Field Studies of RTI Effectiveness Pennsylvania Instructional Support TEAMS (IST)

Study Citation


Kovaleski, J. F., Gickling, E. E., Morrow, H., & Swank, H. (1999). High versus low implementation of instructional support teams: A case for maintaining program fidelity. Remedial and Special Education, 20, 170–183.

Program Description

The Pennsylvania Instructional Support Teams (IST) is a problem-solving model that includes collaborative consultation. Its purpose is to provide interventions in instructional, behavioral, emotional, and/or communication domains in the general education classroom. Kovaleski, Gickling, Morrow, and Swank (1999) identified four phases of the IST process: a) entry, b) hypothesis forming, c) verifying, and d) outcome.

Within this model, ISTs are responsible for implementing the problem-solving process and consist of the school principal, the student’s teacher, a learning support teacher, and other specialists and teachers as needed. The classroom teacher and support teacher continuously monitor student progress in the classroom to help gauge intervention (e.g., small-group tutoring) effectiveness. This classroom support is limited to 50 days, after which the IST meets to determine if referral for special education is warranted.

Training of school personnel in the IST model was the responsibility of the local districts and took place over a 5-year training and phase-in period wherein personnel in all 500 school districts were trained in developing ISTs and in providing instructional support at the K–6 level. By 1997, more than 1,700 schools throughout Pennsylvania had received training and initiated the program.

Purpose of Study


Hartman and Fay (1996, cited in Kovaleski et al., 1999) studied IST implementation in 1,074 schools and reported that the use of ISTs led to fewer special education referrals and a reduction in grade-level retentions. The authors conducted this study to discover if there is clear evidence that students not referred or retained are successful in general education programs. Specifically, the purpose of the study was to answer the following questions:


  1. Do students receiving instructional support display greater gains on time-on-task, task completion, and task comprehension measures than similar students not having access to the IST process?
  2. How will the school’s level (high or low) of implementation of critical program features affect the degree of student progress on the above measures?

Study Method

Data were collected from 492 IST students from 117 IST schools. The IST schools were divided into two phases based on when they began the program. Phase 1 included 232 students and Phase 2 included 260 students. Comparison groups were 237 at-risk, non-IST students from 36 non-IST schools and 1,189 average students sampled from all 153 schools.

Time-on-task scores were obtained by interval recording for 10-minute periods. Task completion represented the percentage of work attempted divided by the amount of work expected. Task comprehension scores (0–4) were obtained by questioning each student directly after he or she had completed an assigned task (4 = 90% correct or better, 3 = 70%–89%, 2 = 40%–69%, 1 = 15%–39%, 0 = <14%).

Study Results

Question 1: The high-implementation IST groups showed greater gains than the non-IST groups on time-on-task, task completion, and task comprehension measures. The low-implementation IST group demonstrated lesser gains than the non-IST group, and often displayed declines between posttest and follow-up across the three measures.

Question 2: The high-implementation schools demonstrated consistently better results than the low-implementation schools from posttest to follow-up on all three measures. There was not a significant difference between low-implementation schools and non-IST schools on any of the three measures.

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