Authors: Zhiling Shea and Jade Jenkins
In 2004, the reauthorization of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act made Response to Intervention (RTI) an alternative means of identifying and serving children with disabilities. RTI is a multi-step approach to providing interventions and monitoring within the general education setting, providing research-based instruction and behavioral support as well as screening of all students to identify those who may need systematic progress monitoring, data-driven decision-making, and intervention. Most states implement RTI. However, little is known about the effects of RTI on academic and disability outcomes on a national scale.
The purpose of our study is to investigate the impacts of RTI on children’s academic and disability outcomes as schools adopt RTI between kindergarten and fourth grade in a nationally representative data set of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study of Kindergarten (ECLS-K: 2011).
The study uses a child fixed effects model to exploit two different sources of variation. First, there exists within-school variation, as not all schools implemented RTI between kindergarten and fourth grade, so children from different schools are subjected to different approaches. Second, there exists variation within children across time as policies changed, leaving some children exposed to RTI but others not (i.e. some schools implemented RTI earlier than others, leaving some children unaffected by RTI at these schools in their earlier years). Child fixed effects account for unobserved time-invariant child factors that are correlated with child outcomes and the adoption of RTI. The study also employed time-varying child- and school-level controls to verify the robustness of results.
The result shows that children exposed to RTI are 3 (SE=.01, p <0.001) percentage points less likely to be identified with a disability by the end of fourth grade than children not exposed to RTI. RTI did not influence children’s academic achievement in math or reading.
The study’s results have three implications. First, our study provides the first evidence of larger scale evaluations to inform the national trend of schools using RTI to improve student outcomes. Second, the findings for the effect of RTI on disability status provides insight into the important function of implementing RTI as a means to reduce misidentification of disability. Third, the results of RTI on disability status might also indicate that the implementation of RTI is overall effective (i.e. once children were identified as disabled, the number of children with disabilities decreased in RTI schools compared to non-RTI schools by the end of fourth grade).