Perspectives of Special Education Directors on Response to Intervention in Secondary Schools

Article excerpt

Despite intensified interest in secondary school applications of Response-to-intervention (RtI), research in this area remains sparse. This study utilized a qualitative focus group methodology to explore special education directors' perceptions of current barriers, facilitators, roles, and practices related to RtI implementation in secondary settings. Based on their unique potential to affect change and promote collaboration between general and special educators, special education directors were selected as participants. Across two focus groups, four themes emerged: systems structures, roles and attitudes, evidence-based practices, and training and professional development needs. Each theme is explored in depth, followed by practical implications, limitations, and recommendations for practice. Although numerous barriers emerged, they should be viewed not as limitations to RtI in secondary schools but rather as serving to identify the systemic factors needed to support the complexity of an RtI initiative beyond the elementary school years.

KEYWORDS: Response to Intervention, Educational Reform, Special Education, Alternative Service Delivery

To achieve the stated goals of both the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB, 2001) and the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA, 2004), Response to Intervention (RtI), a service delivery approach for providing services and interventions to students at increasing levels of intensity based on progress monitoring and data analysis (Batsche, Elliott et al., 2006), has been endorsed by educational professionals and policymakers. Moreover, RtI has been recognized as a framework that can address the academic and behavioral needs of all students, with the goal of achieving positive student outcomes within lessrestrictive environments (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1998). Generally, RtI methodologies encompass high-quality, research-based classroom instruction; continuous and frequent progress monitoring; implementation of research-based academic and behavioral interventions at multiple levels; and assessment of intervention integrity (Batsche, Elliott et al., 2006).

At its inception, RtI was designed to address the academic difficulties of children suspected of having high-incidence disabilities, namely a specific learning disability, within primary grades (Bender & Shores, 2007; Mellard, Byrd, Johnson, Tollefson, & Boesche, 2004; Vaughn & Fuchs, 2003) and typically in the area of reading (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006; Marston, 2005). More recently, practitioners have broadened the scope of RtI to include systemic approaches for the identification of and the development of interventions for behavioral difficulties (Malecki & Demaray, 2007; Sandomeirski, Kincaid, & Algozzine, 2007). From this perspective, RtI implementation serves all students, with the goal of achieving positive academic and behavioral outcomes through prevention, early identification, and intervention matched to their specific needs.

Given that extant RtI practices largely have been applied within primary grades and typically in the area of reading, there is a growing interest among educational professionals and researchers about the degree to which RtI can be used in secondary settings. Batsche, Kavale, and Kovaleski (2006) contend that RtI can be applied to all grades, as long as there is the presence of (a) clear performance expectations and (b) methods to measure positive changes within these expectations. As school districts across the country consider the ways in which RtI can enhance student learning in a secondary setting, it is essential to view RtI as an educational change initiative rather than as an educational program or curriculum that is in vogue. Such a perspective necessitates that schools foster a structure that builds the capacity of the educational professionals and the system in which they work to sustain effective practices (Schaughency & Ervin, 2006). This concept of building capacity is not new to education, as similar change initiatives, such as Positive Behavior Support, have demonstrated that common features of successful implementation include (a) staff buy-in, (b) shared vision for change, (c) professional development/ongoing technical assistance, (d) organizational restructuring, and (e) committed administrative leadership (George, White, & Schlaffer, 2007; Kincaid, Childs, Blaise, & Wallace, 2007). …