Evidence-Based Reading Practices for Response to Intervention

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9781557668288: Evidence-Based Reading Practices for Response to Intervention

In this must-read volume, some of the biggest names in reading research share what they know about today's hottest topic in education—Response to Intervention (RTI), the key to helping struggling students before they fall behind. More than 30 expert contributors reveal what the latest research says about RTI's Three-Tier Aproach: the core reading program for all students, supplementary instruction for children with early reading difficulties, and intensive intervention for children who still struggle.

Educators will

  • pinpoint essential features of effective reading instruction
  • manage implementation challenges
  • clarify the settings and populations for which the interventions have worked
  • set a course for future research studies that fill gaps in knowledge of RTI

A comprehensive research synthesis on RTI, this book lays the groundwork for implementation of scientifically validated reading programs that reduce overidentification of students in special education and provide the best and earliest help to students who struggle. A necessary addition to the library of every current and future education professional.

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About the Author:

Diane Haager, Ph.D., is a researcher and teacher educator in reading and learning disabilities. She is a professor at California State University, Los Angeles, where she instructs special education teachers and graduate students. Dr. Haager has worked in public schools and clinics as a reading specialist and special educator. She has had extensive experience working with English language learners who have reading difficulties. She has written numerous book chapters and research articles. Her research interests include issues related to effective reading instruction for English language learners, students with learning disabilities, and students at risk for reading failure. She is the co-editor of Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, a journal for researchers and practitioners. Dr. Haager has directed several projects focusing on reading intervention for struggling readers in urban schools. She serves as a consultant and provides professional development for schools, districts, research projects, and state education leaders regarding reading instruction, reading intervention, and response to intervention.

Sharon Vaughn, Ph.D., H.E. Hartfelder/Southland Corp. Regents Chair in Human Development and Executive Director, The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk, University of Texas at Austin, Sanchez Building, 1912 Speedway, Austin, Texas 78712

Sharon Vaughn is the executive director of The Meadows Center, an organized research unit at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the recipient of the American Education Research Association Special Interest Group Distinguished Researcher Award, the International Reading Association Albert J. Harris Award, the University of Texas Distinguished Faculty Award, and the Jeannette E. Fleischner Award for Outstanding Contributions in the Field of Learning Disabilities from the Council for Exceptional Children. She is the author of more than 35 books and 250 research articles. Vaughn is currently the principal investigator on several research grants from the Institute for Education Sciences, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the U.S. Department of Education.

Associate Research Professor, Psychology Department, University of Houston, and Associate Director, Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and, Statistics, 100 TLCC Annex, Houston, TX 77204. Dr. Carlson’s research interests include measurement development and psychometric evaluation, advanced statistical methods, program evaluation, and early literacy and language development in English- and Spanish-speaking students.

Professor of Pediatrics and Associate Director, Center for Academic and Reading Skills, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, 7000 Fannin, UCT 2487, Houston, TX 77005. For the past 25 years, Dr. Fletcher, a child neuropsychologist, has conducted research on many aspects of the development of reading, language, and other cognitive skills in children. He has worked extensively on issues related to learning and attention problems, including definition and classification, neurobiological correlates, and, most recently, intervention.

Barbara R. Foorman, Ph.D., earned her doctorate at the University of California-Berkeley. She is Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Center for Academic and Reading Skills at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School and Principal Investigator of the grant funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), Early Interventions for Children with Reading Problems. In addition to many chapters and journal articles on topics related to language and reading development, she is the editor of Reading Acquisition: Cultural Constraints and Cognitive Universals (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986). She is on the editorial board of Journal of Learning Disabilities and has guest edited special issues of Scientific Studies of Reading, Linguistics and Education and Journal of Learning Disabilities. Dr. Foorman has been actively involved in outreach to the schools and to the general public, having chaired Houston Independent School District's Committee on a Balanced Approach to Reading and having testified before the California and Texas legislatures and the Texas Board of Education Long-Range Planning Committee. Dr. Foorman is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences' Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children, the board of the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading, the Consortium on Reading Excellence (CORE), and several local reading efforts.

Douglas Fuchs, Ph.D., Nicholas Hobbs Professor of Special Education and Human Development, Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, Department of Special Education, 110 Magnolia Circle, Room 417C, Nashville, TN 37203. Dr. Fuchs is a former classroom teacher, special educator, and school psychologist. He directed the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Reading Clinic for 12 years. His current interests include reading and math disabilities, intensive instruction, service delivery options, urban education, and education policy.

Lynn S. Fuchs, Ph.D., Nicholas Hobbs Professor of Special Education and Human Development, Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, Department of Special Education, 110 Magnolia Circle, Room 417C, Nashville, TN 37203. Dr. Fuchs’s research addresses teachers’ use of classroom-based assessment information and instructional practices for improving reading and mathematics performance.

Dr. Greenwood is the Director of the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project and Professor of Applied Behavioral Science at the University of Kansas. He is a founding author of progress monitoring measures for infants and toddlers and editor of School-Wide Prevention Models: Lessons Learned in Elementary Schools (Guilford Press, 2008). He is co-principal investigator of the Center for Response to Intervention in Early Childhood (CRTIEC). He has more than 100 publications in peerreviewed journals to his credit. Under his leadership, the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project was awarded the 1996 research award of the Council for Exceptional Children for its contributions to interventions for children with special needs. He was the recipient of the 2009 Higuchi Research Achievement Award in Applied Science at the University of Kansas.

Rollanda E. O'Connor, Ph.D., is a reading specialist and an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh and has a doctoral degree in special education from the University of Washington in Seattle. Dr. O'Connor taught reading in special and general education classrooms for 16 years, directed an in-service consortium for general and special educators on strategies for educating children with disabilities in general education classes, and conducted research to develop literacy skills for young children with disabilities. Dr. O'Connor's research has focused on two themes: the feasibility and effectiveness of incorporating phonological awareness instruction into programs for children at risk for reading difficulties in general education classes and factors that influence accessibility of reading instruction. She has taught teachers to use activities designed to improve the reading development of their children during large- and small-group instruction. The factors identified in these studies have been incorporated in the activities in Ladders to Literacy.

Professor and Director, Division of Clinical Neurosciences, Department of Neurosurgery, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, 1333 Moursund, Suite H114, Houston, TX 77030. Dr. Papanicolaou, a neuropsychologist, has conducted extensive research in human neurophysiology, studying the neural bases of language, memory, and emotions with both healthy volunteers and patients.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Excerpted from Chapter 11 of Evidence–Based Reading Practices for Response to Intervention, edited by Diane Haager, Ph.D., Janette Klingner, Ph.D., and Sharon Vaughn, Ph.D.

Copyright © 2007 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

The notion of Response to Intervention (RTI) as a means of identifying and treating children with learning difficulties is widely recognized as an important and welcome shift from practices that rely on arbitrary and inconsistent discrepancy criteria and focus on student impairments. The reauthorization of special education law with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004 (PL 108–446) indicates that schools may use an RTI approach to identifying students with learning disabilities. As researchers and educators move forward in delineating and validating interventions that support and enhance students' academic learning in an RTI model, practical issues related to implementation must also be examined. Of particular interest is how this shift in practice affects those who are responsible for instruction—general and special education teachers.

Other chapters in this book describe models and instructional practices for reading intervention; therefore, this chapter does so only briefly. Though there are variations in the conceptualization of multitiered models across researchers, the basic framework is similar. The first tier represents core reading instruction that is provided for all students. Instruction in Tier 1 consists of a research–based reading program that is comprehensive in covering the essential early reading skills, is fully implemented, and is delivered by skilled teachers who have received adequate professional development. Tier 2 involves supplemental instruction beyond the core program for students whose performance is significantly below grade level expectations as determined by reliable and valid assessment of essential reading skills. Tier 3 consists of more intensive and specialized instruction for students who have significant learning problems that have not been addressed in a specified amount of time in Tier 2. Some researchers and educators would consider Tier 3 to be special education; others would include a fourth tier that would be reserved for students with recognized disabilities.

Clearly, no one would doubt the merit of adopting a process for early identification and treatment of significant learning problems that would lead to positive reading outcomes for many children. The idea of developing a system of assessment and intervention that is responsive to student needs is intuitively appealing. In an RTI approach, educators follow the progress of students showing early signs of reading difficulty and make educational decisions, such as adaptations to instruction or curriculum, based on students' responses to intervention. Some students may respond well to intervention and in a short time be able to discontinue intervention. Continued or more intensive intervention may be warranted for other students based on their inadequate response to intervention. Such students may require intensive, specialized reading instruction such as is offered in special education programs (Torgesen, 2000).

The RTI approach brings compelling questions to the forefront regarding teachers' roles. The delineation of roles for general and special education teachers becomes less clear as students with and without disability labels require specialized instruction. In this chapter, we consider the roles of both general and special education teachers in a three–tier model of reading intervention. How does this model change teachers' roles and daily activities? What evidence is there that it is feasible for general and special educators to adopt the necessary practices and routines? What barriers exist that might prevent full implementation?

To answer these questions, we draw from current research focusing on three–tier reading intervention models as well as previous studies of prereferral intervention. Based on a review of research, policy, and practices, we suggest a framework for defining the roles of general and special education teachers in implementing a three–tiered model. We then describe the processes and roles of general and special education teachers in a specific project implemented over the past 6 years. Last, we examine lessons learned from implementation, draw conclusions about potential barriers to implementation, and suggest guiding principles for assisting teachers in accepting their challenging roles in a three–tier system.


Prereferral intervention long has been viewed as an essential component of the educational system (Graden, Casey, & Christenson, 1985; Rock & Zigmond, 2001; Safran & Safran, 1996). Researchers have noted the importance of using the resources of general education to remediate learning problems prior to considering issuing a disability label to students experiencing difficulty. By law, before school personnel may consider a special education placement for an individual student, they must document attempts to provide appropriate instruction in the general education program. Some researchers and educators have called for using the term "intervention assistance" instead of "prereferral intervention" to avoid the sometimes unwarranted assumption that such assistance would automatically lead to a referral for special education (Graden, 1989; Whitten & Dieker, 1995). Rather, systematic intervention assistance keeps the intervention focus in the general education system and more clearly differentiates a learning problem from a learning disability.

Studies have documented the importance of systematic prereferral intervention processes and strategies. Studies have shown that effective prereferral intervention practices can decrease spurious requests for special education assessment (Safran & Safran, 1996; Whitten & Dieker, 1995) as well as increase the number of assessed students who qualify for services (McNamara & Hollinger, 2003). Teachers involved in the process tend to appreciate the opportunity to work with colleagues to solve problems as well as the increased communication among staff members that occurs as a result of the prereferral process (Chalfant & Pysh, 1989). When the members of the prereferral team have been trained and supported by the state or a university program, the process is carried out with greater integrity and efficacy (Bahr, Whitten, Dieker, Kocarek, & Manson, 1999; Fuchs, Fuchs, Dulan, Roberts, & Fernstrom 1992; McDougal, Clonan, & Martens, 2000). One unfortunate problem with prereferral intervention approaches has been that general education teachers tend to view the process as a special education function (Gersten & Dimino, 2006).

Prereferral intervention processes that use a strong consultative or collaborative approach generally support the use of interventions. When school psychologists or other consultants provide feedback or coaching to general educators, the teachers' implementation of suggested interventions increases, although student performance may remain variable (Mortenson & Witt, 1998). Giving students responsibility for monitoring their own progress, in conjunction with the use of a contingency–based contract between teachers and students, is another effective prereferral intervention strategy (Bahr, Fuchs, Fuchs, Fernstrom, & Stecker, 1993). Generally, it is the additional support provided by a specialist or colleague that makes prereferral intervention efficacious and desirable to classroom teachers (Lane, Mahdavi, & Borthwick–Duffy, 2003). This support increases treatment integrity by keeping the intervention fresh in the general educator's mind. It also helps make the teacher feel more comfortable with providing the types of specialized intervention suggested by the prereferral team. No matter how professional and knowledgeable the members of the prereferral team or how appropriate and valid the interventions suggested, prereferral intervention only can be effective when teachers and other service providers implement the interventions with integrity (Kovaleski, 1999). Teachers as implementers, then, is an important topic to consider as schools move to widespread use of a three–tier reading intervention model.

It is important to note that almost all of the studies of prereferral intervention practices are published in special education journals despite the fact that prereferral intervention is viewed as a general education function. The problem is not that researchers and educators in general education view prereferral intervention as unimportant. Researchers, practitioners, and policy makers would agree that providing explicit, supplemental reading instruction to prevent reading failure in large numbers of students is a powerful and much–needed change in our educational system. Such intervention could greatly reduce the number of students needing costly, intensive special education (Lyon et al., 2001). Recent research indicates that 25% or more of students in the primary grades may need intervention, at least temporarily, to reach grade–level reading by the end of third grade (Torgesen, 2002; Vaughn, Linan–Thompson, & Hickman, 2003). Despite the intuitive appeal and documented need for early reading intervention, widespread and rapid adoption of any educational innovation raises concerns about implementation. Often following well–meaning policy or legislative decisions, districts scramble to implement new policies while the field is still attempting to distill what constitutes effective practice (Crockett, 2004; Landrum & Tankersley, 2004; Odom et al., 2005).

Despite the enthusiasm of researchers and practitioners to adopt reading intervention models to circumvent later, potentially devastating reading problems, it is important to ask questions about what it takes to accomplish widespread implementation. Oft–cited factors necessary for effective implementation of school reform initiatives include administrative support, fiscal resources, time to refine and adjust procedures, and attitudinal factors (Desimone, 2002; Evans, Baugh & Sheffer, 2005). These factors are likely to be important in implementing an RTI model as well. Intervention delivered by highly skilled and knowledgeable teachers is, of course, a central ingredient to successful implementation of a three–tier model of reading intervention, and this suggests extensive professional development and teacher support. Yet, studies indicate that teachers are overburdened, have little time to devote to individualized instruction, and lack the knowledge and skills to address significant reading problems (Bahr & Kovaleski, 2006; Moats, 2004; Vaughn, Hughes, Schumm, & Klingner, 1998). What, then, can reasonably be expected of teachers in implementing a three–tier intervention system? What will it take to prepare the teaching force?


Both general education and special education teachers have assumed critical roles in providing appropriate reading instruction for students with reading difficulties. Historically, the difference in their roles has been the students they serve, with general education teachers responsible for general reading instruction and special education teachers responsible for instructing students with disabilities. Since 2000, the role of special education teachers has changed somewhat with the movement to a more inclusive model of education in which students with disabilities spend all or most of their time in a general education classroom. Students with disabilities, however, still often receive at least some of their reading instruction from a special education teacher. In some classrooms, this may be the time that the special education students leave the classroom to see the special education teacher for specialized reading instruction. In others, the special education students may stay in the classroom and do the same assignments with modifications, or, the special education teacher may come into the general education classroom and pull students to a separate table to deliver an alternate reading lesson.Although both the general and special education teachers may work with students with and without disabilities, the general education teacher is primarily responsible for delivering the core reading program, and the role of the special educator is to provide support for students with disabilities either in the general education curriculum or an alternative reading program.

Though Tier 1 of reading intervention does not appear to change the instructional roles of general and special education teachers significantly, there may be additional responsibilities with regard to assessment. Fuchs and Fuchs (2006) suggest that teachers could use the previous year's high–stakes assessment; however, it would be preferable to assess all students early in the year using a performance–based assessment tool that has designated grade–level benchmarks. Who, then, takes on the role of conducting and interpreting such assessments? This type of assessment is likely new to the role of the general education teacher and might seem burdensome. Such assessments, usually administered individually in the early grades, take away from instructional time and pull the teacher's attention away from the class. Yet, screening assessment does not fall within the typical role of the special education teacher either. Special education typically has been defined as occurring after a student has been identified as having a disability. To implement a multitiered reading intervention model, then, schools must identify who will conduct screening assessments and provide the necessary supports for teachers to take on the extra responsibility.

Tier 2 of a three–tier model of reading intervention requires that someone provide supplemental instruction beyond the core program. Common sense dictates that this would be a well–trained teacher. Who, then, should deliver Tier 2 instruction? General educators are adept at designing and implementing core curricula and instruction geared to help most students meet state academic standards. These teachers may find the work of teaching to the disparate needs of their students daunting, but they are aware of the importance of this role. They, however, may feel less comfortable with their responsibility to take on more intensive intervention by providing Tier 2 services to students with greater learning needs. They may report willingness to take on the responsibility of providing early intervention but express trepidation about their ability to identify a child who needs that instruction and then about how to provide it (Bursuck, Munk, Nelson, & Curran, 2002). Yet, students in Tier 2 instruction do not have identified disabilities and, therefore, instruction does not fall within the scope of the special educator's duties. In some research models, Tier 2 has been delivered by paid interventionists (e.g., Vaughn et al., 2003). Hiring additional personnel to provide inter...

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