Elementary School Psychologists' Perceptions of Response to Intervention and Its Use to Diagnose Students with Specific Learning Disabilities in Tennessee: A Mixed Methods Study

April M Ebbinger, Tennessee State University


The purpose of this study was to examine the changes in initial eligibilities of elementary students across Tennessee since the implementation response to intervention (RtI), as well as understand the perceptions of elementary school psychologists related to those changes in identification and eligibility. RtI is a Tennessee mandated initiative, where school districts are required to provide high quality instruction, frequent progress monitoring, and research-based intervention. Once students are found to be unresponsive to the provided interventions, special education referral and subsequent diagnosis of a specific learning disability (SLD) may occur. This study examined the changes in how SLD was diagnosed since the implementation of the RtI framework, across Tennessee in 2014. A mixed methods research study methodology was utilized to examine the relationship of the collected eligibility data as well as the qualitative data in reference to the changes in identification and eligibility of students with SLD. Data was collected in two distinct phases. The first quantitative phase included collecting initial eligibility data from the Tennessee Department of Education pre- and post- RtI implementation in order to determine any significant differences. Additionally, a Likert scale survey was disseminated in order to measure Tennessee elementary school psychologists’ perceptions of these changes to the identification and diagnosis of students with SLD since RtI was implemented. The second qualitative phase included nine follow-up interviews, conducted within a case study framework. Results yielded indicated that there was a 52% decrease in the number of elementary students diagnosed with SLD since the implementation of RtI. Further, results from the survey indicated that school psychologists agree that students are receiving high-quality intervention since the implementation of RtI. However, school psychologists reported several issues related to the process of RtI including delaying services, issues with fidelity, and missing components related to the SLD evaluation. During the qualitative, follow-up interviews, school psychologists perceive the decrease in the number of students identified as SLD to be related to the time-consuming nature of the SLD evaluation including the length of time necessary to complete the intervention and collect required data points. Further, the majority of school psychologists reported that other diagnoses’ evaluations are easier to complete, hence many school psychologists may try to avoid completing SLD evaluations.

Subject Area

Educational tests & measurements|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

April M Ebbinger, "Elementary School Psychologists' Perceptions of Response to Intervention and Its Use to Diagnose Students with Specific Learning Disabilities in Tennessee: A Mixed Methods Study" (2017). ETD Collection for Tennessee State University. Paper AAI10605271.