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Implementing Response to Intervention: Challenges of Diversity and System Change in a High Stakes Environment


by Wendy Cavendish, Beth Harry, Ana Maria Menda, Anabel Espinosa & Margarette Mahotiere — 2016

Background: The Response to Intervention (RTI) approach involves the use of a dynamic model built around the systematic documentation of students’ response to research-based instructional interventions. Although there has been widespread implementation of RTI models for early intervention and in some cases, as a means to identify students with learning disabilities (LD), little has been published on teacher implementation of RTI in naturalistic school settings.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine the RTI implementation process in two culturally diverse, urban schools. The authors describe the process of large-scale RTI implementation through the lens of Systems Change Theory.

Research Design: This study of RTI in a naturalistic setting used grounded theory research methods to provide an in-depth description and qualitative analysis of challenges and successes experienced by RTI teams and teachers in schools required by state mandate to implement RTI. Data collection included semi-structured interviews and observations with 30 participants in two urban schools. Transcripts of interviews and field notes of direct observations were analyzed inductively through a four-tiered interpretive coding process that moved from the most concrete to more abstract levels of interpretation.

Conclusions: The present study highlights challenges related to changes in procedures for monitoring student responsiveness in an RTI system used for special education identification. The emergence of themes from observation and interview data revealed how professional development gaps, school personnel’s assumptions about culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) learners and families, and external pressures from district and state accountability systems affected RTI implementation across two schools. Our observations revealed confusion over the components for practice in RTI as well as a lack of understanding related to the purpose of RTI to potentially improve outcomes and reduce referrals to special education for CLD youth. The issues that emerged as barriers to implementation serve to identify the systemic change factors needed to support large-scale RTI implementation.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 5, 2016, p. 1-36
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 19364, Date Accessed: 10/20/2017 3:16:27 AM

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About the Author
  • Wendy Cavendish
    University of Miami
    E-mail Author
    WENDY CAVENDISH is an Associate Professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of Miami. Her research interests include school facilitation of the transition of students into and out of special education in urban schools, adolescent literacy, and teacher preparation. Her recent work on these topics has been published in the Journal of Learning Disabilities, Social Psychology of Education, and Teachers College Record.
  • Beth Harry
    University of Miami
    BETH HARRY is Professor of Special Education and Chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of Miami’s School of Education. Her teaching and research focus on issues of diversity and special education, the challenges of serving families of children with disabilities, and qualitative methods in educational research. She served on the National Academy of Sciences (2002) panel on ethnic disproportionality in special education and has published numerous articles and two books on that topic.
  • Ana Maria Menda
    University of Nevada
    E-mail Author
    ANA MARIA MENDA is an Assistant Professor of Educational and Clinical Studies in the College of Education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her research interests include early interventions for English learners, disproportionality of minority students in special education, English learners’ use of technology in the classroom, teachers’ understanding of assessment data for English learners, and the social and cultural aspects of minority languages within the school context.
  • Anabel Espinosa
    Florida State University
    E-mail Author
    ANABEL ESPINOSA is currently Project Coordinator with the Regional Education Laboratory Southeast and Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University. Her research interests include the intersection of special education and culturally and linguistically diverse learners, teachers’ educational beliefs, and tiered support systems.
  • Margarette Mahotiere
    University of Miami
    MARGARETTE MAHOTIERE is a Senior Research Associate and Project Coordinator at the University of Miami for “Reading Achievement Multi-Component Program (RAMP-UP),” a five-year study funded by the federal Institute of Educational Sciences. Her research interests include language acquisition among English language learners, as well as the interaction of culture, language and parental participation in special education among immigrants. Her most recent publications include “Negotiating a Sense of Identity in a Foreign Land: Navigating Public School Structures and Practices that Often Conflict with Haitian Culture and Values,” published in Urban Education.
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