Academic journal article Exceptional Children

To Wait in Tier 1 or Intervene Immediately: A Randomized Experiment Examining First-Grade Response to Intervention in Reading

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

To Wait in Tier 1 or Intervene Immediately: A Randomized Experiment Examining First-Grade Response to Intervention in Reading

Article excerpt

In 2004, the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act allowed states and local education agencies to use models of response to intervention (RTI) as a means of providing early intervention and identifying students as having a learning disability only after they have had effective instruction and intensive intervention. Briefly, there are three tiers within many RTI models, with Tier 1 representing high-quality general education, with Tier 2 providing small group and more targeted intervention, and with Tier 3 being the most intensive intervention and, in some models, special education services. Students are placed in tiers on the basis of how well they are doing in less intensive tiers relative to grade-level expectations and benchmarks according to screening or progress-monitoring assessments (Al Otaiba, Connor, Foorman, Greulich, & Folsom, 2009; Gersten et al., 2009).

Despite general support for multitier models, researchers and practitioners have expressed serious concern about the lack of research guidance for implementation. For example, despite the relatively robust evidence for Tier 2 interventions (e.g., Gersten et al., 2009; Wanzek & Vaughn, 2007), to date a fairly limited number of studies have reported effects of multitier intervention at the elementary level that includes what may be termed a Tier 3 intervention (Denton, Fletcher, Anthony, & Francis 2006; Gilbert et al., 2013; O'Connor, Harty, & Fulmer, 2005; Vaughn, Wanzek, Linan-Thompson, & Murray, 2007; Vaughn et al., 2009; Vellutino, Scanlon, Zhang, & Schatschneider, 2008; Wanzek & Vaughn, 2010). From this set of studies, only O'Connor et al. (2005) and Gilbert et al. (2013) allowed students to move up or down tiers within a study year, whereas the remaining provided Tier 3 only after tracking response to Tier 2 for a year or more. Further differences in how students were identified for intervention and how response was defined complicate direct comparisons across studies.

There is also a lack of guidance from a legal and policy perspective, as documented in a review by Zirkel and Thomas (2010), who found marked variability in state laws and guidelines informing local education agencies about how to implement RTI. This variability about RTI procedures, particularly for Tier 3, was further validated by a survey of 40 elementary schools conducted by Mellard, McKnight, and Jordan (2010). The lack of consistency led Vaughn, Denton, and Fletcher (2010) to propose that "schools should consider placing students with the lowest overall initial scores in the most intensive interventions" (p. 442). Given that some students might be in a Tier 2 intervention that does not meet their intensive needs for too long, the authors argued against allowing RTI to become another type of "wait to fail" model, referring to historical criticisms of the IQ--achievement discrepancy model. Vaughn and colleagues argued that immediate intensive interventions may be the most appropriate for some students because it is increasingly possible to predict poor response by students' preintervention scores (e.g., Al Otaiba & Fuchs, 2002; Nelson, Benner, & Gonzalez, 2003) and because it will be very difficult for schools to achieve catch-up growth for children who are persistently weak responders (Al Otaiba & Fuchs, 2006; Denton et al., 2006; Wanzek & Vaughn, 2008).

However, there is a case to be made for waiting to reduce the cost of false positives (providing intervention to students who would have responded to Tier 1). Evidence is accumulating that differentiated or individualized general education reduces the incidence of reading difficulties (Connor et al., in press). Further, Compton and colleagues have conducted an important series of studies to improve classification of which students will need Tier 3: They propose a two-stage screening within Tier 1 that might prevent (a) false positives (students receiving Tier 2 who do not really need it); (b) false negatives (students being missed for Tier 2 who really need it); and, perhaps most important, (c) waiting-to-fail students, who are not likely to respond to Tier 2 and who immediately need the most intensive and extensive interventions (Compton et al. …

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