By Daryl F. Mellard
Center for Research on Learning, University of Kansas
In our literature review* we focused on three key questions about RTI at the secondary level:
1. What do we know about RTI implementation from the current research?
2. What does the current literature say about the key components of RTI?
3. What are the potential models for the secondary level?
We addressed these questions by using examples from published research, descriptive case studies and, where no research to date is available, best practices noted in the literature.
Multiple RTI models have been described in the literature but all of them share key components: effective high-quality general education instruction, universal school wide screening, progress monitoring, levels of interventions, and fidelity of implementation of the interventions (Fuchs et al., 2003; Johnson et al., 2006). An important note is that this general framework has been successfully applied to address both academic and behavior concerns.
Many schools and districts throughout the nation are implementing some form of RTI. Our recent National Research Center on Learning Disabilities (www.NRCLD.org) study described the use of RTI at 19 elementary-level sites. These sites were examples of schools that were successfully implementing “one or more RTI practices,” including school-wide screening, research-based reading instruction, research-based progress monitoring, data-based decision making, staff involvement, and parent involvement (Johnson et al., 2006). The study also led to the generation of a list of important items that must be in place with the implementation of RTI: professional development opportunities, fidelity of instruction, and ongoing involvement of the administration.
Scaling RTI models to the secondary level is a challenge, as important systematic differences exist between elementary and secondary schools. Changes in organizational structure, a shift in academic focus, and increasing non-school responsibilities for students represent the strongest contrasts between elementary and secondary schools and, therefore, the strongest obstacles to overcome (Sugai, 2004).
Changes in Organizational Structure
Class structure shifts from single classrooms at the elementary level to block format at the secondary level. Teachers in the secondary setting have content specializations. This structural change often leads to less individualized attention and instruction for each student, which may allow at-risk students to remain undetected. Furthermore, due to the time constraints involved with the block schedule, arranging staff team meetings and collaboration on instruction becomes more difficult. These time constraints may lead to difficulties with fidelity if teachers are unable to attend professional development sessions or meetings.
Shift in Academic Focus
The academic emphasis shifts from supportive learning and direct explicit instruction in areas such as reading and math at the elementary level to independent learning across multiple content areas at the secondary level. Students are expected to independently self-monitor, maintain motivation, and be responsible for their own learning. Some students need extra assistance making the transition from mastering skills to applying skills for new learning.
Older students are more likely to be distracted by non-school responsibilities (e.g., driving, dating, and employment) and their parents are less likely to be involved in their learning. This causes difficulty when issues of motivation, attention, and organization can negatively impact their academic coursework.
These differences suggest that simply applying the same models used in elementary schools to secondary schools will not work, and new models need to be developed. Also, no scientifically based research studies are published evaluating the implementation of an RTI model at the secondary level.
A few case studies have been published. Some examples of recent case studies include Bacon, 2005; Duffy, 2007; Fisher, 2001; Johnson & Smith, 2008; Papalewis, 2004; and Windram, Scierka, & Siberglitt, 2007. Case studies have an important place in our scientific process as they form the foundation for future investigations, suggest hypothetical directions for the use of more powerful and rigorous scientific research studies, and provide important corollary data.
In my next post, I’ll outline some of the “best guesses” described in the literature as well as the challenges that remain with implementing RTI at the secondary level.
Bacon, S. (2005). Reading coaches: Adapting an intervention model for upper elementary and middle school readers. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 48(5), 416-427.
Duffy, H. (2007). Meeting the needs of significantly struggling learners in high school: A look at approaches to tiered intervention. U.S. Department of Education, National High School Center.
Fisher, D. (2001). "We're moving on up": Creating a schoolwide literacy effort in an urban high school. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 45(2), 92-101.
Fuchs, D., Mock, D., Morgan, P. L., & Young, C. (2003). Responsiveness-to-intervention: Definitions, evidence, and implications for learning disabilities construct. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 18(3), 157-171.
Johnson, E., Mellard, D. F., & McKnight, M. A. (2006). Responsiveness to intervention (RTI): How to do it. National Research Center on Learning Disabilities.
Johnson, E. S., & Smith, L. (2008). Implementation of response to intervention at middle school: Challenges and potential benefits. Teaching Exceptional Children, 40(3), 46-52.
Papalewis, R. (2004). Struggling middle school readers: Successful, accelerating intervention. Reading Improvement, 41(1), 24.
Sugai, G. (2004). Schoolwide positive behavior support in high schools: What will it take? Paper presented at the Illinois High School Forum of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, Naperville, Illinois.
Windram, H., Scierka, B., & Siberglitt, B. (2007). Response to intervention at the secondary level: Two districts' models of implementation. Communiqué, 35(5).
*(Formal citation: Mellard, D.F., & Layland, D.A. with Parsons, B. (2008). RTI at the secondary level: A review of the literature. Lawrence, KS: National Center on Response to Intervention.)