Parent Knowledge of and Experiences with Response to Intervention

Parent Knowledge of and Experiences with Response to Intervention Abstract Response to intervention (RtI) is an approach to screening and intervention for students who are falling behind, typically in reading and math. It may be used as one method for determining if a child has a specific learning disability and needs special education. Research indicates that RtI is an effective tiered-level framework for addressing academic and behavioral needs of children, but little research has examined parents’ understanding of RtI. A survey and a mixed-method design was used to assess parent knowledge and experience. Parents reported that they had received little information about RtI, lacked knowledge, and did not have a favorable impression of the framework. School districts need to improve communication with parents about the RtI process. Social workers can play an important role in promoting better communication. Response to intervention (RtI) is a framework that identifies students who are falling behind grade level, typically in math, reading, or writing, and provides a targeted, research-based intervention. There are three essential components of RtI: (1) high-quality, research-based instruction in general education; (2) universal screening; and (3) continuous monitoring of academic progress (Zirkel & Thomas, 2010). The RtI framework process typically starts in kindergarten and continues through 12th grade. Students who are at or above grade level are placed in Tier 1 and are given no additional support beyond regular classroom instruction. Students who are falling below grade level are placed in Tiers 2 and 3 and are given additional small group instruction or one-on-one instruction (Gilbert et al., 2013). Students who improve after tiered intervention move back into Tier 1 instruction or a lower level of tiered intervention. Students who fail to respond to the RtI tiered intervention model may have a learning disability and require additional intervention. Students who consistently perform at Tier 3 over a period of time are referred for special education assessment (McIntosh et al., 2011). The RtI framework is flexible and allows the school to determine the progress goals, benchmarks, and time line used for each tier of intervention. The time lines and tiers are based on students’ academic trajectory or ability to meet specific academic benchmark goals. The use of RtI in the United States increased after the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and in alignment with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act (P.L. 107-110). IDEA regulates how states and local educational agencies (LEAs) provide education and intervention services to students with disabilities (“Building the Legacy,” n.d.). Prior to this reauthorization, in many states schools had two options: general or special education. The reauthorization of IDEA pressed for schools to fulfill the gap between regular and special education with a less restrictive option. IDEA does not mandate how states should fill the gap between regular and special education, and it does not specifically mandate that the intervention framework must be RtI. However, IDEA urges states to consider the implementation of consistent documentation, assessment, and providing each child with appropriate intervention in a regular education setting (Zirkel &Thomas, 2010), all of which are important elements of RtI. By 2010, Zirkel and Thomas found that all 50 states covered, to some extent, the core characteristics of RtI. In some states, RtI is explicitly or implicitly required by law. In other states, it is recommended by guidelines for specific learning disability identification (Zirkel & Thomas, 2010). As of March 2012, 14 states have mandated that the RtI framework be used for identifying specific learning disabilities (Zirkel, 2012). Since 2012, other states have made changes to their RtI guidelines and requirements, although a comprehensive list is not available. Fuchs and Fuchs (2006) have argued that RtI can act as a standard treatment protocol to solve the issues of struggling students. Having one protocol can make training easier and ensure correct implementation (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006). RtI is also a response to rising special education costs and a response to controversy around whether IQ, achievement, and historically used discrepancy models are an appropriate way to assess for learning disabilities (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006). Through RtI’s universal screening process, students are identified before they fail to meet grade level expectations and are given targeted interventions aimed to prevent failure (Choi, Oh, Yoon, & Hong, 2012). The RtI model has a substantial evidence base (see for example, Gresham et al., 2005; Shinn, 2007). Burns, Appleton, and Stehouwer (2005) completed a meta-analysis of RtI interventions and framework and found that RtI improved student and school outcomes with a mean effect size of 1.49 (SD = 1.43). The implementation of RtI models led to fewer students identified with specific learning disabilities than originally predicted by the U.S. Department of Education, meaning that following the RtI framework, struggling students were identified, given supportive intervention, and improved without the need for more formalized special education services through the use of an individualized educational program (IEP). The result is students preforming at or on grade level or, in some cases, above average. Thus, RtI has the potential to lower the number of students in special education services, making this a huge benefit for both the student and the school system (Burns et al., 2005). Other studies have also supported the benefits of RtI. In a survey of school principals, researchers found a significant link between RtI implementation and the overall reduction of students in special education (Swindlehurst, Shepherd, Salembier, & Hurley, 2015). Although RtI has a substantial evidence base and support in federal law, there have also been controversy and concerns raised about the fidelity of the RtI model implementation. Some special education advocacy groups have observed that LEAs attempt to delay or deny special education assessments because of implementation of RtI (Bruce, n.d.). In response to the concern raised by special education advocates, a memo was issued by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). In this memo, OSEP acknowledged that RtI is a research-based method that can be used with other methods for assessing a child suspected of having a learning disability. However, LEAs must demonstrate that RtI is not being used to deny or delay evaluations when a child is suspected of having a disability (Musgrove, 2011). Additional concerns of parents and advocates have been raised in the literature. First, there is a concern about lack of teacher training in RtI (Richards, Pavri, Golez, Canges, & Murphy, 2007; Werts, Carpenter, & Fewell, 2014). The RtI model requires a collaborative approach between teachers and school support staff to implement interventions and monitor progress (Richards et al., 2007). If all parties are not adequately trained, there may be problems. Second, there is concern about the amount of time it takes to complete RtI. Spending too much time in RtI may delay special education identification and implementation of those services. In addition, special education teachers have reported concerns about lack of time for RtI in the school day (Werts et al., 2014) Third, there are concerns about inconsistencies in implementation and failure to implement (Swindlehurst et al., 2015). Research found varied levels of implementation among schools surveyed and inconsistent implementation frameworks, which could create barriers to success. In particular, one study found that RtI was being implemented frequently in elementary schools but less frequently in high schools (Swindlehurst et al., 2015). Fourth, concerns have been raised about parental involvement in RtI and parent understanding (Byrd, 2011; Friedman, 2010; Reschly, 2008; Werts et al., 2014). RtI is not a framework that parents would have experienced when they were in school, and the terminology used in RtI can confuse parents. Despite the barriers to implementation, teachers disclosed that RtI has a significant benefit to the students, including early identification of students in need of additional support, earlier intervention, higher levels of success among students, and a reduced number of referrals to special education (Werts et al., 2014). Study Purpose This study was a collaboration between university researchers and community-based special education advocates in a midsize city in the southeastern United States. Even though RtI has been in existence for several years, the particular state in which the study was conducted was only in its second year of RtI implementation. All school districts in the target state were required to implement RtI across all grades. Educational advocates were hearing reports that RtI was being used to deny special education evaluation. Advocates had also heard reports of students being segregated into RtI classrooms based on tiers rather than following the special education assessment and intervention process. Concerns were also raised about lack of information given to parents and lack of understanding among parents of the RtI model. It was agreed that the research team and advocates would collaborate on a survey. The information gained from the survey was provided to the local advocates in the form of a report that they could provide to local school districts. The research team asked the following three research questions: What understanding, if any, do parents have about the processes and procedures used within the RtI model? What are the parent’s perceptions about strengths and weaknesses of the RtI process? How is RtI affecting parents’ experience with the special education referral process? Method A mixed methods design was used to gather both qualitative and quantitative data. An online survey was conducted using the survey tool Qualtrics. The survey was conducted in late spring 2016 before the school year ended. The online survey was completed by voluntary parent or caregiver participants. As mentioned earlier, the researchers collaborated with a consortium of disability advocacy groups. Many of these advocacy organizations were special education and disability focused, but some of them identified their mission as supporting all children in public schools. The advocacy organizations distributed the survey to Listservs of their membership, via their social media sites, and via their Web sites. The initial e-mail or social media posting about the survey explained that it was being conducted as a collaboration between community partner agencies and a local university. Participants were informed that the survey was part of a research study and that it was voluntary and anonymous. No incentives were given. The survey procedure was reviewed and approved by a university institutional review board. The survey opened with an introductory statement about the purpose of the study that included a definition of RtI. The definition explained that RtI was a framework that offered academic support based on a child’s current need, with the goal of moving all students into Tier 1 (high-quality, general instruction). It included a diagram of the theoretical model of RtI and the three tiers. The introductory statement also explained that RtI was a framework mandated for school districts in the state. The survey gathered quantitative information by first asking about the children’s demographics (age, grade, type of school attended). Then, participants were asked to respond to a series of closed-ended questions and one open-ended question about the information they had received about RtI. Other questions asked whether participants were concerned about the child’s progress and whether they had sought additional evaluation. Participants were able to respond to the same set of questions on each child, for up to four children. A final open-ended question asked if there was anything they would like to add about RtI. Last, participants were asked a series of demographic questions about themselves, including their relationship to the child. The survey was administered in both English and Spanish. It was translated into Spanish and then independently back translated to ensure equivalency of the two forms. Two bilingual translators were used: The first translates from the original language, and the second translates the survey responses back to that language (Brislin, 1970). Participants A total of 207 parents and caregivers responded to the survey on behalf of 316 children. Only two participants listed their relationship to the child as grandparent and two as guardian, so participants will be hereinafter referred to as parents. Most parents reported information on only one child, and no parent reported information on more than three children. Most of the responses (n = 202) were in English; the remaining five were in Spanish. The most common grades reported were fourth grade (11.4 percent) and kindergarten (10.4 percent). However, children were spread fairly evenly across grades. Children in the study ranged in age from three to 22 years. The mean age was 10.7 and the standard deviation was 3.7 years. Of the 296 children with a reported gender, 186 (58.9 percent) were male and 110 (34.8 percent) were female. Children in the study were most likely to be white/Caucasian (63.0 percent) and attend public schools (75.6 percent). Children in the study came from 16 counties and attended 104 different public or charter schools. Parents reported that nearly a quarter of children in the survey had an IEP (24.7 percent), but only 2.8 percent had a 504 plan (see Table 1). Table 1: Demographics of Child and Parent Demographic  n  %  Child (N = 316)      Grade       Elementary (K–5)  175  55.3   Middle school (6–8)  66  20.9   High school (9–12)  56  17.7   Unreported  19  6.0  Age (years)       3–4  5  1.6   5–8  94  29.8   9–11  88  27.9   12–14  59  18.6   15–18  49  15.5   19–22  5  1.5   Unreported  16  5.1  Gender       Male  186  58.9   Female  110  34.8   Unreported  20  6.3  Race       White/Caucasian  199  63.0   Black/African American  33  10.4   Asian American  4  1.3   American Indian/Native American  2  0.6   Latino/Hispanic  27  8.5   Other  7  2.2   Prefer not to answer/unreported  44  13.9  Type of school       Public  239  75.6   Charter  6  1.9   Private  13  4.1   Home  13  4.1   Unreported  45  14.2  IEP or 504 Plan       IEP  78  24.7   504 Plan  9  2.8   Neither  85  26.9   I don’t know/no response  144  45.6  Parent (N = 207)      Relationship to child       Parent  148  71.5   Grandparent  2  1.0   Guardian  2  1.0   Adoptive parent  3  1.4   Foster parent  1  .5   Other/missing  51  24.8  Household income ($)       Under 25,000  20  9.7   25,000–49,999  36  17.4   50,000–74,999  28  13.5   75,000–99,999  21  10.1   100,000–124,999  22  10.6   125,000–149,999  8  3.9   150,000–174,999  5  2.4   175,000 or more  13  6.3   Unreported  54  26.1  Education level       Some high school  3  1.4   High school diploma  20  9.7   Some college  39  18.8   College diploma  44  21.3   Some graduate school  12  5.7   Graduate degree  38  18.4   Unreported  51  24.6  Demographic  n  %  Child (N = 316)      Grade       Elementary (K–5)  175  55.3   Middle school (6–8)  66  20.9   High school (9–12)  56  17.7   Unreported  19  6.0  Age (years)       3–4  5  1.6   5–8  94  29.8   9–11  88  27.9   12–14  59  18.6   15–18  49  15.5   19–22  5  1.5   Unreported  16  5.1  Gender       Male  186  58.9   Female  110  34.8   Unreported  20  6.3  Race       White/Caucasian  199  63.0   Black/African American  33  10.4   Asian American  4  1.3   American Indian/Native American  2  0.6   Latino/Hispanic  27  8.5   Other  7  2.2   Prefer not to answer/unreported  44  13.9  Type of school       Public  239  75.6   Charter  6  1.9   Private  13  4.1   Home  13  4.1   Unreported  45  14.2  IEP or 504 Plan       IEP  78  24.7   504 Plan  9  2.8   Neither  85  26.9   I don’t know/no response  144  45.6  Parent (N = 207)      Relationship to child       Parent  148  71.5   Grandparent  2  1.0   Guardian  2  1.0   Adoptive parent  3  1.4   Foster parent  1  .5   Other/missing  51  24.8  Household income ($)       Under 25,000  20  9.7   25,000–49,999  36  17.4   50,000–74,999  28  13.5   75,000–99,999  21  10.1   100,000–124,999  22  10.6   125,000–149,999  8  3.9   150,000–174,999  5  2.4   175,000 or more  13  6.3   Unreported  54  26.1  Education level       Some high school  3  1.4   High school diploma  20  9.7   Some college  39  18.8   College diploma  44  21.3   Some graduate school  12  5.7   Graduate degree  38  18.4   Unreported  51  24.6  Note: IEP = individualized education program. Table 1: Demographics of Child and Parent Demographic  n  %  Child (N = 316)      Grade       Elementary (K–5)  175  55.3   Middle school (6–8)  66  20.9   High school (9–12)  56  17.7   Unreported  19  6.0  Age (years)       3–4  5  1.6   5–8  94  29.8   9–11  88  27.9   12–14  59  18.6   15–18  49  15.5   19–22  5  1.5   Unreported  16  5.1  Gender       Male  186  58.9   Female  110  34.8   Unreported  20  6.3  Race       White/Caucasian  199  63.0   Black/African American  33  10.4   Asian American  4  1.3   American Indian/Native American  2  0.6   Latino/Hispanic  27  8.5   Other  7  2.2   Prefer not to answer/unreported  44  13.9  Type of school       Public  239  75.6   Charter  6  1.9   Private  13  4.1   Home  13  4.1   Unreported  45  14.2  IEP or 504 Plan       IEP  78  24.7   504 Plan  9  2.8   Neither  85  26.9   I don’t know/no response  144  45.6  Parent (N = 207)      Relationship to child       Parent  148  71.5   Grandparent  2  1.0   Guardian  2  1.0   Adoptive parent  3  1.4   Foster parent  1  .5   Other/missing  51  24.8  Household income ($)       Under 25,000  20  9.7   25,000–49,999  36  17.4   50,000–74,999  28  13.5   75,000–99,999  21  10.1   100,000–124,999  22  10.6   125,000–149,999  8  3.9   150,000–174,999  5  2.4   175,000 or more  13  6.3   Unreported  54  26.1  Education level       Some high school  3  1.4   High school diploma  20  9.7   Some college  39  18.8   College diploma  44  21.3   Some graduate school  12  5.7   Graduate degree  38  18.4   Unreported  51  24.6  Demographic  n  %  Child (N = 316)      Grade       Elementary (K–5)  175  55.3   Middle school (6–8)  66  20.9   High school (9–12)  56  17.7   Unreported  19  6.0  Age (years)       3–4  5  1.6   5–8  94  29.8   9–11  88  27.9   12–14  59  18.6   15–18  49  15.5   19–22  5  1.5   Unreported  16  5.1  Gender       Male  186  58.9   Female  110  34.8   Unreported  20  6.3  Race       White/Caucasian  199  63.0   Black/African American  33  10.4   Asian American  4  1.3   American Indian/Native American  2  0.6   Latino/Hispanic  27  8.5   Other  7  2.2   Prefer not to answer/unreported  44  13.9  Type of school       Public  239  75.6   Charter  6  1.9   Private  13  4.1   Home  13  4.1   Unreported  45  14.2  IEP or 504 Plan       IEP  78  24.7   504 Plan  9  2.8   Neither  85  26.9   I don’t know/no response  144  45.6  Parent (N = 207)      Relationship to child       Parent  148  71.5   Grandparent  2  1.0   Guardian  2  1.0   Adoptive parent  3  1.4   Foster parent  1  .5   Other/missing  51  24.8  Household income ($)       Under 25,000  20  9.7   25,000–49,999  36  17.4   50,000–74,999  28  13.5   75,000–99,999  21  10.1   100,000–124,999  22  10.6   125,000–149,999  8  3.9   150,000–174,999  5  2.4   175,000 or more  13  6.3   Unreported  54  26.1  Education level       Some high school  3  1.4   High school diploma  20  9.7   Some college  39  18.8   College diploma  44  21.3   Some graduate school  12  5.7   Graduate degree  38  18.4   Unreported  51  24.6  Note: IEP = individualized education program. Analysis Quantitative data were imported into SPSS (Version 24.0) to be analyzed. The survey tool recorded 283 responses. However, 76 responses were either blank or had no information recorded beyond ages and grades of the children. These responses were eliminated, leaving 207 parent responses. Some parents had more than one child, so there were 316 total students in the sample. A total of 245 parents reported that their child attended a public or charter school, which made them eligible to answer the questions on RtI. Children who are home schooled or attend private school are not required to participate in RtI, so their parents were not asked questions about RtI. Results of the RtI questions are reported in Table 2. Missing data in Table 2 are due to skip patterns and irrelevance of questions if prior questions were not answered affirmatively. Table 2: Parent Knowledge and RtI Information Distribution (N = 245) Question  Response  n  %  Do you know if your child is currently being screened for RtI?          Yes  81  33.1    No  107  43.7    Unreported/does not know  57  23.3  Did you receive any information about RtI?          Yes  52  21.2    No  137  55.9    Unreported  56  22.9  How were you informed about RtI?          Letter in the mail  1  0.4    Letter from the school  27  11.0    Phone call  2  0.8    E-mail  6  2.4    Meeting at school  10  4.1    IEP meeting  9  3.7    Teacher spoke with me  15  6.1    Not at all  1  0.4    No information given  174  71.0  How often do you receive RtI updates?          Once a week  5  2.0    Once a month  8  3.3    Once every nine weeks  31  12.7    Once a year  14  5.7    Never  86  35.1    Don’t know  29  11.8    Missing  72  29.4  Question  Response  n  %  Do you know if your child is currently being screened for RtI?          Yes  81  33.1    No  107  43.7    Unreported/does not know  57  23.3  Did you receive any information about RtI?          Yes  52  21.2    No  137  55.9    Unreported  56  22.9  How were you informed about RtI?          Letter in the mail  1  0.4    Letter from the school  27  11.0    Phone call  2  0.8    E-mail  6  2.4    Meeting at school  10  4.1    IEP meeting  9  3.7    Teacher spoke with me  15  6.1    Not at all  1  0.4    No information given  174  71.0  How often do you receive RtI updates?          Once a week  5  2.0    Once a month  8  3.3    Once every nine weeks  31  12.7    Once a year  14  5.7    Never  86  35.1    Don’t know  29  11.8    Missing  72  29.4  Note: RtI = response to intervention; IEP = individualized education program. Table 2: Parent Knowledge and RtI Information Distribution (N = 245) Question  Response  n  %  Do you know if your child is currently being screened for RtI?          Yes  81  33.1    No  107  43.7    Unreported/does not know  57  23.3  Did you receive any information about RtI?          Yes  52  21.2    No  137  55.9    Unreported  56  22.9  How were you informed about RtI?          Letter in the mail  1  0.4    Letter from the school  27  11.0    Phone call  2  0.8    E-mail  6  2.4    Meeting at school  10  4.1    IEP meeting  9  3.7    Teacher spoke with me  15  6.1    Not at all  1  0.4    No information given  174  71.0  How often do you receive RtI updates?          Once a week  5  2.0    Once a month  8  3.3    Once every nine weeks  31  12.7    Once a year  14  5.7    Never  86  35.1    Don’t know  29  11.8    Missing  72  29.4  Question  Response  n  %  Do you know if your child is currently being screened for RtI?          Yes  81  33.1    No  107  43.7    Unreported/does not know  57  23.3  Did you receive any information about RtI?          Yes  52  21.2    No  137  55.9    Unreported  56  22.9  How were you informed about RtI?          Letter in the mail  1  0.4    Letter from the school  27  11.0    Phone call  2  0.8    E-mail  6  2.4    Meeting at school  10  4.1    IEP meeting  9  3.7    Teacher spoke with me  15  6.1    Not at all  1  0.4    No information given  174  71.0  How often do you receive RtI updates?          Once a week  5  2.0    Once a month  8  3.3    Once every nine weeks  31  12.7    Once a year  14  5.7    Never  86  35.1    Don’t know  29  11.8    Missing  72  29.4  Note: RtI = response to intervention; IEP = individualized education program. Qualitative data came from the open-ended questions on the survey. Parents had the opportunity to respond to between two and four open-ended questions. Parents were presented with one open-ended question about each child’s experience and one open-ended question overall. The information provided in response to the open-ended questions was substantial. Using an interpretive method, two researchers (or multiple coders) read, identified, and agreed on units of meaning. To ensure rigor, the researchers agreed to the following set of procedures. Both researchers independently coded each survey response, compared codes, resolved differences, and formed a preliminary definition for each code. New codes were added, and definitions of codes were agreed on and revised as needed. Codes were organized into categories, and themes were generated after reflection on these categories. The researchers used discussion to explore disagreements and build consensus (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). Results Quantitative results indicated that information given to parents about RtI was sparse. Only a third of parents (33.1 percent) were aware that their children were currently being screened for RtI, and only 21.2 percent of parents had received any information from the school about RtI. Parents were asked whether they had received information about their child’s tier in RtI, and the majority had not received any information (55.9 percent). Parents were then asked how often they were given information about RtI, and the most common answer was never (35.1 percent). The third research question explored whether children were being denied evaluation for special education and being told they must first complete RtI, so a series of questions were asked to investigate this concern. Just over a quarter of parents had requested an evaluation (26.5 percent) and of those, more than half had received one. Only two parents reported that they were told by school district officials that they could not have a special education evaluation due to RtI. In the qualitative data, seven themes were identified: (1) gaps in services, (2) not the most effective approach, (3) waste of time, (4) little/no information, (5) too much testing, (6) not relevant due to IEP/special education (SPED) services, and (7) effective enrichment and support. Most of these themes reflect parents’ negative evaluation of RtI, but the final theme was positive. Each of these themes is described with two or three exemplary quotes in the following sections. Gaps in Services Thirty-nine parents expressed concern and frustration surrounding gaps in services. Parents also held the perception that RtI created difficulties and blocked their child from accessing services. For example, one parent explained, In the beginning before my child had a diagnosis of dyslexia (first grade), RtI was a delay to getting tested for us. He would suspiciously move from Tier 3 to Tier 1 in one week and then return to Tier 3 the next week. RtI was a good buffer for the school to not commit to testing. . . . It was a huge struggle for me and my child. Some parents reported having to fight for services; others cited gaps in services that they attributed to underfunding. Concern was also expressed surrounding students not getting enough support or individualized instruction in needed areas. One parent explained, “It was just not enough support. He needed smaller group, more individualized help/instruction in those areas.” Some parents expressed concern over adding an additional responsibility to their child’s teacher; others stated that more resources or funding are needed, such as more funding and more teachers, for this intervention to be successful. One parent explained, “Teachers cannot take on another added responsibility such as teaching an extra class period per day.” Throughout this category, many parents spoke about their child’s learning disability such as dyslexia or attention/deficit hyperactivity disorder. Parents expressed concern over the school not committing to testing, delaying or denying evaluations, and not understanding or minimizing their child’s needs. Not the Most Effective Approach Seventeen parents raised concerns that RtI is not effective and has a negative impact on their child’s learning environment. One parent of a high school student explained, “In my opinion is it is not helpful. High school students that need extra help would be much better served by giving them extra time with their teacher.” Overall, parents expressed the wish for RtI to be more individualized and for their child to receive extra time with their teachers and one-on-one attention. One parent explained, I think it’s a joke. His reading and math [have] not really improved much despite being in Tier 3 for the last two years. . . . The interventions should be more specific to each individual student rather than a blanket intervention. Waste of Time Fourteen parents complained about the time-consuming nature of RtI and the impact time spent on RtI has on learning time during the school day. Parents expressed concern about their child missing class for RtI assessments and monitoring. Two parents explained, “[RtI is] time consuming and is generally a waste of time. I’d rather my child spend less time on tests and more time on learning.” “Seems like a huge waste of time, plus kids are being pulled away from their teachers and their classmates.” Other parents reported that their child was doing homework rather than the RtI screening and intervention activities, and another parent stated that some children manipulate the RtI testing placements to be placed with friends. Some parents complained about teachers not understanding their child’s needs, which results in RtI time being wasted. No or Little Information Fifty-one parents expressed that they have received very little or, in many cases, no information about RtI from their child’s school. This was the most common theme in the qualitative data. Some parents reported that they were being introduced to the framework for the first time through this survey. One parent commented, “I don’t know anything about it. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of if.” Another parent commented, “I have no idea. Absolutely no information has been shared with me about this program.” Other parents knew very little about RtI and were still unclear about the framework as a whole. Some parents gained information about RtI through their child; other parents did independent research to discover more information. One parent explained, “I only know what I sought out and read. No information was offered from the school system.” A few parents knew about RtI only because they had a direct link with the school. These parents identified as teachers or school psychologists. However, despite their connection to the school system, these parents still confessed that they had gained little information on RtI from their child’s teacher. Too Much School Testing Eight parents commented that RtI “is yet another mandated test.” Another parent said, “RtI is just another screening process for the school.” Parents expressed concern that in general, too much school time is used for testing rather than learning. There is already a significant emphasis on testing in the public school system, and several parents felt that the last thing their children needed was yet another test. This was a small category in comparison to others. Yet it was a concern that several parents mentioned. Not Relevant Due to IEP Services As mentioned earlier, a third of the children in the present study had an IEP and received special education services. Ten of these parents had some unique comments and concerns about RtI. A few parents mentioned concerns that RtI delayed assessment for special education. However, many parents with children in special education were unfamiliar with RtI. One parent commented, “He has an IEP. Not sure what RtI is.” Overall these parents expressed that RtI does not have an impact. They were unfamiliar with RtI and whether it was being implemented. One parent explained, “It hasn’t impacted his ability to receive services. He’s been under an IEP his whole academic career.” Effective Enrichment and Support Although the parent response to RtI in this survey was overwhelmingly negative, seven parents did see a benefit to RtI. These respondents noted that RtI provides enrichment and support. These parents viewed RtI as an additional resource for their child which, in some cases, has helped the student achieve at grade level and determine the type of services needed. Two parents explained, “RtI has been an ‘extra’ resource offered, and she has shown improvements in her math skills.” “[RtI] had been able to determine the type of services that my son receives in the school. They are helping him greatly.” Some parents who viewed RtI positively noted that improvements were a combined effort between interventions like RtI and adequate support in the classroom and at home. Discussion and Implications The research team was initially contacted because advocates were concerned that children were being denied special education services due to RtI and being segregated into RtI classrooms. Overall, the findings did not support these concerns. Only two participants reported that they were told that they could not receive an evaluation for special education because RtI must be implemented. Although those two cases are alarming, the survey indicated that these two cases appear to be isolated and not part of a widespread problem. In addition, parents did not raise any concerns about children being segregated into RtI classrooms. A few parents mentioned that RtI took away regular education time, but their responses suggested that their children spent most of the time in regular education. There were some concerns that RtI delayed special education identification. However, in these cases, the students were ultimately identified. The research team did find that there are still many challenges and barriers surrounding the implementation of RtI. The quantitative data indicated that many parents lack information and do not get regular updates from the school regarding their child’s progress under RtI. The qualitative data revealed several areas of frustration for parents and a general feeling from parents that RtI is not worthwhile. Parents described several examples of cases in which RtI is not being properly implemented, such as having children work on homework instead of participating in the framework or being pulled away from critical instruction for RtI. However, a small number of parents noted that if teachers and parents communicate well about the child’s needs, RtI can be used to provide helpful support and resources. The findings support prior research indicating that although RtI is considered an effective intervention, many parents and teachers report frustrations with the framework (Richards et al., 2007; Swindlehurst et al., 2015; Werts et al., 2014). Byrd (2011) has noted that there are several reasons to improve the involvement of parents in RtI. First, academic jargon may intimidate parents, making them less inclined to become involved in the process. Second, RtI can lead to special education intervention, and it is helpful to have parent involvement from the beginning if a special education referral will ultimately be made. Finally, parent involvement can lead to more positive outcomes for students (Byrd, 2011). This study has several limitations. First, the study was small and was conducted in only one region of the country. A national study might yield different results. Second, this study was distributed anonymously through Listservs and social media. We used a convenience sample, which limits the generalizability of the results. The representativeness of the sample is also limited to those who had access to the Internet. This also limits the amount of data that can be collected compared with data from in-person interviews, and anonymous surveys can have the risk of participants filling out more than one survey. A third limitation was that this study collected data only from parents and other caregivers. A multi-informant study could survey teachers and other school district professionals about their views on RtI and provide richer information. Fourth, because this study was a collaboration with disability advocacy groups, it is possible that students with disabilities were somewhat overrepresented. Fifth, this study was too small to make comparisons between schools and districts. A larger, more comprehensive study could identify which districts and schools are implementing RtI well. Despite the limitations, the findings of this study have important implications for practice and future research. For social workers and other professionals, it is important to note that communication between the schools and the parents in this study was inadequate. Prior research has indicated that involvement of parents is essential to the success of RtI (Byrd, 2011). Social workers can play a critical role in advocating for adequate information to be sent home to parents. Parents should receive information about what RtI is and individualized information about their child’s progress. Social workers can help draft this information and make sure that it is clear and easy to read. Information sessions and trainings for parents are also helpful, either at the school or online. Social workers can gather information about the RtI framework and best practices for engaging parents using several resources available on the Web (see, for example, Center for Parent Information & Resources, n.d.; RtI Action Network, n.d.; Usaj, Shine, & Mandlawitz, n.d.). RtI is a framework that uses evidence-based tiered interventions, yet parents report lack of information, frustration, and doubts about its effectiveness. Prior research has indicated that parent involvement is critical to children’s education (El Nokali, Bachman, & Votruba-Drzal, 2010; LeFevre & Shaw, 2011). Parental involvement likely improves the effectiveness of RtI as well. School districts should work collaboratively to engage parents and assess parental needs and concerns before, during, and after the implementation of RtI. References Brislin, R. W. ( 1970). Back-translation for cross-cultural research. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology,  1( 3), 185– 216. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Bruce, S. (n.d.). A parent’s guide to response to intervention (RtI). Retrieved from http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/rti.parent.guide.htm Building the legacy: IDEA 2004. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://idea.ed.gov Burns, M. K., Appleton, L. J., & Stehouwer, J. D. ( 2005). Meta-analytic review of responsiveness-to-intervention research: Examining field-based and research-implemented models. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment,  23, 381– 394. doi:10.1177/073428290502300406 Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Byrd, E. S. ( 2011). Educating and involving parents in the response to intervention process. Teaching Exceptional Children,  43( 3), 32– 39. doi:10.1177/004005991104300304 Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Center for Parent Information & Resources. (n.d.). Response to intervention (RTI). Retrieved from http://www.parentcenterhub.org/rti/ Choi, E., Oh, K., Yoon, S. M., & Hong, S. ( 2012). A literature review of implementing response to intervention for English language learners. Journal of Special Education Apprenticeship,  1( 2). Retrieved from http://josea.info/archives/vol1no2/article-02-FT.pdf Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. ( 2005). Handbook of qualitative research  ( 3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. El Nokali, N. E., Bachman, H. J., & Votruba-Drzal, E. ( 2010). Parent involvement and children’s academic and social development in elementary school. Child Development,  81, 988– 1005. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01447.x Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Friedman, E. K. ( 2010). Secondary prevention in an RtI model: A step toward academic recovery. Reading Teacher,  64, 207– 210. doi:10.1598/RT.64.3.8 Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Fuchs, D., & Fuchs, L. S. ( 2006). Introduction to response to intervention: What, why, and how valid is it? Reading Research Quarterly,  41, 93– 99. doi:10.1598/rrq.41.1.4 Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Gilbert, J. J., Compton, D. D., Fuchs, D. D., Fuchs, L. L., Bouton, B. B., Barquero, L. L., & Cho, E. E. ( 2013). Efficacy of a first-grade responsiveness-to-intervention prevention model for struggling readers. Reading Research Quarterly,  48, 135– 154. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Gresham, F. M., Reschly, D. J., Tilly, W. D., Fletcher, J., Burns, M., & Prasse, D. ( 2005). A response to intervention perspective. School Psychologist,  59, 29– 33. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 ( 2004). LeFevre, A. L., & Shaw, T. V. ( 2011). Latino parent involvement and school success: Longitudinal effects of formal and informal support. Education and Urban Society,  44, 707– 723. doi:0.1177/0013124511406719 Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   McIntosh, K., MacKay, L. D., Andreou, T., Brown, J. A., Mathews, S., Gietz, C., & Bennett, J. L. ( 2011). Response to intervention in Canada: Definitions, the evidence base, and future directions. Canadian Journal of School Psychology,  26( 1), 18– 43. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Musgrove, M. ( 2011, January 21). Memorandum: A response to intervention (RTI) process cannot be used to delay-deny an evaluation for eligibility under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Retrieved from https://sites.ed.gov/idea/idea-files/osep-memo-11-07-response-to-intervention-rti-memo/ No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, P.L. 107-110, 20 U.S.C. § 6319 ( 2002). Reschly, A. L. ( 2008). Schools, families and response to intervention . Retrieved from https://www.kresa.org/cms/lib4/MI01000312/centricity/domain/42/principals%20institute%20cohort%201/family_involvement.session3.pdf Richards, C., Pavri, S., Golez, F., Canges, R., & Murphy, J. ( 2007). Response to intervention: Building the capacity of teachers to serve students with learning difficulties. Issues in Teacher Education,  16( 2), 55– 64. RtI Action Network. (n.d.). RtI-based SLD Identification Toolkit. Retrieved from http://www.rtinetwork.org/getstarted/sld-identification-toolkit Shinn, M. R. ( 2007). Identifying students at risk, monitoring, performance, and determining eligibility within response to intervention: Research on educational need and benefit from academic intervention. School Psychology Review,  36, 582– 601. Swindlehurst, K., Shepherd, K., Salembier, G., & Hurley, S. ( 2015). Implementing response to intervention: Results of a survey of school principals. Rural Special Education Quarterly,  34( 2), 9– 16. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Usaj, K., Shine, J. K., & Mandlawitz, M. (n.d.). Response to intervention: New roles for school social workers. Retrieved from http://www.doe.virginia.gov/support/prevention/mental-health/professional-learning/2017/aug/roles-social-workers.pdf Werts, M. G., Carpenter, E. S., & Fewell, C. ( 2014). Barriers and benefits to response to intervention: Perceptions of special education teachers. Rural Special Education Quarterly,  33( 2), 3– 11. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Zirkel, P. ( 2012). The legal dimensions of RTI: Part II – State laws and guidelines. RTI Action Network. Retrieved from http://rtinetwork.org Zirkel, P., & Thomas, L. ( 2010). State laws and guidelines for implementing RTI. Teaching Exceptional Children,  43( 1), 60– 73. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   © 2018 National Association of Social Workers This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Children & Schools Oxford University Press

Parent Knowledge of and Experiences with Response to Intervention

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Oxford University Press
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© 2018 National Association of Social Workers
ISSN
1532-8759
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1545-682X
D.O.I.
10.1093/cs/cdy010
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Abstract

Abstract Response to intervention (RtI) is an approach to screening and intervention for students who are falling behind, typically in reading and math. It may be used as one method for determining if a child has a specific learning disability and needs special education. Research indicates that RtI is an effective tiered-level framework for addressing academic and behavioral needs of children, but little research has examined parents’ understanding of RtI. A survey and a mixed-method design was used to assess parent knowledge and experience. Parents reported that they had received little information about RtI, lacked knowledge, and did not have a favorable impression of the framework. School districts need to improve communication with parents about the RtI process. Social workers can play an important role in promoting better communication. Response to intervention (RtI) is a framework that identifies students who are falling behind grade level, typically in math, reading, or writing, and provides a targeted, research-based intervention. There are three essential components of RtI: (1) high-quality, research-based instruction in general education; (2) universal screening; and (3) continuous monitoring of academic progress (Zirkel & Thomas, 2010). The RtI framework process typically starts in kindergarten and continues through 12th grade. Students who are at or above grade level are placed in Tier 1 and are given no additional support beyond regular classroom instruction. Students who are falling below grade level are placed in Tiers 2 and 3 and are given additional small group instruction or one-on-one instruction (Gilbert et al., 2013). Students who improve after tiered intervention move back into Tier 1 instruction or a lower level of tiered intervention. Students who fail to respond to the RtI tiered intervention model may have a learning disability and require additional intervention. Students who consistently perform at Tier 3 over a period of time are referred for special education assessment (McIntosh et al., 2011). The RtI framework is flexible and allows the school to determine the progress goals, benchmarks, and time line used for each tier of intervention. The time lines and tiers are based on students’ academic trajectory or ability to meet specific academic benchmark goals. The use of RtI in the United States increased after the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and in alignment with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act (P.L. 107-110). IDEA regulates how states and local educational agencies (LEAs) provide education and intervention services to students with disabilities (“Building the Legacy,” n.d.). Prior to this reauthorization, in many states schools had two options: general or special education. The reauthorization of IDEA pressed for schools to fulfill the gap between regular and special education with a less restrictive option. IDEA does not mandate how states should fill the gap between regular and special education, and it does not specifically mandate that the intervention framework must be RtI. However, IDEA urges states to consider the implementation of consistent documentation, assessment, and providing each child with appropriate intervention in a regular education setting (Zirkel &Thomas, 2010), all of which are important elements of RtI. By 2010, Zirkel and Thomas found that all 50 states covered, to some extent, the core characteristics of RtI. In some states, RtI is explicitly or implicitly required by law. In other states, it is recommended by guidelines for specific learning disability identification (Zirkel & Thomas, 2010). As of March 2012, 14 states have mandated that the RtI framework be used for identifying specific learning disabilities (Zirkel, 2012). Since 2012, other states have made changes to their RtI guidelines and requirements, although a comprehensive list is not available. Fuchs and Fuchs (2006) have argued that RtI can act as a standard treatment protocol to solve the issues of struggling students. Having one protocol can make training easier and ensure correct implementation (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006). RtI is also a response to rising special education costs and a response to controversy around whether IQ, achievement, and historically used discrepancy models are an appropriate way to assess for learning disabilities (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006). Through RtI’s universal screening process, students are identified before they fail to meet grade level expectations and are given targeted interventions aimed to prevent failure (Choi, Oh, Yoon, & Hong, 2012). The RtI model has a substantial evidence base (see for example, Gresham et al., 2005; Shinn, 2007). Burns, Appleton, and Stehouwer (2005) completed a meta-analysis of RtI interventions and framework and found that RtI improved student and school outcomes with a mean effect size of 1.49 (SD = 1.43). The implementation of RtI models led to fewer students identified with specific learning disabilities than originally predicted by the U.S. Department of Education, meaning that following the RtI framework, struggling students were identified, given supportive intervention, and improved without the need for more formalized special education services through the use of an individualized educational program (IEP). The result is students preforming at or on grade level or, in some cases, above average. Thus, RtI has the potential to lower the number of students in special education services, making this a huge benefit for both the student and the school system (Burns et al., 2005). Other studies have also supported the benefits of RtI. In a survey of school principals, researchers found a significant link between RtI implementation and the overall reduction of students in special education (Swindlehurst, Shepherd, Salembier, & Hurley, 2015). Although RtI has a substantial evidence base and support in federal law, there have also been controversy and concerns raised about the fidelity of the RtI model implementation. Some special education advocacy groups have observed that LEAs attempt to delay or deny special education assessments because of implementation of RtI (Bruce, n.d.). In response to the concern raised by special education advocates, a memo was issued by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). In this memo, OSEP acknowledged that RtI is a research-based method that can be used with other methods for assessing a child suspected of having a learning disability. However, LEAs must demonstrate that RtI is not being used to deny or delay evaluations when a child is suspected of having a disability (Musgrove, 2011). Additional concerns of parents and advocates have been raised in the literature. First, there is a concern about lack of teacher training in RtI (Richards, Pavri, Golez, Canges, & Murphy, 2007; Werts, Carpenter, & Fewell, 2014). The RtI model requires a collaborative approach between teachers and school support staff to implement interventions and monitor progress (Richards et al., 2007). If all parties are not adequately trained, there may be problems. Second, there is concern about the amount of time it takes to complete RtI. Spending too much time in RtI may delay special education identification and implementation of those services. In addition, special education teachers have reported concerns about lack of time for RtI in the school day (Werts et al., 2014) Third, there are concerns about inconsistencies in implementation and failure to implement (Swindlehurst et al., 2015). Research found varied levels of implementation among schools surveyed and inconsistent implementation frameworks, which could create barriers to success. In particular, one study found that RtI was being implemented frequently in elementary schools but less frequently in high schools (Swindlehurst et al., 2015). Fourth, concerns have been raised about parental involvement in RtI and parent understanding (Byrd, 2011; Friedman, 2010; Reschly, 2008; Werts et al., 2014). RtI is not a framework that parents would have experienced when they were in school, and the terminology used in RtI can confuse parents. Despite the barriers to implementation, teachers disclosed that RtI has a significant benefit to the students, including early identification of students in need of additional support, earlier intervention, higher levels of success among students, and a reduced number of referrals to special education (Werts et al., 2014). Study Purpose This study was a collaboration between university researchers and community-based special education advocates in a midsize city in the southeastern United States. Even though RtI has been in existence for several years, the particular state in which the study was conducted was only in its second year of RtI implementation. All school districts in the target state were required to implement RtI across all grades. Educational advocates were hearing reports that RtI was being used to deny special education evaluation. Advocates had also heard reports of students being segregated into RtI classrooms based on tiers rather than following the special education assessment and intervention process. Concerns were also raised about lack of information given to parents and lack of understanding among parents of the RtI model. It was agreed that the research team and advocates would collaborate on a survey. The information gained from the survey was provided to the local advocates in the form of a report that they could provide to local school districts. The research team asked the following three research questions: What understanding, if any, do parents have about the processes and procedures used within the RtI model? What are the parent’s perceptions about strengths and weaknesses of the RtI process? How is RtI affecting parents’ experience with the special education referral process? Method A mixed methods design was used to gather both qualitative and quantitative data. An online survey was conducted using the survey tool Qualtrics. The survey was conducted in late spring 2016 before the school year ended. The online survey was completed by voluntary parent or caregiver participants. As mentioned earlier, the researchers collaborated with a consortium of disability advocacy groups. Many of these advocacy organizations were special education and disability focused, but some of them identified their mission as supporting all children in public schools. The advocacy organizations distributed the survey to Listservs of their membership, via their social media sites, and via their Web sites. The initial e-mail or social media posting about the survey explained that it was being conducted as a collaboration between community partner agencies and a local university. Participants were informed that the survey was part of a research study and that it was voluntary and anonymous. No incentives were given. The survey procedure was reviewed and approved by a university institutional review board. The survey opened with an introductory statement about the purpose of the study that included a definition of RtI. The definition explained that RtI was a framework that offered academic support based on a child’s current need, with the goal of moving all students into Tier 1 (high-quality, general instruction). It included a diagram of the theoretical model of RtI and the three tiers. The introductory statement also explained that RtI was a framework mandated for school districts in the state. The survey gathered quantitative information by first asking about the children’s demographics (age, grade, type of school attended). Then, participants were asked to respond to a series of closed-ended questions and one open-ended question about the information they had received about RtI. Other questions asked whether participants were concerned about the child’s progress and whether they had sought additional evaluation. Participants were able to respond to the same set of questions on each child, for up to four children. A final open-ended question asked if there was anything they would like to add about RtI. Last, participants were asked a series of demographic questions about themselves, including their relationship to the child. The survey was administered in both English and Spanish. It was translated into Spanish and then independently back translated to ensure equivalency of the two forms. Two bilingual translators were used: The first translates from the original language, and the second translates the survey responses back to that language (Brislin, 1970). Participants A total of 207 parents and caregivers responded to the survey on behalf of 316 children. Only two participants listed their relationship to the child as grandparent and two as guardian, so participants will be hereinafter referred to as parents. Most parents reported information on only one child, and no parent reported information on more than three children. Most of the responses (n = 202) were in English; the remaining five were in Spanish. The most common grades reported were fourth grade (11.4 percent) and kindergarten (10.4 percent). However, children were spread fairly evenly across grades. Children in the study ranged in age from three to 22 years. The mean age was 10.7 and the standard deviation was 3.7 years. Of the 296 children with a reported gender, 186 (58.9 percent) were male and 110 (34.8 percent) were female. Children in the study were most likely to be white/Caucasian (63.0 percent) and attend public schools (75.6 percent). Children in the study came from 16 counties and attended 104 different public or charter schools. Parents reported that nearly a quarter of children in the survey had an IEP (24.7 percent), but only 2.8 percent had a 504 plan (see Table 1). Table 1: Demographics of Child and Parent Demographic  n  %  Child (N = 316)      Grade       Elementary (K–5)  175  55.3   Middle school (6–8)  66  20.9   High school (9–12)  56  17.7   Unreported  19  6.0  Age (years)       3–4  5  1.6   5–8  94  29.8   9–11  88  27.9   12–14  59  18.6   15–18  49  15.5   19–22  5  1.5   Unreported  16  5.1  Gender       Male  186  58.9   Female  110  34.8   Unreported  20  6.3  Race       White/Caucasian  199  63.0   Black/African American  33  10.4   Asian American  4  1.3   American Indian/Native American  2  0.6   Latino/Hispanic  27  8.5   Other  7  2.2   Prefer not to answer/unreported  44  13.9  Type of school       Public  239  75.6   Charter  6  1.9   Private  13  4.1   Home  13  4.1   Unreported  45  14.2  IEP or 504 Plan       IEP  78  24.7   504 Plan  9  2.8   Neither  85  26.9   I don’t know/no response  144  45.6  Parent (N = 207)      Relationship to child       Parent  148  71.5   Grandparent  2  1.0   Guardian  2  1.0   Adoptive parent  3  1.4   Foster parent  1  .5   Other/missing  51  24.8  Household income ($)       Under 25,000  20  9.7   25,000–49,999  36  17.4   50,000–74,999  28  13.5   75,000–99,999  21  10.1   100,000–124,999  22  10.6   125,000–149,999  8  3.9   150,000–174,999  5  2.4   175,000 or more  13  6.3   Unreported  54  26.1  Education level       Some high school  3  1.4   High school diploma  20  9.7   Some college  39  18.8   College diploma  44  21.3   Some graduate school  12  5.7   Graduate degree  38  18.4   Unreported  51  24.6  Demographic  n  %  Child (N = 316)      Grade       Elementary (K–5)  175  55.3   Middle school (6–8)  66  20.9   High school (9–12)  56  17.7   Unreported  19  6.0  Age (years)       3–4  5  1.6   5–8  94  29.8   9–11  88  27.9   12–14  59  18.6   15–18  49  15.5   19–22  5  1.5   Unreported  16  5.1  Gender       Male  186  58.9   Female  110  34.8   Unreported  20  6.3  Race       White/Caucasian  199  63.0   Black/African American  33  10.4   Asian American  4  1.3   American Indian/Native American  2  0.6   Latino/Hispanic  27  8.5   Other  7  2.2   Prefer not to answer/unreported  44  13.9  Type of school       Public  239  75.6   Charter  6  1.9   Private  13  4.1   Home  13  4.1   Unreported  45  14.2  IEP or 504 Plan       IEP  78  24.7   504 Plan  9  2.8   Neither  85  26.9   I don’t know/no response  144  45.6  Parent (N = 207)      Relationship to child       Parent  148  71.5   Grandparent  2  1.0   Guardian  2  1.0   Adoptive parent  3  1.4   Foster parent  1  .5   Other/missing  51  24.8  Household income ($)       Under 25,000  20  9.7   25,000–49,999  36  17.4   50,000–74,999  28  13.5   75,000–99,999  21  10.1   100,000–124,999  22  10.6   125,000–149,999  8  3.9   150,000–174,999  5  2.4   175,000 or more  13  6.3   Unreported  54  26.1  Education level       Some high school  3  1.4   High school diploma  20  9.7   Some college  39  18.8   College diploma  44  21.3   Some graduate school  12  5.7   Graduate degree  38  18.4   Unreported  51  24.6  Note: IEP = individualized education program. Table 1: Demographics of Child and Parent Demographic  n  %  Child (N = 316)      Grade       Elementary (K–5)  175  55.3   Middle school (6–8)  66  20.9   High school (9–12)  56  17.7   Unreported  19  6.0  Age (years)       3–4  5  1.6   5–8  94  29.8   9–11  88  27.9   12–14  59  18.6   15–18  49  15.5   19–22  5  1.5   Unreported  16  5.1  Gender       Male  186  58.9   Female  110  34.8   Unreported  20  6.3  Race       White/Caucasian  199  63.0   Black/African American  33  10.4   Asian American  4  1.3   American Indian/Native American  2  0.6   Latino/Hispanic  27  8.5   Other  7  2.2   Prefer not to answer/unreported  44  13.9  Type of school       Public  239  75.6   Charter  6  1.9   Private  13  4.1   Home  13  4.1   Unreported  45  14.2  IEP or 504 Plan       IEP  78  24.7   504 Plan  9  2.8   Neither  85  26.9   I don’t know/no response  144  45.6  Parent (N = 207)      Relationship to child       Parent  148  71.5   Grandparent  2  1.0   Guardian  2  1.0   Adoptive parent  3  1.4   Foster parent  1  .5   Other/missing  51  24.8  Household income ($)       Under 25,000  20  9.7   25,000–49,999  36  17.4   50,000–74,999  28  13.5   75,000–99,999  21  10.1   100,000–124,999  22  10.6   125,000–149,999  8  3.9   150,000–174,999  5  2.4   175,000 or more  13  6.3   Unreported  54  26.1  Education level       Some high school  3  1.4   High school diploma  20  9.7   Some college  39  18.8   College diploma  44  21.3   Some graduate school  12  5.7   Graduate degree  38  18.4   Unreported  51  24.6  Demographic  n  %  Child (N = 316)      Grade       Elementary (K–5)  175  55.3   Middle school (6–8)  66  20.9   High school (9–12)  56  17.7   Unreported  19  6.0  Age (years)       3–4  5  1.6   5–8  94  29.8   9–11  88  27.9   12–14  59  18.6   15–18  49  15.5   19–22  5  1.5   Unreported  16  5.1  Gender       Male  186  58.9   Female  110  34.8   Unreported  20  6.3  Race       White/Caucasian  199  63.0   Black/African American  33  10.4   Asian American  4  1.3   American Indian/Native American  2  0.6   Latino/Hispanic  27  8.5   Other  7  2.2   Prefer not to answer/unreported  44  13.9  Type of school       Public  239  75.6   Charter  6  1.9   Private  13  4.1   Home  13  4.1   Unreported  45  14.2  IEP or 504 Plan       IEP  78  24.7   504 Plan  9  2.8   Neither  85  26.9   I don’t know/no response  144  45.6  Parent (N = 207)      Relationship to child       Parent  148  71.5   Grandparent  2  1.0   Guardian  2  1.0   Adoptive parent  3  1.4   Foster parent  1  .5   Other/missing  51  24.8  Household income ($)       Under 25,000  20  9.7   25,000–49,999  36  17.4   50,000–74,999  28  13.5   75,000–99,999  21  10.1   100,000–124,999  22  10.6   125,000–149,999  8  3.9   150,000–174,999  5  2.4   175,000 or more  13  6.3   Unreported  54  26.1  Education level       Some high school  3  1.4   High school diploma  20  9.7   Some college  39  18.8   College diploma  44  21.3   Some graduate school  12  5.7   Graduate degree  38  18.4   Unreported  51  24.6  Note: IEP = individualized education program. Analysis Quantitative data were imported into SPSS (Version 24.0) to be analyzed. The survey tool recorded 283 responses. However, 76 responses were either blank or had no information recorded beyond ages and grades of the children. These responses were eliminated, leaving 207 parent responses. Some parents had more than one child, so there were 316 total students in the sample. A total of 245 parents reported that their child attended a public or charter school, which made them eligible to answer the questions on RtI. Children who are home schooled or attend private school are not required to participate in RtI, so their parents were not asked questions about RtI. Results of the RtI questions are reported in Table 2. Missing data in Table 2 are due to skip patterns and irrelevance of questions if prior questions were not answered affirmatively. Table 2: Parent Knowledge and RtI Information Distribution (N = 245) Question  Response  n  %  Do you know if your child is currently being screened for RtI?          Yes  81  33.1    No  107  43.7    Unreported/does not know  57  23.3  Did you receive any information about RtI?          Yes  52  21.2    No  137  55.9    Unreported  56  22.9  How were you informed about RtI?          Letter in the mail  1  0.4    Letter from the school  27  11.0    Phone call  2  0.8    E-mail  6  2.4    Meeting at school  10  4.1    IEP meeting  9  3.7    Teacher spoke with me  15  6.1    Not at all  1  0.4    No information given  174  71.0  How often do you receive RtI updates?          Once a week  5  2.0    Once a month  8  3.3    Once every nine weeks  31  12.7    Once a year  14  5.7    Never  86  35.1    Don’t know  29  11.8    Missing  72  29.4  Question  Response  n  %  Do you know if your child is currently being screened for RtI?          Yes  81  33.1    No  107  43.7    Unreported/does not know  57  23.3  Did you receive any information about RtI?          Yes  52  21.2    No  137  55.9    Unreported  56  22.9  How were you informed about RtI?          Letter in the mail  1  0.4    Letter from the school  27  11.0    Phone call  2  0.8    E-mail  6  2.4    Meeting at school  10  4.1    IEP meeting  9  3.7    Teacher spoke with me  15  6.1    Not at all  1  0.4    No information given  174  71.0  How often do you receive RtI updates?          Once a week  5  2.0    Once a month  8  3.3    Once every nine weeks  31  12.7    Once a year  14  5.7    Never  86  35.1    Don’t know  29  11.8    Missing  72  29.4  Note: RtI = response to intervention; IEP = individualized education program. Table 2: Parent Knowledge and RtI Information Distribution (N = 245) Question  Response  n  %  Do you know if your child is currently being screened for RtI?          Yes  81  33.1    No  107  43.7    Unreported/does not know  57  23.3  Did you receive any information about RtI?          Yes  52  21.2    No  137  55.9    Unreported  56  22.9  How were you informed about RtI?          Letter in the mail  1  0.4    Letter from the school  27  11.0    Phone call  2  0.8    E-mail  6  2.4    Meeting at school  10  4.1    IEP meeting  9  3.7    Teacher spoke with me  15  6.1    Not at all  1  0.4    No information given  174  71.0  How often do you receive RtI updates?          Once a week  5  2.0    Once a month  8  3.3    Once every nine weeks  31  12.7    Once a year  14  5.7    Never  86  35.1    Don’t know  29  11.8    Missing  72  29.4  Question  Response  n  %  Do you know if your child is currently being screened for RtI?          Yes  81  33.1    No  107  43.7    Unreported/does not know  57  23.3  Did you receive any information about RtI?          Yes  52  21.2    No  137  55.9    Unreported  56  22.9  How were you informed about RtI?          Letter in the mail  1  0.4    Letter from the school  27  11.0    Phone call  2  0.8    E-mail  6  2.4    Meeting at school  10  4.1    IEP meeting  9  3.7    Teacher spoke with me  15  6.1    Not at all  1  0.4    No information given  174  71.0  How often do you receive RtI updates?          Once a week  5  2.0    Once a month  8  3.3    Once every nine weeks  31  12.7    Once a year  14  5.7    Never  86  35.1    Don’t know  29  11.8    Missing  72  29.4  Note: RtI = response to intervention; IEP = individualized education program. Qualitative data came from the open-ended questions on the survey. Parents had the opportunity to respond to between two and four open-ended questions. Parents were presented with one open-ended question about each child’s experience and one open-ended question overall. The information provided in response to the open-ended questions was substantial. Using an interpretive method, two researchers (or multiple coders) read, identified, and agreed on units of meaning. To ensure rigor, the researchers agreed to the following set of procedures. Both researchers independently coded each survey response, compared codes, resolved differences, and formed a preliminary definition for each code. New codes were added, and definitions of codes were agreed on and revised as needed. Codes were organized into categories, and themes were generated after reflection on these categories. The researchers used discussion to explore disagreements and build consensus (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). Results Quantitative results indicated that information given to parents about RtI was sparse. Only a third of parents (33.1 percent) were aware that their children were currently being screened for RtI, and only 21.2 percent of parents had received any information from the school about RtI. Parents were asked whether they had received information about their child’s tier in RtI, and the majority had not received any information (55.9 percent). Parents were then asked how often they were given information about RtI, and the most common answer was never (35.1 percent). The third research question explored whether children were being denied evaluation for special education and being told they must first complete RtI, so a series of questions were asked to investigate this concern. Just over a quarter of parents had requested an evaluation (26.5 percent) and of those, more than half had received one. Only two parents reported that they were told by school district officials that they could not have a special education evaluation due to RtI. In the qualitative data, seven themes were identified: (1) gaps in services, (2) not the most effective approach, (3) waste of time, (4) little/no information, (5) too much testing, (6) not relevant due to IEP/special education (SPED) services, and (7) effective enrichment and support. Most of these themes reflect parents’ negative evaluation of RtI, but the final theme was positive. Each of these themes is described with two or three exemplary quotes in the following sections. Gaps in Services Thirty-nine parents expressed concern and frustration surrounding gaps in services. Parents also held the perception that RtI created difficulties and blocked their child from accessing services. For example, one parent explained, In the beginning before my child had a diagnosis of dyslexia (first grade), RtI was a delay to getting tested for us. He would suspiciously move from Tier 3 to Tier 1 in one week and then return to Tier 3 the next week. RtI was a good buffer for the school to not commit to testing. . . . It was a huge struggle for me and my child. Some parents reported having to fight for services; others cited gaps in services that they attributed to underfunding. Concern was also expressed surrounding students not getting enough support or individualized instruction in needed areas. One parent explained, “It was just not enough support. He needed smaller group, more individualized help/instruction in those areas.” Some parents expressed concern over adding an additional responsibility to their child’s teacher; others stated that more resources or funding are needed, such as more funding and more teachers, for this intervention to be successful. One parent explained, “Teachers cannot take on another added responsibility such as teaching an extra class period per day.” Throughout this category, many parents spoke about their child’s learning disability such as dyslexia or attention/deficit hyperactivity disorder. Parents expressed concern over the school not committing to testing, delaying or denying evaluations, and not understanding or minimizing their child’s needs. Not the Most Effective Approach Seventeen parents raised concerns that RtI is not effective and has a negative impact on their child’s learning environment. One parent of a high school student explained, “In my opinion is it is not helpful. High school students that need extra help would be much better served by giving them extra time with their teacher.” Overall, parents expressed the wish for RtI to be more individualized and for their child to receive extra time with their teachers and one-on-one attention. One parent explained, I think it’s a joke. His reading and math [have] not really improved much despite being in Tier 3 for the last two years. . . . The interventions should be more specific to each individual student rather than a blanket intervention. Waste of Time Fourteen parents complained about the time-consuming nature of RtI and the impact time spent on RtI has on learning time during the school day. Parents expressed concern about their child missing class for RtI assessments and monitoring. Two parents explained, “[RtI is] time consuming and is generally a waste of time. I’d rather my child spend less time on tests and more time on learning.” “Seems like a huge waste of time, plus kids are being pulled away from their teachers and their classmates.” Other parents reported that their child was doing homework rather than the RtI screening and intervention activities, and another parent stated that some children manipulate the RtI testing placements to be placed with friends. Some parents complained about teachers not understanding their child’s needs, which results in RtI time being wasted. No or Little Information Fifty-one parents expressed that they have received very little or, in many cases, no information about RtI from their child’s school. This was the most common theme in the qualitative data. Some parents reported that they were being introduced to the framework for the first time through this survey. One parent commented, “I don’t know anything about it. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of if.” Another parent commented, “I have no idea. Absolutely no information has been shared with me about this program.” Other parents knew very little about RtI and were still unclear about the framework as a whole. Some parents gained information about RtI through their child; other parents did independent research to discover more information. One parent explained, “I only know what I sought out and read. No information was offered from the school system.” A few parents knew about RtI only because they had a direct link with the school. These parents identified as teachers or school psychologists. However, despite their connection to the school system, these parents still confessed that they had gained little information on RtI from their child’s teacher. Too Much School Testing Eight parents commented that RtI “is yet another mandated test.” Another parent said, “RtI is just another screening process for the school.” Parents expressed concern that in general, too much school time is used for testing rather than learning. There is already a significant emphasis on testing in the public school system, and several parents felt that the last thing their children needed was yet another test. This was a small category in comparison to others. Yet it was a concern that several parents mentioned. Not Relevant Due to IEP Services As mentioned earlier, a third of the children in the present study had an IEP and received special education services. Ten of these parents had some unique comments and concerns about RtI. A few parents mentioned concerns that RtI delayed assessment for special education. However, many parents with children in special education were unfamiliar with RtI. One parent commented, “He has an IEP. Not sure what RtI is.” Overall these parents expressed that RtI does not have an impact. They were unfamiliar with RtI and whether it was being implemented. One parent explained, “It hasn’t impacted his ability to receive services. He’s been under an IEP his whole academic career.” Effective Enrichment and Support Although the parent response to RtI in this survey was overwhelmingly negative, seven parents did see a benefit to RtI. These respondents noted that RtI provides enrichment and support. These parents viewed RtI as an additional resource for their child which, in some cases, has helped the student achieve at grade level and determine the type of services needed. Two parents explained, “RtI has been an ‘extra’ resource offered, and she has shown improvements in her math skills.” “[RtI] had been able to determine the type of services that my son receives in the school. They are helping him greatly.” Some parents who viewed RtI positively noted that improvements were a combined effort between interventions like RtI and adequate support in the classroom and at home. Discussion and Implications The research team was initially contacted because advocates were concerned that children were being denied special education services due to RtI and being segregated into RtI classrooms. Overall, the findings did not support these concerns. Only two participants reported that they were told that they could not receive an evaluation for special education because RtI must be implemented. Although those two cases are alarming, the survey indicated that these two cases appear to be isolated and not part of a widespread problem. In addition, parents did not raise any concerns about children being segregated into RtI classrooms. A few parents mentioned that RtI took away regular education time, but their responses suggested that their children spent most of the time in regular education. There were some concerns that RtI delayed special education identification. However, in these cases, the students were ultimately identified. The research team did find that there are still many challenges and barriers surrounding the implementation of RtI. The quantitative data indicated that many parents lack information and do not get regular updates from the school regarding their child’s progress under RtI. The qualitative data revealed several areas of frustration for parents and a general feeling from parents that RtI is not worthwhile. Parents described several examples of cases in which RtI is not being properly implemented, such as having children work on homework instead of participating in the framework or being pulled away from critical instruction for RtI. However, a small number of parents noted that if teachers and parents communicate well about the child’s needs, RtI can be used to provide helpful support and resources. The findings support prior research indicating that although RtI is considered an effective intervention, many parents and teachers report frustrations with the framework (Richards et al., 2007; Swindlehurst et al., 2015; Werts et al., 2014). Byrd (2011) has noted that there are several reasons to improve the involvement of parents in RtI. First, academic jargon may intimidate parents, making them less inclined to become involved in the process. Second, RtI can lead to special education intervention, and it is helpful to have parent involvement from the beginning if a special education referral will ultimately be made. Finally, parent involvement can lead to more positive outcomes for students (Byrd, 2011). This study has several limitations. First, the study was small and was conducted in only one region of the country. A national study might yield different results. Second, this study was distributed anonymously through Listservs and social media. We used a convenience sample, which limits the generalizability of the results. The representativeness of the sample is also limited to those who had access to the Internet. This also limits the amount of data that can be collected compared with data from in-person interviews, and anonymous surveys can have the risk of participants filling out more than one survey. A third limitation was that this study collected data only from parents and other caregivers. A multi-informant study could survey teachers and other school district professionals about their views on RtI and provide richer information. Fourth, because this study was a collaboration with disability advocacy groups, it is possible that students with disabilities were somewhat overrepresented. Fifth, this study was too small to make comparisons between schools and districts. A larger, more comprehensive study could identify which districts and schools are implementing RtI well. Despite the limitations, the findings of this study have important implications for practice and future research. For social workers and other professionals, it is important to note that communication between the schools and the parents in this study was inadequate. Prior research has indicated that involvement of parents is essential to the success of RtI (Byrd, 2011). Social workers can play a critical role in advocating for adequate information to be sent home to parents. Parents should receive information about what RtI is and individualized information about their child’s progress. Social workers can help draft this information and make sure that it is clear and easy to read. Information sessions and trainings for parents are also helpful, either at the school or online. Social workers can gather information about the RtI framework and best practices for engaging parents using several resources available on the Web (see, for example, Center for Parent Information & Resources, n.d.; RtI Action Network, n.d.; Usaj, Shine, & Mandlawitz, n.d.). RtI is a framework that uses evidence-based tiered interventions, yet parents report lack of information, frustration, and doubts about its effectiveness. Prior research has indicated that parent involvement is critical to children’s education (El Nokali, Bachman, & Votruba-Drzal, 2010; LeFevre & Shaw, 2011). Parental involvement likely improves the effectiveness of RtI as well. School districts should work collaboratively to engage parents and assess parental needs and concerns before, during, and after the implementation of RtI. References Brislin, R. W. ( 1970). Back-translation for cross-cultural research. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology,  1( 3), 185– 216. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Bruce, S. (n.d.). A parent’s guide to response to intervention (RtI). Retrieved from http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/rti.parent.guide.htm Building the legacy: IDEA 2004. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://idea.ed.gov Burns, M. K., Appleton, L. J., & Stehouwer, J. D. ( 2005). Meta-analytic review of responsiveness-to-intervention research: Examining field-based and research-implemented models. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment,  23, 381– 394. doi:10.1177/073428290502300406 Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Byrd, E. S. ( 2011). Educating and involving parents in the response to intervention process. 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Children & SchoolsOxford University Press

Published: May 10, 2018

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