Ask the Experts

Research Support for RTI

Why are you supporting RTI at the high school level when the research base for high school efficacy is not particularly strong?

Response from Barbara J. Ehren, Ed.D.:

In general RTI at the secondary level does not have the track record that it has at the elementary level. In the scheme of things, we haven't been at this process for very long. When addressing RTI efficacy it is important to ask "efficacy for what purpose?" In looking at the twofold purpose of RTI, we could address efficacy in preventing school failure and efficacy in identifying students with learning disabilities. I would like to address the first purpose. When we talk about prevention in high school, we are addressing the prevention of further failure and the often dire consequences of school failure (e.g. alienation, dropping out, anti-social behavior). It would be hard to argue that a high school shouldn't address the needs of struggling learners by having intervention options that increase with intensity (aka RTI). The alternative is to allow students to fail unless they can qualify for special education (and not all of them should or would qualify). Moral reasons aside, in this age of accountability high schools cannot afford to ignore struggling learners. It is a myth that adolescence is too late for intervention. We do have a substantial body of research that has demonstrated that intervention with high school students can improve academic performance, including literacy. However, until we have more experience with RTI in high school we will not know how effective a systematic approach to varying levels of intervention intensity can be in preventing school failure. But can we live with the alternative in today's schools?

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