Implementation of Response to Intervention at Middle School: Challenges and Potential Benefits

By Johnson, Evelyn Sue; Smith, Lori | Teaching Exceptional Children, January/February 2008 | Go to article overview
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Implementation of Response to Intervention at Middle School: Challenges and Potential Benefits


Johnson, Evelyn Sue, Smith, Lori, Teaching Exceptional Children


Middle school represents a major transition in a student's academic career. For most students, it means changing schools, adjusting to a longer school day, changing teachers for content courses, and meeting demands of more complex assignments requiring independent learning and critical thinking skills. Given these challenges, the fact that many students require additional support to experience academic success in middle school is not surprising. For a variety of reasons, such as existing learning difficulties, increased academic demands, language proficiency, and transience, early interventions to support success in middle school are routinely needed for an increasingly large and diverse population of students.

Well-documented, research-based interventions are available for middle school students, but one problem that limits their effective implementation is the lack of a schoolwide process through which to do so. The result is a haphazard approach to intervention, with no coordination across classrooms and limited information on efficacy. Providing interventions in an effective manner-one that responds to individual student needs and supports progress in the general curriculum-poses significant challenges at the middle school level.

A Middle School Response-to-intervention Model

One model that can help middle school educators provide an effective system of instruction and early intervention is response to intervention (RTI). RTI is a schoolwide process that integrates instruction, intervention, and assessment. The alignment of instruction, assessment, and interventions promotes a stronger, more cohesive program of instruction that ultimately can result in higher student achievement (Mellard & Johnson, 2008).

The recent focus in the literature and related policy initiatives on RTI presents a welcome opportunity to structure a more comprehensive and integrated approach to instruction and intervention for all students. RTI is proposed as a valuable model for educators because of its potential utility in the provision of appropriate learning experiences for all students as well as in the early identification of students as being at risk for academic failure. As described in the literature (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006; Johnson, Mellard, Fuchs, & McKnight, 2006), a strong RTI process includes the following crucial features:

* High-quality, scientifically based classroom instruction.

* Schoolwide screening of academics and behavior.

* Progress monitoring of student performance.

* Implementation of research-based interventions at all tiers.

* Fidelity checks on implementation.

RTI models continue to be researched and implemented in elementary school settings. Although state agencies and practitioners conceptually embrace the RTI concept for older students as well, scant research and few, if any, RTI models appropriate for secondary school settings exist. The need for successful models of RTI implementation at the middle school level is great, because middle school represents a crucial point in a student's academic career, laying the foundation for successful completion of high school (Morris, Ehren & Lenz, 1991). Middle and high school students deal with a demanding curriculum no longer focused on the acquisition of basic skills; rather they must rely on those basic skills for acquiring content knowledge (Deshler, Hock & Catts, 2006; Deshler & Schumaker, 2006; Swanson, 2001). Intervention models can support students who struggle with these demands.

One challenge for successful implementation of RTI at the middle school level is that much of the literature on the RTI process tends to support the use of standard protocol approaches (Fuchs, Mock, Morgan, & Young, 2003); that is, evidenced-based, standard interventions with specified materials and procedures. But many standard intervention protocols are geared toward the early grades, with few secondary-level interventions having the same level of scientific base on which to support their use.

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