KU Center for Research on Learning

KU Center for Research on Learning

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Examining the Role of the Special Educator in a Response to Intervention Model

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The purpose of this study was to examine the role of the special educator within a response-to-intervention (RTI) framework and to examine what instructional behaviors special educators evidence most frequently in the advanced RTI tiers. Seven special educators from the state of Kansas participated in this study. More than 7,000 minutes of observational data were collected, focusing on role components and instructional practices. Interviews were conducted with all participants. Data collected regarding the roles that special educators play showed that they are required to perform a wide array of tasks in various settings in collaboration with multiple professionals, students, and parents. Observations also showed that special educators are using their limited amount of instructional time in practices that produce the greatest effects, but there were little differences noted between instructional practices in the advanced tiers of instruction.

This study was conducted in three phases: pre-observation, observation, and post-observation. During the pre-observation phase, researchers asked the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) to nominate schools to include in the study, considering the following criteria: (a) nominated schools must be currently implementing RTI and (b) the list should include schools that were experienced in implementation (i.e., minimum of three years of implementation) and schools in the beginning of implementation.
During the observation phase, each teacher was observed for three consecutive, full school days (i.e., five minutes before the first bell of the day until five minutes after the last bell of the day). During each observation day, the researcher focused on two aspects of the role of special educators within an RTI framework: what tasks their role consisted of and what instructional practices they used throughout their day.

During the post-observation phase, the researcher conducted interviews with each participating teacher. The researcher also contacted teacher participants via phone to ask follow-up questions as necessary.

Figure 1 shows the combined results of observations of all seven teacher participants in regard to the roles they perform throughout the school day. The researcher recorded a total of 7,622 minutes of observation (i.e., three school days per teacher, or 21 school days). As illustrated, the Manager role constituted the largest proportion of time (33 percent). Of that 33 percent, the data were broken down further to explain what tasks were included in the role component and what proportion of time was spent in each task (see Table 1). Collaborator and Interventionist constituted 27 percent of total time; specific tasks are listed in Tables 2 and 3. Finally, the Diagnostician role constituted 13 percent of the total. Further dividing the data on this component shows a detailed list of tasks and their proportion of occurrence (see Table 4).

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Belinda B. Mitchell, KUCRL doctoral fellow
Donald D. Deshler, KUCRL director

This study examined the role and instructional behaviors of the special educator in a response-to-intervention (RTI) framework in regard to the following:

  • The proportion of the special educator’s time spent in four key roles: collaborator, interventionist, diagnostician, and manager

  • The behaviors within each role in which special educators engage most frequently

  • The instructional practices used most frequently by special educators

  • The instructional practices used by special educators aligned with effective instructional practices that have been identified in empirical literature

“I think the paperwork…that is huge…being the only [special education] teacher in my building…my situation (i.e., one person to complete all required paperwork) is a lot of missed instruction time…a lot!”
—Teacher referring to time spent in manager role and doing paperwork

“…They are wonderful teachers, but I see that line in the sand and I said ‘OK’ and came back to my side. I am still waiting, kind of standing there…but at this point it is definitely, it is two different things (i.e., special education and general education). It is two different islands.”
— Teacher referring to collaboration with general educator

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