The Social Construction of Reading-Related "Response to Intervention" In One Primary School

Date of Award

December 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Reading and Language Arts


Kathleen A. Hinchman


educational policy, reading instruction, Response to Intervention, RTI, school change, transformative leadership

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities



The purpose of this study was to explore how individuals in one primary school enacted and understood a new mandate called Response to Intervention, or “RTI.” More specifically, it asked: 1) How was the RTI mandate interpreted and realized by the school? 2) In what ways was reading instruction addressed during RTI implementation? 3) How did individuals view their responsibilities and involvement with RTI?

This qualitative study was rooted in social constructionism (Berger & Luckman, 1966; Burr, 2003), a theory that views knowledge of reality as unfixed and shaped by the language and actions of individuals in contextualized, situated perspectives. Seventeen participants volunteered for this study, which used in-depth interviews, participant observations, and locally created documents as data sources. Data analysis also drew upon the notion of marginalization of students with learning differences (Beglieri, Bejoain, Broderick, Connor, & Valle, 2011; Ferri, 2011; Lalvani, 2015; Nordmann, 2001) and Banks’s (2003) ideas about additive, versus transformative, approaches to educational change.

Analysis of data sources revealed that Response to Intervention was enacted within and between existing school structures and practices in a way that can be described as additive (Banks, 2003). That is, some new components were added to what was already in place, without a fundamental shift in the beliefs underlying existing structures and practices. Approaches to reading instruction did not appear to change during Response to Intervention implementation in this school. It is argued that without changes to instruction, there are unlikely to be changes in reading outcomes for students. This may begin to help explain the findings of a national study of RTI effectiveness conducted by Balu, Zhu, Doolittle, Schiller, Jenkins, and Gersten (2015). The authors of the large-scale study concluded that RTI, as implemented in the United States, has yet to have positive effects, and sometimes had negative effects, on student reading achievement.

Analysis also revealed that despite Response to Intervention’s intent to reduce the placing of special education labels on children, it was enacted in a way that created a new label – “RTI.” An RTI teacher was hired to deliver RTI services to the RTI students. This new labeling may be seen as stigmatizing, thereby perpetuating the marginalization of some students who struggle with learning to read and undermining collective responsibility for the reading success of all students in schools.

This study provides new insights about what happens when well-intended educational mandates come from the top down. It shows how such mandates may be socially constructed in actual schools with pre-existing underlying beliefs, structures, and practices that may be incongruent with the new initiative. This study points to a need for more up-close research that explores the enactment of educational mandates in schools. The findings also suggest a need for more specific guidance within legislation to support schools as they implement mandates, and, as a result, have implications for teacher and administrator education and practice.


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