Academic journal article The Professional Counselor

Needs and Contradictions of a Changing Field: Evidence from a National Response to Intervention Implementation Study

Academic journal article The Professional Counselor

Needs and Contradictions of a Changing Field: Evidence from a National Response to Intervention Implementation Study

Article excerpt

The climate of accountability in today's public schools requires all professionals to utilize data to inform decisions in the context of their practice, and the school counselor is no exception. Broader, statewide mandates such as Response to Intervention (RTI) have put additional pressure on school professionals, raising questions regarding practitioners' preparedness to effectively utilize data to inform practice and collaborate with peers to support the needs of struggling students. The aim of this study is to examine school counselors' beliefs, perceived level of preparedness and practices regarding RTI nationwide, specifically in states where this model has been implemented.

The reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004 and the subsequent 2008 regulations incentivized RTI, a multi-tiered system of academic and behavioral supports for struggling students (Zirkel & Thomas, 2010). In each tier of instruction, student needs and interventions are determined through ongoing data collection and analysis. To explicate, the general education environment comprises Tier 1 of RTI, with the integration of research-based practices, universal screening and differentiated small group instruction. If a child is not successful in this environment, he or she is targeted for Tier 2 intervention, small group instruction paired with ongoing progress monitoring. A continued lack of responsiveness moves the student to Tier 3, a more intensive level of intervention and progress monitoring, with possible referral for special education services (Fuchs, Mock, Morgan, & Young, 2003; National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 2005; Vaughn & Fuchs, 2003). Thus, when determining whether a student has a specific learning disability (SLD) in an RTI framework, there should be a significant body of data in regards to a child's response to intervention to inform the eligibility process (Hauerwas, Brown, & Scott, 2013; Zirkel & Thomas, 2010).

RTI has become increasingly commonplace in states across the nation since the 2004 IDEA reauthorization (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004). Review of the Web sites of 50 state departments of education indicated that 17 states require RTI in the process of identifying whether a student has an SLD, and 45 states have guidance documents to support the implementation of RTI (Hauerwas et al., 2013). In addition, Berkeley, Bender, Peaster, and Saunders (2009) found that 14 of 15 states required RTI to address both academic and behavioral domains. In a 2010 review of state laws and special education guidelines, Zirkel and Thomas noted that eight states required universal screening for academic and behavioral needs, while 23 recommended academic and behavioral screening. Thus, in some states the academic supports of RTI are specifically linked with the behavioral supports and interventions of Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports (PBIS).

PBIS is a multi-tiered, data-based system of support for students with emotional and behavioral needs that incorporates ongoing assessments and data-based decision making, professional development in research-based practices, and provision of tiered intervention for students who need additional assistance (Sugai & Horner, 2006). Both RTI and PBIS share the premise that educational outcomes can be improved for all by integrating research-based practices in the general education environment (Fairbanks, Sugai, Guardino, & Lathrop, 2007; Hollenbeck, 2007; Sadler & Sugai, 2009; Sugai & Horner, 2009), and thus they are commonly combined in schoolwide frameworks. A multitiered system of supports (MTSS) is a comprehensive academic and behavioral model that integrates both RTI and PBIS (Averill & Rinaldi, 2011).

As with any significant educational reform, RTI/MTSS has a high likelihood to change professional practices. For example, social workers have been urged to recognize the importance of evidencebased decisions and data collection when working with the social-emotional concerns of students (Harrison & Harrison, 2014) and to increase their collaborative practices (Avant, 2014). …

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