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Evaluation of Response to Intervention Practices for Elementary School Reading

Contract Information

Current Status:

This study has been completed.


March 2008 – March 2016



Contract Number:



SRI International
Instructional Research Group
Survey Research Management


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) is the most recent authorization of a law passed in 1975 to promote a free appropriate public education for children with disabilities. Funded at $12.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2015, IDEA supports early intervention services for infants and toddlers, special education services for children ages 3 through 21, and early intervening services for students not in special education but in need of academic or behavioral support.

Response to Intervention (RtI) is a multi-step approach to providing early and more intensive intervention and monitoring within the general education setting. In principle, RtI begins with research-based instruction and behavioral support provided to students in the general education classroom, followed by screening of all students to identify those who may need systematic progress monitoring, intervention, or support. Students who are not responding to the general education curriculum and instruction are provided with increasingly intense interventions through a "tiered" system, and they are frequently monitored to assess their progress and inform the choice of future interventions, including possibly special education for students determined to have a disability. The 2004 authorization of IDEA permits some Part B special education funds to be used for "early intervening services" such as RtI, and also permit districts to use RtI to inform decisions regarding a child's eligibility for special education. The purpose of this study—conducted as part of the National Assessment of IDEA under Section 664 of IDEA 2004 to assess the implementation and effectiveness of key programs and services supported under the law—was to provide information on the implementation and impacts of RtI practices.

  • How did Response to Intervention practices for early grade reading vary across schools?
  • How did schools experienced with RtI vary the intensity of reading instruction for children at different reading levels?
  • What were the effects on Grade 1–3 reading achievement of providing reading interventions to children who fell just below school-determined standards for each grade on screening tests?

The evaluation relied on a combination of descriptive data collection from school staff and regression discontinuity methods to address the research questions, and focused on practices in place during the 2011–12 school year in a sample of 146 elementary schools from 13 states.

  • Full implementation of the RtI framework in Grade 1–3 reading was reported by 86 percent of the experienced elementary schools sampled for in-depth study, compared with 56 percent of a random sample of elementary schools from the same 13 states.
  • The schools sampled for in-depth study of their RtI practices provided more intense small-group instruction and more reading intervention services for groups of students reading below grade level than for groups of students reading at or above grade level. However, these schools' implementation of RtI differed in some ways from descriptions in the prior literature. In Grade 1, 45 percent of schools provided intervention services to some groups of students at all reading levels, rather than only for reading groups below grade level. In Grade 1, 67 percent of schools provided at least some reading intervention during the core reading block, rather than only in addition to the core.
  • Grade 1 students who scored just below school-determined benchmarks on fall screening tests, and who were assigned to reading interventions, had lower spring reading scores than similar students in the same schools who were not assigned to those interventions. Unexplored, but plausible, factors that may be related to these negative effects include incorrect identification of students for intervention and a mismatch between the interventions provided and these students' instructional needs. No statistically significant effects of assignment to reading interventions were found for students in Grades 2 or 3.