Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Rethinking Response to Intervention at Middle and High School

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Rethinking Response to Intervention at Middle and High School

Article excerpt

In "Response to Intervention for Middle School Students With Reading Difficulties: Effects of a Primary and Secondary Intervention," Sharon Vaughn and colleagues (2010) described a study in which they provided professional development to content area teachers, with the goal of integrating vocabulary and reading comprehension instruction throughout the school day in Tier 1 (i.e., in the general education classrooms). Against this enhanced instructional backdrop, the researchers randomly assigned at-risk students whom they identified based on inadequate performance on the previous year's high-stakes state reading assessment, to two conditions: business-as-usual school services or a researcher-designed, 32- to 36-week Tier 2 reading intervention focused on decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The researchers delivered this Tier 2 intervention in large groups (i.e., 10-15 students per group) to reflect a logistically feasible model for implementation in real schools. The instruction was conducted for nearly 100 hr per student (SD = 23.1) atone site and 111 hr (SD = 11.6) at a second site. With this ambitious randomized control trial, they examined the efficacy of a response to intervention (RTI) Tier 2 intervention at sixth grade.

Few researchers have focused on an older school-age population when studying RTI with such a well-conceptualized, comprehensive intervention. Many researchers avoid middle and high schools entirely because of the scheduling problems and compliance issues often encountered when working with adolescents. These complexities associated with middle and high school may help explain Vaughn et al.'s (2010) disappointing findings. On word-level skills, significant effects for two measures were moderated by students' incoming performance: On decoding, treatment effects were revealed only for students above the pretest mean; on spelling, only for students below the covariate mean. For fluency and comprehension measures, there were no statistically significant effects, and the Tier 2 intervention did not improve the chances of passing the high-stakes state assessment. Across measures, the median effect size was 0.16.

Vaughn et al. (2010) do an admirable job of discussing and contextualizing these findings, and they clarify another factor possibly contributing to their modest results: A disproportionate number of students in the business-as-usual condition received a second level of prevention activities designed and implemented by their own schools (i.e., 49% of controls but only 23% of experimental students). Nevertheless, the results of the researchers' more substantial and more carefully designed Tier 2 intervention are sobering and, in this commentary, we consider why differences between elementary versus middle and high school settings may require an alternative conceptualization of RTI at the higher grades.

The RTI Prevention Framework at the Elementary Grades

Children enter kindergarten with differing degrees of preparedness for academic learning. To address these inequities, schools must allocate resources early, as formal academic instruction begins. RTI is a framework for organizing such prevention activities. Before considering RTI at middle and high school, we summarize the typical RTI process at the elementary grades. This Elementary RTI Framework incorporates three levels of prevention services. We use the word level instead of tier to avoid widespread confusion over the term tier. The number of tiers in RTI systems ranges from 1 to 7 (Berkeley, Bender, Gregg Peaster, & Saunders, 2009), with tier referring to the sequence in which interventions are introduced. One school's Tier 2, for example, may be identical in intensity and instructional design to another school's Tier 5. For this reason, the term fails to communicate meaningfully about the intensity of instruction. By contrast, in our Elementary RTI Framework, every intervention (which represents a tier) is categorized within one of me prevention system's three levels, and each level is distinctive in terms of instructional intensity. …

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