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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Several conclusions can be drawn from the results of this study. First, special educators were found to spend more than a third of their total time engaged in managerial tasks such as paperwork and emails. Of their time spent in managerial tasks, 55 percent of time was spent completing paperwork, which amounts to about 17 percent of their total time spent as special educators. This is equal to about one day per week spent completing paperwork.

Second, special educators spent about a fourth of their time in the role of Collaborator, but the specific tasks they engaged in that constituted collaboration varied. Three of the seven teachers spent a proportion of their time in the general education classroom while the remaining four teachers were not observed in the general education classroom at all. The teachers who collaborated with general educators shared responsibility with general educators in each tier of instruction. The four teachers who did not collaborate with general educators saw their role as only providing services in Tier 3, where collaboration was required with students, parents, paraprofessional, and related service providers. Additionally, collaboration with paraprofessionals constituted a significant proportion of time spent in the Collaborator role by all but one of the teachers in this study.

Third, in the RTI models in which the special educators worked, the way in which students with disabilities were identified differed from traditional methods. Four of the seven teachers did not administer achievement or IQ tests to make special education eligibility decisions but instead they were responsible for gathering and analyzing curriculum-based measures to identify students with needs. Two of the three teachers who were still using achievement and IQ tests expressed that the longer their school implemented RTI and the more experienced they became with curriculum-based measures, the less their role would require them to use the traditional methods of identification.

Fourth, one-quarter of the special educators’ time was spent engaged in tasks related to instruction. Out of that fourth, three-fourths of the instructional time was spent engaging in instructional practices that produce the greatest effects (Hattie, 2009). This means that only 19 percent of their total role was spent in instructional practices that previous research has shown to yield the greatest effects. Again this is equivalent to approximately one day per week being devoted to effective instructional practices.

Finally, instruction in Tiers 2 and 3 were found to be generally the same with the exception of the occurrence of the special educator engaged in physical observation substantially more in Tier 2 than Tier 3. This occurrence can be explained by the fact that those teachers who were engaged in Tier 2 instruction were being used in the general education classroom by the general educator to conduct physical observation of students during the general educators’ delivery of instruction.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.

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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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