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May 2018

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We are looking at the comparison of student achievement increases based on these two interventions (Co-Teaching or MTSS/RTII). Which intervention results in the highest student achievement or highest effect size?


Thank you for the question you submitted to our REL Reference Desk regarding the student achievement results of interventions. We have prepared the following memo with research references to help answer your question. The resources identified do not directly address the question of which intervention results in higher achievement, but they do examine the achievement outcomes of students that participate in one of the interventions. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. The references are selected from the most commonly used research resources and may not be comprehensive. Other relevant studies may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

  1. Al Otaiba, S., Kim, Y., Wanzek, J., Petscher, Y., & Wagner, R.K. (2014). Long-term effects of first-grade multitier intervention. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 7(3), 250-267.
    From the abstract: “The purpose of this study was to compare the long-term effects of 2 first-grade Response to Intervention (RTI) models (Dynamic and Typical RTI) on the reading performance of students in second and third grade. Participants included 419 first-grade students (352 in second grade and 278 in third grade after attrition). Students were classified based on first-grade screeners as at risk or not at risk and then based on their RTI (no risk [NR], relative easy to remediate [ER], and requiring sustained remediation [SR]). Students in the dynamic RTI condition had higher reading comprehension scores at the end of third grade. At the end of second grade, ER and SR students had lower reading scores than NR students. At the end of third grade, there were no differences in reading skills between ER and NR students, but SR students had lower scores than NR students. ER students in the dynamic RTI condition had higher reading scores at the end of second grade than those in the typical RTI condition. Limitations and directions for future research are discussed.”
  2. Balu, R., Zhu, P., Doolittle, F., Schiller, E., Jenkins, J., & Gersten, R. (2015). Evaluation of Response to Intervention Practices for Elementary School Reading. NCEE 2016-4000. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.
    From the abstract: “Response to Intervention (RtI) is a framework for collecting and using data to match students to interventions of varying intensity. This study examines the implementation of RtI in Grade 1-3 reading in 13 states during the 2011-12 school year, focusing on 146 schools that were experienced with RtI. Full implementation of the RtI framework in Grade 1-3 reading was reported by 86 percent of the experienced schools. Fifty-five percent of these schools focused reading intervention services on Grade 1 students reading below grade level, while 45 percent of the schools also provided reading intervention services for Grade 1 students reading at or above grade level. Students who scored just below school-determined benchmarks on fall screening tests, and who were assigned to interventions for struggling readers, had lower spring reading scores in Grade 1 than students just above the threshold for intervention. In Grades 2 and 3, there were no statistically significant impacts of interventions for struggling readers on the spring reading scores of students just below the threshold for intervention.”
  3. Clarke, B., Doabler, C.T., Smolkowski, K., Baker, S.K., Fien, H., Cary, M.S. (2016). Examining the efficacy of a tier 2 kindergarten mathematics intervention. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 49(2), 152-165.
    From the abstract: “This study examined the efficacy of a Tier 2 kindergarten mathematics intervention program, ROOTS, focused on developing whole number understanding for students at risk in mathematics. A total of 29 classrooms were randomly assigned to treatment (ROOTS) or control (standard district practices) conditions. Measures of mathematics achievement were collected at pretest and posttest. Treatment and control students did not differ on mathematics assessments at pretest. Gain scores of at-risk intervention students were significantly greater than those of control peers, and the gains of at-risk treatment students were greater than the gains of peers not at risk, effectively reducing the achievement gap. Implications for Tier 2 mathematics instruction in a response to intervention (RtI) model are discussed.”
  4. Freeman, J., Simonsen, B., McCoach, D.B., Sugai, G., Lombardi, A., & Horner, R. (2016). Relationship between school-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports and academic, attendance, and behavior outcomes in high schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 8(1), 41-51 Jan 2016
    From the abstract: “Attendance, behavior, and academic outcomes are important indicators of school effectiveness and long-term student outcomes. Multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), such as School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS), have emerged as potentially effective frameworks for addressing student needs and improving student outcomes. Much of the research on SWPBIS outcomes has taken place at the elementary and middle school levels, leaving a need for a more thorough examination of outcomes at the high school level. The purpose of this study was to explore the links between implementation of SWPBIS and academic, attendance, and behavior outcome measures across a large sample of high schools from 37 states. Despite some of the difficulties of SWPBIS implementation at the high school level, evidence suggests positive relationships between SWPBIS implementation and outcomes in behavior and attendance for high schools that implement with fidelity.”
  5. Gersten, R., Beckmann, S., Clarke, B., Foegen, A., Marsh, L., Star, J. R., & Witzel, B. (2009). Assisting students struggling with mathematics: Response to Intervention (RtI) for elementary and middle schools (NCEE 2009-4060). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.
    From the abstract: “Students struggling with mathematics may benefit from early interventions aimed at improving their mathematics ability and ultimately preventing subsequent failure. This guide provides eight specific recommendations intended to help teachers, principals, and school administrators use Response to Intervention (RtI) to identify students who need assistance in mathematics and to address the needs of these students through focused interventions. The guide provides suggestions on how to carry out each recommendation and explains how educators can overcome potential roadblocks to implementing the recommendations. Each recommendation is rated strong, moderate, or low based on the strength of the research evidence for the respective recommendation. Specific recommendations include: (1) Screen all students to identify those at risk for potential mathematics difficulties and provide interventions to students identified as at risk; (2) Committee-selected instructional materials for students receiving interventions should focus intensely on in-depth treatment of whole numbers in kindergarten through grade 5 and on rational numbers in grades 4 through 8; (3) Instruction during intervention should be explicit and systematic, and should include models of proficient problem solving, verbalization of thought processes, guided practice, corrective feedback, and frequent cumulative review; (4) Interventions should include instruction on solving word problems that is based on common underlying structures; (5) Intervention materials should include opportunities for students to work with visual representations of mathematical ideas and interventionists should be proficient in the use of visual representations of mathematical ideas; (6) Interventions at all grade levels should devote about 10 minutes in each session to building fluent retrieval of basic arithmetic facts; (7) Monitor the progress of students receiving supplemental instruction and other students who are at risk; and (8) Include motivational strategies in tier 2 and tier 3 interventions.”
  6. Gersten, R., Compton, D., Connor, C.M., Dimino, J., Santoro, L., Linan-Thompson, S., and Tilly, W.D. (2009). Assisting students struggling with reading: Response to Intervention and multi-tier intervention for reading in the primary grades. A practice guide. (NCEE 2009- 4045). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.
    From the abstract: “Response to Intervention (RtI) is a comprehensive early detection and prevention strategy that identifies struggling students and assists them before they fall behind. RtI systems combine universal screening and high-quality instruction for all students with interventions targeted at struggling students. This guide offers five specific recommendations to help educators identify struggling readers and implement evidence-based strategies to promote their reading achievement. Teachers and reading specialists can utilize these strategies to implement RtI and multi-tier intervention methods and frameworks at the classroom or school level. Recommendations cover how to screen students for reading problems, design a multi-tier intervention program, adjust instruction to help struggling readers, and monitor student progress. Note that this guide focuses on screening and interventions for struggling readers; it does not provide recommendations for general classroom reading instruction.”
  7. Gersten, R., Newman-Gonchar, R., Haymond, K.S., & Dimino, J. (2017). What is the evidence base to support reading interventions for improving student outcomes in grades 1- 3? (REL 2017-271). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast.
    From the abstract: “Response to intervention (RTI) is a comprehensive early detection and prevention strategy used to identify and support struggling students before they fall behind. An RTI model usually has three tiers or levels of support. Tier 1 is generally defined as classroom instruction provided to all students, tier 2 is typically a preventive intervention offered to students who fall behind when given only classroom instruction, and tier 3 is more intensive intervention offered to students who failed to respond to the supports in tiers 1 and 2. This review provides updated information on the evidence supporting the use of reading interventions for students who are at risk of reading difficulty in grades 1-3. … The purpose of the review was to assess the current evidence base on the use of reading interventions for improving student outcomes in grades 1-3. The review was limited to studies of tier 2 interventions, those designed to provide preventive services to students at risk of struggling with typical classroom reading instruction. It did not include studies whose subject was intensive (tier 3) intervention--that is, studies geared to students who require more than tier 2 support. The literature search and review identified 27 efficacy studies that the review team determined met What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) evidence standards either with or without reservations (What Works Clearinghouse, 2014a). Of the 27 studies, 23 compared the performance of students who received the intervention with the performance of students who did not. …Key findings from the 23 efficacy studies of the 20 interventions include: (1) All but 1 of the 20 interventions demonstrated positive or potentially positive effects in at least one of the four areas of reading performance: word and pseudoword reading, passage reading fluency, reading comprehension, and vocabulary. Effects were strongest and most consistent in word and pseudoword reading, though some interventions also had effects in reading comprehension and passage reading fluency. No effects were found in vocabulary; (2) All 11 of the individually administered interventions and 8 of 9 of the small-group interventions resulted in positive or potentially positive effects; and (3) All 20 interventions included high levels of ongoing support for the teachers, paraeducators, volunteers, and other adults who worked with students. Though the reviewed studies showed that 19 of the 20 reading interventions were effective, most of the interventions included a component that is atypical of current school practice: ongoing support for the interventionist (the teacher, paraeducator, or member of the research staff responsible for delivering the intervention). In addition, the majority of interventions involved individual (one-on-one) interventions, as opposed to typical school implementations, which involve small groups of three to five students. When considering how to use these findings, it is important to consider that these studies do not reflect typical school practice, where weekly or biweekly monitoring of fidelity of implementation and onsite coaching are rarely available.”
  8. Hang, Q., & Rabren, K. (2009). An examination of co-teaching: Perspectives and efficacy indicators. Remedial and Special Education, 30(5), 259-268.
    From the abstract: “Co-teaching has been developed as an instructional approach to support students with disabilities in general education classrooms. The purpose of this study was to identify teachers' and students' perspectives of co-teaching and the efficacy of this teaching approach. Forty-five co-teachers and 58 students with disabilities (N = 103), all of whom were new to co-taught classrooms during the 2004 through 2005 school year, participated in this study. Data were collected from surveys, observations, and records review. Significant differences in student academic and behavioral performances were found in comparisons between the year before co-teaching and the year of co-teaching. Students with disabilities and their teachers also reported positive perspectives about co-teaching. Based on these preliminary results, co-teaching appears to be an effective instructional delivery option for meeting the needs of students with disabilities in general education classrooms.”
  9. Powell, S.R., Fuchs, L.S., Cirino, P.T., Fuchs, D., Compton, D.L., & Changas, P.C. (2015). Effects of a multi-tier support system on calculation, word problem, and prealgebraic performance among at-risk learners. Exceptional Children, 81(4), 443-470.
    From the abstract: “The focus of the present study was enhancing word problem and calculation achievement in ways that support prealgebraic thinking among second-grade students at risk for mathematics difficulty. Intervention relied on a multitier support system (i.e., responsiveness to intervention, or RTI) in which at-risk students participate in general classroom instruction and receive supplementary small-group tutoring. Participants were 265 students in 110 classrooms in 25 schools. Teachers were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: calculation RTI, word problem RTI, or business-as-usual control. Intervention lasted 17 weeks. Multilevel modeling indicated that calculation RTI improved calculation but not word problem outcomes, word problem RTI enhanced proximal word problem outcomes as well as performance on some calculation outcomes, and word problem RTI provided a stronger route than calculation RTI to prealgebraic knowledge.”
  10. Tremblay, P. (2013). Comparative outcomes of two instructional models for students with learning disabilities: Inclusion with co-teaching and solo-taught special education. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 13(4), 251-258.
    From the abstract: “We compared two instructional models (co-teaching inclusion and solotaught special education) for students with learning disabilities (LD) with regard to their effect on academic achievement and class attendance. Twelve inclusive classes (experimental group) and 13 special education classes (control group) participated in the study. In grade 1, there were eight inclusive classes and nine special education classes with a total of 353 students (195 without disabilities, 58 with LD in inclusion and 100 with LD in special education classes). The data were collected from academic tests. Although our results revealed no significant difference between the two models in terms of target population, objectives and assigned resources, significant differences were observed in the effects on student outcomes in reading/writing and on attendance, as the inclusion model was shown to be globally more effective compared with the special education setting.”
  11. Westenskow, A., Moyer-Packenham, P.S., & Child, B. (2017). An iceberg model for improving mathematical understanding and mindset or disposition: An individualized summer intervention program. Journal of Education, 197(1), 1-9.
    From the abstract: “This study describes 3 years of mathematics intervention research examining the effectiveness of a summer individualized tutoring program for rising fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade students with low mathematics achievement. Based on an iceberg model of learning, an instructional framework was developed that identified and targeted students' specific mathematical needs, developed number sense flexibility, and encouraged positive mindset or disposition. Students participated in eight one-on-one tutoring intervention sessions. Pre- and posttest results indicated that students made moderate to large effect size gains in each targeted area of instruction. Additionally, the intervention proved to produce positive results across three different contexts for delivering tutoring instruction.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

  • Kansas MTSS:
    From the website: “Kansas Technical Assistance System Network (TASN) provides technical assistance to support school districts' systematic implementation of evidence-based practices.”
  • National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE):
    From the website: “Since 1938, NASDSE has provided leadership to ensure the provision of a quality education to every child. NASDSE focuses on improving educational services and outcomes for children and youth with disabilities throughout the United States, the Department of Defense, the federal territories and the Freely Associated States of Palau, American Samoa, Micronesia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Marshall Islands. As NASDSE enters its 80th year, we continue our work with state education agencies (SEAs) to make certain that every student with a disability receives the educational supports and services needed from birth to be prepared for postschool education, employment and independent living choices.”
  • National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET):
    From the website: “The National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) is a national membership organization dedicated to rendering all possible support and assistance to those preparing for or teaching in the field of special education. NASET was founded to promote the profession of special education teachers and to provide a national forum for their ideas.”
  • RTI Action Network:
    From the website: “The RTI Action Network is dedicated to the effective implementation of Response to Intervention (RTI) in school districts nationwide. Our goal is to guide educators and families in the large-scale implementation of RTI so that each child has access to quality instruction and that struggling students – including those with learning and attention issues – are identified early and receive the necessary supports to be successful. The RTI Action Network is a program of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, funded by the Cisco Foundation and in partnership with the nation’s leading education associations and top RTI experts.”
  • National Center on Intensive Intervention at AIR:
    From the website: “NCII builds the capacity of state and local education agencies, universities, practitioners, and other stakeholders to support implementation of intensive intervention in literacy, mathematics, and behavior for students with severe and persistent learning and/or behavioral needs, often in the context of their multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) or special education services. NCII’s approach to intensive intervention is data-based individualization (DBI), a research-based process that integrates the systemic use of assessment data, validated interventions, and intensification strategies.”


Search Strings. MTSS RTI co-teaching achievement OR MTSS RTI co-teaching effect size OR MTSS RTI co-teaching student outcomes OR co-teaching intervention academic achievement OR MTSS academic achievement OR RTI academic achievement

Searched Databases and Resources.

  • ERIC
  • Academic Databases (e.g., EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, ProQuest, Google Scholar)
  • Commercial search engines (e.g., Google)
  • Institute of Education Sciences Resources

Reference Search and Selection Criteria. The following factors are considered when selecting references:

  • Date of Publication: Priority is given to references published in the past 10 years.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: ERIC, other academic databases, Institute of Education Sciences Resources, and other resources including general internet searches
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study types, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, as well as to surveys, descriptive analyses, and literature reviews. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality.

REL Mid-Atlantic serves the education needs of Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

This Ask A REL was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0006 by Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic administered by Mathematica Policy Research. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.