Skip Navigation
Funding Opportunities | Search Funded Research Grants and Contracts

IES Grant

Title: Project FOCUS: Exploring Response to Intervention with a Focus on Students Receiving Tier 3 and Special Education for Reading Disabilities
Center: NCSER Year: 2016
Principal Investigator: Al Otaiba, Stephanie Awardee: Southern Methodist University
Program: Systems, Policy, and Finance      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/1/2016-6/30/2020) Award Amount: $1,600,000
Type: Exploration Award Number: R324A160132

Co-Principal Investigators: Jill Allor, Akihito Kamata, and Paul Yovanoff

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to explore the relationship between schools' RTI (Response to Intervention) implementation and teachers' RTI knowledge and student outcomes. There will be a particular focus on students receiving Tier 3 interventions and students with reading disabilities in special education (i.e., students with IEPs in reading). Although RTI is widely used, research suggests that Tier 3 intervention implementation is highly variable and its relation to special education is inconsistent, with special education functioning as Tier 3 in some instances and outside of RTI in others. Taken together, this variability may result in less effective Tier 3 and special education for students with the most significant needs. The current study aims to capitalize on the authentic variability in RTI implementation to better understand the malleable factors that are associated with positive student outcomes. The anticipated results of this study are expected to inform the development of interventions that promote the teacher knowledge and school supports that are necessary to effectively implement RTI and improve student outcomes.

Project Activities: The research team will investigate relations between RTI implementation and teachers' knowledge of RTI and student outcomes by collecting and analyzing data from schools, teachers, and students. In each of the first 3 years of the project, schools will provide information on RTI implementation through structured interviews and provide data on students' oral reading fluency through standardized measures. Within the participating schools, general and special education teachers will complete surveys regarding their knowledge of RTI. The research team will also conduct observations to describe the content, instructional grouping, amount, and quality of instruction and intensive intervention provided to focal students receiving Tier 3 or with reading disabilities.

Products: The products of this project will include preliminary evidence of an association between a key set of malleable factors related to RTI implementation and positive student outcomes; a better understanding of the content, amount, grouping, and quality of instruction and intervention provided to students receiving Tier 3 or with reading disabilities; peer-reviewed publications; and presentations.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The research will take place in elementary schools in the following states that participate in the National Center for Leadership in Intensive Intervention (NCLII) consortium: Connecticut, Illinois, Minnesota, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

Sample: Approximately 90 elementary schools that are implementing RTI, 720 general and special education teachers, and 36,000 students in Grades 1–5 will participate in this study. Students will either have a reading disability or will be receiving Tier 1, 2, or 3 intervention.

Intervention: The research team is examining RTI, a comprehensive early detection and prevention system that includes five core components—universal screening, progress monitoring, high-quality core instruction, increasingly intensive tiers of intervention, and fidelity of implementation—to identify students who are struggling and intervene before they fall behind their peers.

Research Design and Methods: Schools that meet inclusion criteria (e.g., public school implementing RTI, conducting universal screening with the measure of interest) will provide student oral reading fluency data from the beginning and end of the school year and participate in structured interviews to provide information regarding RTI implementation. General and special educators will complete a survey about their knowledge of RTI. Additionally, the research team will conduct observations of instruction and intervention provided to 10 focal students per school in Tier 3 or with reading disabilities (two students per grade level) per year. These data will be used to examine: (a) whether RTI implementation and teachers' RTI knowledge are associated with student outcomes and whether relations differ for students in Tier 1 vs. Tiers 2, 3, or students with reading disabilities in Tier 1; (b) whether the above relations are moderated by student grade and school risk (defined as the percentage of students receiving free and reduced price lunch, percentage of students with English as a second language, and percentage of students from minority backgrounds); and (c) whether RTI implementation mediates relations between the teachers' RTI knowledge and student outcomes or whether teachers' knowledge mediates the relation between RTI implementation and student outcomes. Additionally, observational data will be used to describe the content, grouping, amount, and quality of reading instruction and intensive intervention provided to students in Tier 3 or with reading disabilities.

Control Condition: Due to the nature of the research design, there is no control condition.

Key Measures: School RTI implementation will be measured through structured interviews with the RTI leadership team using the Essential Components Integrity Worksheet. This worksheet was developed by the National Center on Response to Intervention and assesses six RTI components (i.e., Screening & Progress Monitoring, Data-based Decision Making, Multi-tiered Intervention, Intensive Intervention, Fidelity and Evaluation, and Infrastructure and Support Mechanisms). Teacher RTI knowledge will be measured through teacher surveys. The content, instructional grouping, and quality of reading instruction and intervention will be assessed using the observation measure, Instructional Content Emphasis Instrument-Revised. Schools will provide the key student outcome, oral reading fluency, which may be assessed by any of the following standardized measures: Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, AIMSWeb, and easyCBM.

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers will conduct analyses using hierarchical linear modeling, with students clustered within schools. First, researchers will test the direct effects of teachers' knowledge about RTI and RTI implementation on end-of-year student oral reading fluency, controlling for initial scores. They will examine whether these relations are the same for students in Tier 1 vs. students in Tiers 2, 3 or students with reading disabilities in Tier 1. Next, they will test potential moderators and mediators. To test whether RTI implementation mediates the relation between teachers' knowledge of RTI and student oral reading fluency and whether teachers' knowledge mediates the effect of RTI implementation on student oral reading fluency, the researchers will use the difference-in-coefficients method and examine the product of two indirect path coefficients. Moderation analyses will be conducted to determine if the direct effects of RTI implementation and teachers' RTI knowledge on student oral reading fluency depend on student grade and school risk. Finally, the research team will conduct descriptive analyses of quantitative ratings as well as qualitative coding of observations and field notes to identify themes related to content, grouping, and quality of core reading instruction and reading intervention.


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Lemons, C. J., Allor, J., Al Otaiba, S., and LeJeune, L.M. (2016). 10 Research-Based Tips for Enhancing Literacy Instruction for Students with Intellectual Disability. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 49(1): 18–30. doi:10.1177/0040059916662202 Full text

Lemons, C.J., Al Otaiba, S., Conway, S.J., and Mellado De La Cruz, V. (2016). Improving Professional Development to Enhance Reading Outcomes for Students in Special Education. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 154: 87–104. doi:10.1002/cad.20177/abstract