The current paper pertains to the Response to Intervention (RTI) approach and its use in the general and special education settings. The paper consists of two main parts. In the first part, some theoretical framework is provided to describe the basis of RTI. Then, a review of the literature made with respect to several important topics related to RTI is supplied. Finally, some conclusions are made, and recommendations for future research are offered. On the whole, it is demonstrated that RTI is a complex, multi-component, and somewhat cumbersome, yet apparently effective method, and that it requires solid preparation of educators to be implemented properly, as well as further scientific evidence about best practices within the RTI approach for greater simplicity and effectiveness.
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On the other hand, the second part is a research proposal that offers to conduct a study among special education pre-service teachers so as to explore their concerns about RTI method. It is suggested to survey a sample of such teachers, asking them about how concerned they are about several issues, and then to compare the results to find out which problems they are most worried about. This may allow for revealing the weaker areas in the way in which special education teachers are currently prepared for the role they are to play in RTI.
The issues considered in this paper are important because RTI is a method which apparently yields highly positive results when it comes to early detection of and averting learning difficulties in children. Empirical significance of the current paper is conditioned by the fact that some evidence gathered in multiple studies is summarized, whereas its theoretical importance is related to the provided review of the literature and to the outlined directions of future research. Finally, the practical contribution of the paper pertains to the demonstration of the areas which should be improved in teacher education (general educators are discussed in Part I, whereas a proposal to study special educators is made in Part II), and to the issues which teachers implementing RTI in schools are faced with.
Definitions of the theoretical framework differ in literature, are often vague and not always consistent (Anfara & Mertz, 2006). According to Anfara and Mertz (2006), a theoretical framework is “any empirical or quasi-empirical theory of social and/or social processes… that can be applied to the understanding of phenomena” (p. xxvii). It is derived from “the concepts, terms, definitions, models, and theories of a particular literature base and disciplinary orientation” (as cited in Anfara & Mertz, 2006, p. xxiii). Thus, the basis for the RTI method, as well as some of its key features, should be described.
RTI functions within the field formed by the implementation of the assumption that children who experience particularly serious difficulties in achieving K-12 education (due to a variety of reasons) should be provided with more specifically targeted education, which is more suited to address their needs resulting from these difficulties in achieving education than the regular education (Moats, Kukic, & Pasternak, n.d.).
One of the more specific assumptions for the RTI is that such children can and should be detected early (earlier than the previously used methods allow), and that their difficulties with education ought to be addressed quickly, either to prevent these difficulties from becoming more serious and to permit these kids to return to the normal instruction or to conclude that a particular child should be provided with special education (Moats et al., n.d.).
RTI itself is an approach to detecting children with special educational needs, identifying the problematic areas of knowledge, and addressing these needs promptly (Bineham, Shelby, Pazey, & Yates, 2014, p. 231; Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009, pp. 31-33). Its key elements include high-quality classroom instruction based on research, continuous student assessment, multi-tiered instruction, and parent involvement (Ridgeway, Price, Simpson, & Rose, 2012, p. 84; “What Is RTI?” n.d.). It is divided into 3 tiers: a) high-quality instruction in the classroom, monitoring, and group intervention; b) targeted interventions for students with learning difficulties; c) intensive interventions for learners with crucial learning difficulties, and comprehensive assessment of these students (“What Is RTI?” n.d.).
Thus, RTI is an approach of paramount importance, for it allows for identifying children needing educational assistance early, and tailoring instruction for them, probably permitting them to avoid being referred to the special education setting (Hoover & Love, 2011). In fact, according to Bineham et al. (2014), it is reported that RTI has lowered the number of referrals to special education considerably (p. 231).
General Review of Literature
The review of literature will be based on four main themes: the use of RTI in general and special education, the main concerns in RTI implementation for general education teachers, the challenges emerging while implementing RTI, and the issues that pre-service teachers face while using RTI.
The use of RTI in general and special education settings
From the review of the literature, it is apparent that RTI is not directly used in the special education setting, for it is more suitable for identifying children with educational issues and taking prompt remedying action (Kuo, 2014, p. 611) rather than constantly teaching children with the need for special education. However, it is stated that RTI has caused the borders separating special and general education to blur, for general education teachers find themselves obliged to deal with what is, in fact, special education issues (Barrio & Combes, 2015, p. 122), and special education teachers have to constantly collaborate with general educators and provide guidance (Swanson, Solis, Ciullo, & McKenna, 2012, pp. 120-121).
Also, RTI is important for special education as a method of identification of learning issues and prevention of referrals (although it should be noted that RTI is not a tool for establishing a learning disability).
Main concerns of general education teachers pertaining to the use of RTI
Numerous concerns pertaining to the use of RTI model in the general education setting have been raised and reported in the literature on the topic. Bineham et al. (2014) provide an overview of these concerns (p. 232); these include:
- The low validity of treatment procedures provided in RTI;
- The dearth of existing interventions which are based on research;
- Confusion and misunderstanding which may emerge in the process of identification of disability;
- The vagueness of the definition of RTI itself;
- The dearth of well-defined methods and criteria which should be utilized in the process of RTI implementation and children assessment;
- The lack of sufficient professional development for teachers implementing RTI;
- The overall need for additional research pertaining to the development and use of RTI methods in situations that can be described as large-scale;
Also, the concerns about fidelity of RTI implementation (Castillo et al., 2015, p. 22); the use of RTI for students whose first language is not English (Greenfield, Rinaldi, Proctor, & Cardarelli, 2010, p. 56); the overall effectiveness of the RTI method (Ridgeway et al., 2012, p. 89), and so on, are mentioned in the literature as well.
It is apparent that the named concerns originate from the fact that the method of RTI is relatively new in educational practice (although its origins have been traced back to 1982 by Bineham et al. (2014, p. 232)) and has been used widely since 2004, when Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was reauthorized (Fletcher & Vaughn, 2009, pp. 30-31); as well as from the fact that RTI pertains to a very wide area (that is, it can be used for identifying and helping children with a wide range of educational subjects), consequently being quite broad and general rather than specific and area-related.
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This means that there has not been much time to gather sufficient scientific evidence to address all the problematic areas of RTI yet. In addition, because the wide-scale implementation of RTI has only been started recently (Moats et al., n.d.), the practice-based evidence pertaining to the use of RTI in the general education setting is also quite limited.
Challenges when implementing RTI
Having taken into account what has been said in the previous subsection, one should not be surprised that there exists a wide range of challenges related to the implementation of RTI in the educational setting. For instance, as has been noted, Barrio and Combes (2015) state that RTI has blurred the borders between general and special education, in fact forcing general teachers to participate in special education (p. 122), which is a challenge for general educators who have not had sufficient training in this area. Another challenge is related to determining the quality and quantity of group, targeted, and intensive interventions for learners who have shown the need in these (Barrio & Combes, 2015, p. 122).
Swanson et al. (2012) report some more challenges directly related to the practical aspects of the use of RTI in the general education setting (pp. 120-121). For instance, it is stated that RTI strains the schedules of teachers and results in a major additional amount of paperwork to be done, adding to the volume of educators’ responsibilities. Another problem that was often mentioned by teachers is scheduling; it is difficult to coordinate interventions for multiple students who require these interventions (Swanson et al., 2012).
RTI-related issues faced by pre-service teachers
There also exist problems that pre-service teachers face in relation to RTI. According to Barrio and Combes (2015), the following concerns pertaining to pre-service teachers can be mentioned (pp. 122-123):
- Increased expectations towards pre-service teachers and the resulting need to enhance their knowledge and skills lead to the situation in which pre-service educators are concerned about the adequacy of preparation that they receive;
- Concerns about “teaching strategies, planning and organization, behavior management, collaboration, and working with diverse students and families” also exist (Barrio & Combes, 2015, p. 122);
- Pre-service educators also worry about classroom behavior and management.
On the whole, it should be stressed that pre-service teachers are very often faced with the need to receive additional instruction regarding the use of RTI (Harvey, Yssel, & Jones, 2015, p. 107), and its integration with other innovative educational techniques (Myers, Simonsen, & Sugai, 2011). Because RTI is a complicated, multi-leveled approach, because it is often defined rather vaguely, and because it is difficult to find appropriate guidelines pertaining to the practical implementation of RTI, solid preparation of pre-service teachers to the utilization of RTI in the field is of paramount importance if the issues related to RTI are to be appropriately addressed.
Conclusions and Recommendations for Future Research
All in all, it can be seen that RTI is a method that is stated to be effective in the literature, but is complex, somewhat cumbersome, and often vague, which makes its implementation difficult for teachers without solid preparation. Further research is needed to develop more concrete methods of the use of RTI in separate fields, and to supply general educators with better guidelines for RTI implementation. Also, the views of special education teachers and their concerns could be explored further to reveal some additional insights into the topic; one way to do so is suggested below. In addition, it should be stressed that pre-service teachers ought to be supplied with sufficient preparation for using RTI in schools, and to combining it with other innovative educational techniques.
The research proposal that follows offers to investigate the concerns of pre-service special education teachers pertaining to RTI (response to intervention) methods. More specifically, it is suggested to collect data about different concerns that these pre-service teachers have and compare the levels of how concerned they are about different issues.
The proposed study will contribute to the pool of knowledge in the field of special education by providing information about what the pre-service special education teachers are worried about the most when it comes to RTI. Such information may have practical implications about these teachers’ training and field practice by highlighting the areas of such training that might need improvement.
Review of Literature: Concerns of Special Education Teachers About RTI
According to the research literature, RTI usually is not directly employed in the special education setting (Kuo, 2014, p. 611). However, as has been previously noted, general education teachers using RTI are, in fact, forced to deal with issues pertaining to the sphere of special education (Barrio & Combes, 2015, p. 122), which means that they often require guidance and collaboration of their colleagues from the special education field (Swanson, Solis, Ciullo, & McKenna, 2012, pp. 120-121).
Also, they often may need additional instruction about the use of RTI (Harvey, Yssel, & Jones, 2015), as well as about its integration with other educational techniques (Myers, Simonsen, & Sugai, 2011). Once again, it means that special education teachers should be able to provide such guidance and collaboration related to the implementation of RTI in the general education setting even for the most experienced general service teachers, who, however, often have little specific knowledge in the special education field (Bineham, Shelby, Pazey, & Yates, 2014).
As a result, special education teachers are required to have an in-depth understanding of the principles, methods, and nuances of RTI so as to be able to provide the above-mentioned guidance for their colleagues. Therefore, if special education teachers have concerns pertaining to RTI, these concerns should be addressed, so that these teachers would be able to offer competent assistance to their general education colleagues.
A search for literature related to the concerns of special education teachers (both pre-service and practicing) with respect to RTI showed that such concerns have been researched quite poorly. However, some studies have proposed a number of issues that pre-service general education teachers are worried about. These include: a) limited knowledge and preparedness that these teachers have, and increased expectations that they face; b) the knowledge of teaching strategies and the ability to use them; c) the ability to plan and organize; d) the ability to work with diverse students; e) the ability to collaborate (Barrio & Combes, 2015, pp. 122-123).
Given the important role of special education teachers in RTI implementation, investigating this issue further is paramount. To do so, it might be possible to assess how concerned the pre-service special education teachers are when it comes to the issues that pre-service general educators are worried about, which will be the goal of the proposed study.
In order to ensure that the research is ethically appropriate, the approval of the university’s ethics committee will be obtained prior to conducting this study. In addition, all the participants of the study will be provided with information about informed consent, and will be either asked to sign it, or it will be stated that by completing the survey they confirm that they give their informed consent about their participation in the study.
It should also be stressed that all the respondents will be surveyed anonymously and remotely; it is possible that only basic demographic and professional information (e.g., gender, age, year of study, etc.) will be gathered. It might be possible to state that other than that, only the opinions about professional issues will be collected. Therefore, the study should not cause any trouble related to ethics.
The participants for this study will be recruited from special education departments in a number of universities in such states as Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. The surveys will be sent to these departments, and it will be asked that pre-service teachers complete these surveys. Preference will be given to junior and senior students, for these have greater experience of studying at university and might be better able to assess the problems that students are faced with in the professional field.
The data will be collected from participants using surveys as the instrument. The surveys will be specifically created for this research; apart from probable demographical questions, they will comprise a number of questions asking the respondents to assess their levels of concern related to several issues pertaining to RTI that they might be worried about. The issues will be taken from the studies of pre-service general education teachers; they were named in the previous section (e.g., the limited knowledge and preparedness; the ability to collaborate; etc.). The levels of concern will be assessed using a 7-point Likert scale (1 = very concerned, 7 = very confident). However, in order to establish a better control over the adequacy of the responses, the researcher might want to formulate a number of questions in a way which would make them reversed.
The data will be collected from the participants, transferred into the electronic format, and coded; the cases will be enumerated. The data will be analyzed utilizing the IBM SPSS Statistics software (George & Mallery, 2016). The variables describing the levels of concern will be used in the analysis; because they will be measured on a Likert scale, they will be, strictly speaking, ordinal; but it is a common practice to treat Likert-based variables as ones having an interval/ratio level of measurement (Field, 2013).
Therefore, it will be possible to compare the variables using statistical tests. More specifically, a one-way analysis of variance with repeated measures will be conducted in order to compare the levels of concern of participants with respect to the issues asked about in the surveys. This statistical test was chosen because it permits for comparing the means of several variables in the same group of participants (Warner, 2013).
It should be stressed that the data will only be collected once, but the participants will answer a number of questions, each of which will correspond to a different variable in the data file. After that, it will be needed to compare the means of these variables. However, in SPSS, a one-way ANOVA compares the mean values of different groups of respondents on a single variable (Warner, 2013), which is why it is inappropriate in this case.
On the other hand, a one-way ANOVA with repeated measures (in SPSS: Analyze → General Linear Model → Repeated Measures) allows for comparing the means of several variables for a single group of participants, and the responses can be gathered at one point of time (Laerd Statistics, 2013; Warner, 2013). Even though the test contains the words “repeated measures,” it does not require that all the participants are measured on only one variable at several points of time (Laerd Statistics, 2013).
It only compares the means of several variables, and it does not matter for the test if the input variables are the same variable measured at different points of time, or if they are different variables measured simultaneously. Therefore, this test is appropriate in the given case, even though the participants will only be measured once. Thus, running a one-way ANOVA with repeated measures will permit for finding out whether there was a statistically significant difference in the levels of concern of participants about different issues, and for understanding what issues they were worried about the most.
Therefore, the research design of the proposed study will be correlational; the observational subtype of the correlational design will be used, and a cross-sectional study (a subtype of an observational research) will be conducted (Ary, Jacobs, Sorensen, & Walker, 2014, pp. 398-404). As a result, control groups, pre-test – post-test procedures, and so on, will not be employed in the proposed study.
It is also possible to carry out a pilot study prior to conducting the main study. For instance, the author of this proposal may be able to ask his colleagues from his university to participate in the pilot study. In addition, the surveys for the pilot study may also include an open question allowing the respondents to indicate other concerns pertaining to RTI implementation that they have, if any. If some additional issues are indicated multiple times, the author might consider including them into the questionnaire for the main study as well.
Planned Discussion, Limitations, and Weaknesses
The results of the proposed study might reveal which issues the pre-service special education teachers are most concerned about when it comes to the implementation of RTI methods in the general education setting. The discussion which will follow will depend on the results of the study, for the practical recommendations that will be made will be based on the gained response to the question about what concrete issues the pre-service special education teachers are most worried about.
It should be stressed that the proposed study has a number of limitations and weaknesses. One of the main weaknesses is that the concerns of pre-service special education teachers with respect to RTI are poorly researched, and, in fact, the concerns asked about in the surveys will be taken from studies of general education teachers. Therefore, it might be possible to miss several important issues that they are worried about and not include them in the surveys for the final study.
This weakness is also related to the major limitation pertaining to the use of the one-way ANOVA with repeated measures in the study; while the test can compare scores on a large number of variables, using a high quantity of variables will make the results of the test cumbersome and difficult to interpret, so the researcher will be limited to asking about 5 (or probably 6) main concerns in the surveys.
On the whole, however, it is hoped that, despite the limitations, the proposed study may be able to shed some light on the concerns of pre-service special education teachers when it comes to their roles in implementation of RTI.
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