to endorse this individually, please go to the following link.

President's Message

Across the country, many states have already moved away from the usage of the discrepancy model for Specific Learning Disability (SLD) qualification or they are working toward getting rid of the discrepancy model. The wheels are starting to move, here in Washington, to remove the discrepancy model from our options in the coming years. This could take 5-10 years to fully implement, given the variety of moving parts needed to make a change of this nature. I do believe that this is a good change, given that I believe that the discrepancy model is highly flawed. The discrepancy model makes it very difficult to separate students with disabilities from students who have not received appropriate instruction. For example, the area that tends to create significant problems, regardless of intelligence, is phonemic awareness. The work by Dr. Torgensen out of Florida is powerful work in this area, indicating instructional casualty is the issue and not disability.

As we move in this direction, which is either or both the Pattern of Strengths and Weakness (PSW) model and the Response To Intervention (RTI) model for SLD qualification, it is possible that many people, who will be asked about this, have not heard about the problems and challenges with these two models. Therefore, I am hoping to begin the discussion. I am hoping to convince people to look into the evidence. I am not trying to convince anyone at this time which model may or may not be a better model, instead let’s be curious.

I have asked Dr. Vinnie Alfonso, Dr. Jamie Chaffin, Glenna Gallo, and John Sander to also weigh in on this topic. Dr. Alfonso is a leading expert on PSW, being one of the co-authors of the book Cross Battery Assessment. Dr. Alfonso is also Dean of the School of Education at Gonzaga University. Dr. Chaffin is both a college professor (program director) who teaches future school psychologists how to use PSW and an active working school psychologist who utilizes PSW in her practice. Glenna Gallo is our Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction who is in charge of special education. Mr. Sander is the new Executive Director of the Franklin Pierce School District, a district that has been utilizing RTI qualification for SLD and is seen as a leading district in RTI/MTSS work.

The following paragraphs contain some of the concerns I have seen, heard or read regarding both RTI and PSW models.

The PSW model relies on trying to align weaknesses in cognitive functioning with problems that are found within academic functioning. Like the RTI model, and even the discrepancy model, this sounds very logical on the surface. There are two potential problems I will note for today: 1) What if the assumption that individual subtests can be used with validity is an incorrect assumption? 2) What if the student just happened to do poorly on the individual subtest for a reason not related to ability (e.g., needed to use the bathroom)? Many articles that have been written about the first potential problem, based upon research, that indicate that we cannot rely upon a correlation between individual subtests and specific problems with reading, math or writing (in large part related to attempting to build intervention from this relationship). I can remember Cecil Reynolds telling a group of us at WSASP that usage of individual subtests is highly problematic. The second assumption is very interesting to me. I have heard and seen discussion in which people believe, “I gave the test in the standardized method, therefore the results are obviously valid….” The problem is, after 25+ years in our field which includes about 18 years of coaching/advising, I have seen this fail countless times. There are many reasons in which a student might achieve a score lower than they truly deserve. Then, if either or both of these issues are negatively impacting the student in question, we are likely to achieve results that are no better than the results we would achieve using the discrepancy model, sadly.

The RTI model relies on schools using RTI/MTSS effectively. I have done a fair amount of work with one of the states that is in the forefront of RTI usage, and I asked groups of school psychologists the following question, “What percentage of your schools implement RTI well enough to feel confident in using the RTI for SLD model confidently?” The response was, “About 20%.” If a school is not implementing and using RTI well (or MTSS), then how do we as school psychologists separate the students who truly have disabilities from the students who are a casualty of a system that in general is not working well for students?

Another area to think about is the research regarding the students who have been diagnosed with a specific learning disability in reading (about 80% of the students who are labelled as having a specific learning disability have reading as a service). Whether looking at the work by Dr. Torgensen or the research on Lindamood-Bell learning processes, it is easy to see that many of the students qualified as disabled are, in fact, students who have not received appropriate instruction. The discrepancy model ignores this issue (even though the law speaks to appropriate instruction in reading). The PSW model is not just one model, but instead there are several popular PSW models, with the model developed by Dr. Flannigan, Dr. Alfonso, and Dr. Ortiz being the most popular model. Their model does speak to RTI data prior to usage of the PSW model yet relies on practitioner judgment like all models at some point. And, think about how many school psychologists have told their teams, “This student isn’t learning because of the poor reading instruction.” The RTI model is in many ways all about instruction, yet how does it take into account students who are doing their best and still struggling, but not actually disabled (a topic for another day) or poor instruction.

So, please take the time to think about this. And, please take the time to research these issues. In the end, this is something that is going to impact each and every practicing school psychologist in the years to come.

Please make sure to read the articles from each of us. Our purpose is to bring out some of the concerns and spur curiosity. Then, you will have time to investigate these areas for yourself. The articles will also talk about the strengths of the models, so please keep reading. Also, as I am writing this article and recruiting people to provide input, more people are getting involved with great ideas. If things work as planned, there will be an article that provides links to resources on this topic.

Dr. Steve Gill
WSASP President

Washington State Association of School Psychologists
PO Box 525
Cheney, WA 99004
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