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IES PRACTICE GUIDE WHAT WORKS CLEARINGHOUSE

Assisting Students Struggling with


Mathematics: Response to Intervention
(RtI) for Elementary and Middle Schools

NCEE 2009-4060
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
INTRODUCTION

Table 1. Institute of Education Sciences levels of evidence for practice guides


In general, characterization of the evidence for a recommendation as strong requires both
studies with high internal validity (i.e., studies whose designs can support causal conclusions)
and studies with high external validity (i.e., studies that in total include enough of the range
of participants and settings on which the recommendation is focused to support the conclu-
sion that the results can be generalized to those participants and settings). Strong evidence
for this practice guide is operationalized as:
r A systematic review of research that generally meets the standards of the What Works
Clearinghouse (WWC) (see http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/) and supports the effectiveness of
Strong a program, practice, or approach with no contradictory evidence of similar quality; OR
r Several well-designed, randomized controlled trials or well-designed quasi-experiments
that generally meet the standards of WWC and support the effectiveness of a program,
practice, or approach, with no contradictory evidence of similar quality; OR
r One large, well-designed, randomized controlled, multisite trial that meets WWC standards
and supports the effectiveness of a program, practice, or approach, with no contradictory
evidence of similar quality; OR
r For assessments, evidence of reliability and validity that meets the Standards for Educa-
tional and Psychological Testing.a
In general, characterization of the evidence for a recommendation as moderate requires stud-
ies with high internal validity but moderate external validity, or studies with high external
validity but moderate internal validity. In other words, moderate evidence is derived from
studies that support strong causal conclusions but when generalization is uncertain, or stud-
ies that support the generality of a relationship but when the causality is uncertain. Moderate
evidence for this practice guide is operationalized as:
r Experiments or quasi-experiments generally meeting the standards of WWC and sup-
porting the effectiveness of a program, practice, or approach with small sample sizes
and/or other conditions of implementation or analysis that limit generalizability and
no contrary evidence; OR
Moderate r Comparison group studies that do not demonstrate equivalence of groups at pre-
test and therefore do not meet the standards of WWC but that (a) consistently show
enhanced outcomes for participants experiencing a particular program, practice, or
approach and (b) have no major flaws related to internal validity other than lack of
demonstrated equivalence at pretest (e.g., only one teacher or one class per condition,
unequal amounts of instructional time, highly biased outcome measures); OR
r Correlational research with strong statistical controls for selection bias and for dis-
cerning influence of endogenous factors and no contrary evidence; OR
r For assessments, evidence of reliability that meets the Standards for Educational and
Psychological Testingb but with evidence of validity from samples not adequately rep-
resentative of the population on which the recommendation is focused.

In general, characterization of the evidence for a recommendation as low means that the
recommendation is based on expert opinion derived from strong findings or theories in
Low related areas and/or expert opinion buttressed by direct evidence that does not rise to
the moderate or strong levels. Low evidence is operationalized as evidence not meeting
the standards for the moderate or high levels.

a. American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, and National Council on
Measurement in Education (1999).
b. Ibid.

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OVERVIEW

Table 2. Recommendations and corresponding levels of evidence

Recommendation Level of evidence

Tier 1

1. Screen all students to identify those at risk for potential mathematics


Moderate
difficulties and provide interventions to students identified as at risk.

Tiers 2 and 3

2. Instructional materials for students receiving interventions should


focus intensely on in-depth treatment of whole numbers in kindergar-
Low
ten through grade 5 and on rational numbers in grades 4 through 8.
These materials should be selected by committee.

3. Instruction during the intervention should be explicit and systematic.


This includes providing models of proficient problem solving, verbal-
Strong
ization of thought processes, guided practice, corrective feedback, and
frequent cumulative review.

4. Interventions should include instruction on solving word problems


Strong
that is based on common underlying structures.

5. Intervention materials should include opportunities for students to


work with visual representations of mathematical ideas and interven-
Moderate
tionists should be proficient in the use of visual representations of
mathematical ideas.

6. Interventions at all grade levels should devote about 10 minutes in each


Moderate
session to building fluent retrieval of basic arithmetic facts.

7. Monitor the progress of students receiving supplemental instruction


Low
and other students who are at risk.

8. Include motivational strategies in tier 2 and tier 3 interventions. Low

Source: Authors’ compilation based on analysis described in text.

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Checklist for carrying out the in-depth coverage of rational numbers as
recommendations well as advanced topics in whole number
arithmetic (such as long division).
Recommendation 1. Screen all
students to identify those at risk for ! Districts should appoint committees,
potential mathematics difficulties and including experts in mathematics instruc-
provide interventions to students tion and mathematicians with knowledge
identified as at risk. of elementary and middle school math-
ematics curricula, to ensure that specific
! As a district or school sets up a screen- criteria are covered in-depth in the cur-
ing system, have a team evaluate potential riculum they adopt.
screening measures. The team should se-
lect measures that are efficient and reason- Recommendation 3. Instruction during
ably reliable and that demonstrate predic- the intervention should be explicit and
tive validity. Screening should occur in the systematic. This includes providing
beginning and middle of the year. models of proficient problem solving,
verbalization of thought processes,
! Select screening measures based on guided practice, corrective feedback,
the content they cover, with an emphasis and frequent cumulative review.
on critical instructional objectives for each
grade. ! Ensure that instructional materials are
systematic and explicit. In particular, they
! In grades 4 through 8, use screen- should include numerous clear models of
ing data in combination with state testing easy and difficult problems, with accom-
results. panying teacher think-alouds.

! Use the same screening tool across a ! Provide students with opportunities
district to enable analyzing results across to solve problems in a group and commu-
schools. nicate problem-solving strategies.

Recommendation 2. Instructional ! Ensure that instructional materials in-


materials for students receiving clude cumulative review in each session.
interventions should focus intensely
on in-depth treatment of whole Recommendation 4. Interventions
numbers in kindergarten through should include instruction on solving
grade 5 and on rational numbers in word problems that is based on
grades 4 through 8. These materials common underlying structures.
should be selected by committee.
! Teach students about the structure of
! For students in kindergarten through various problem types, how to categorize
grade 5, tier 2 and tier 3 interventions problems based on structure, and how to
should focus almost exclusively on prop- determine appropriate solutions for each
erties of whole numbers and operations. problem type.
Some older students struggling with
whole numbers and operations would ! Teach students to recognize the com-
also benefit from in-depth coverage of mon underlying structure between famil-
these topics. iar and unfamiliar problems and to transfer
known solution methods from familiar to
! For tier 2 and tier 3 students in grades unfamiliar problems.
4 through 8, interventions should focus on
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CHECKLIST FOR CARRYING OUT THE RECOMMENDATIONS

Recommendation 5. Intervention ! Teach students in grades 2 through


materials should include opportunities 8 how to use their knowledge of proper-
for students to work with visual ties, such as commutative, associative,
representations of mathematical and distributive law, to derive facts in
ideas and interventionists should their heads.
be proficient in the use of visual
representations of mathematical ideas. Recommendation 7. Monitor the
progress of students receiving
! Use visual representations such as supplemental instruction and other
number lines, arrays, and strip diagrams. students who are at risk.

! If visuals are not sufficient for develop- ! Monitor the progress of tier 2, tier 3,
ing accurate abstract thought and answers, and borderline tier 1 students at least once
use concrete manipulatives first. Although a month using grade-appropriate general
this can also be done with students in upper outcome measures.
elementary and middle school grades, use
of manipulatives with older students should ! Use curriculum-embedded assess-
be expeditious because the goal is to move ments in interventions to determine
toward understanding of—and facility whether students are learning from the
with—visual representations, and finally, to intervention. These measures can be used
the abstract. as often as every day or as infrequently as
once every other week.
Recommendation 6. Interventions at
all grade levels should devote about ! Use progress monitoring data to re-
10 minutes in each session to building group students when necessary.
fluent retrieval of basic arithmetic facts.
Recommendation 8. Include
! Provide about 10 minutes per ses- motivational strategies in tier 2 and
sion of instruction to build quick retrieval tier 3 interventions.
of basic arithmetic facts. Consider using
technology, flash cards, and other materi- ! Reinforce or praise students for their
als for extensive practice to facilitate au- effort and for attending to and being en-
tomatic retrieval. gaged in the lesson.

! For students in kindergarten through ! Consider rewarding student accom-


grade 2, explicitly teach strategies for ef- plishments.
ficient counting to improve the retrieval of
mathematics facts. ! Allow students to chart their progress
and to set goals for improvement.

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