Magazine article Perspectives on Language and Literacy

Response-to-Intervention Research: Is the Sum of the Parts as Great as the Whole?

Magazine article Perspectives on Language and Literacy

Response-to-Intervention Research: Is the Sum of the Parts as Great as the Whole?

Article excerpt

How often do special education teachers hear that an intervention is "research based?" The answer is, just about every time a publisher tries to the sell them intervention materials. Fortunately, teachers have become more adept at recognizing the ones that are supported by research. This is an important shift because education has such a long history of fads that Ellis (2005) concluded that in education, "today's flagship is often tomorrow's abandoned shipwreck" (p. 200).

The best way to avoid fads in educational practice is research. Too often in K-12 schools, interventions without a solid research base are widely implemented and interventions supported by compelling research are not. Thus, teachers are recognizing that when evaluating a potential intervention or educational practice, the first question should be "Is it a scientific, research-based intervention?" Currently, What Works Clearinghouse's (WWC) cites studies with participants randomly assigned to treatment and control conditions as providing the strongest evidence. That does not mean that practitioners cannot benefit from reading other types of studies; it simply indicates that the research about a particular intervention should include studies that represent strong evidence through use of randomized designs. In addition, practitioners should look for a meta-analysis, which is a study that empirically synthesizes several other studies, to be confident in the research (Ellis, 2005). A meta-analysis can provide important information about the effectiveness of an intervention because the conclusions are based on multiple sources of information rather than just one study.

Response to intervention (RTI) is a current topic about which teachers are seeking research information. RTI is the practice of providing quality instruction and intervention and using student learning in response to that instruction to make instructional and important educational decisions (Batsche et al., 2005). It is perhaps the most discussed educational initiative in the country today. School districts in every state in the country are currently implementing RTI and some have been doing so for over 20 years with impressive results. However, because of the nature of RTI as a schoolwide initiative, there are no studies that examine the model in its entirety using a randomized design. Although that is problematic from a research perspective, it makes perfect sense from a practical one. Imagine having to tell staff and parents that because they are in the control group for the next five years they are not allowed to implement a program that could help their kids. While at the same time, another school is fully implementing this beneficial practice. In the case of RTI, we have to examine the sum of the parts to evaluate the whole because components of an RTI model, unlike a schoolwide model, can be examined with rigorous research over long periods of time.

The purpose of this article is to describe the core components of RTI and the relatively limited research on RTI models in their entirety. Although RTI has many core components of RTI (e.g., data-based decision making, collaboration, and problem-analysis), the focus of this article is research that addresses Tier 1 (quality core instruction), Tier 2 (supplemental intervention), and Tier 3 (individualized interventions). Moreover, this article will identify and discuss relevant metaanalytic research for the topics listed above. Readers interested in syntheses of core components should read the summary available at provided by Griffith, Parson, Burns, VanDerHeyden, and Tilly (2007).

RTI Models as a Whole

Many articles provide descriptions of RTI models in their entirety and data to support their effectiveness (e.g., Marston, Muyskens, Lau, & Canter, 2003; McNamara & Hollinger, 2003) A recent meta-analysis of RTI research found large effects for both systemic (e.g., reductions in special education referrals) and student outcomes (e. …

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