Problem-solving team deliberations in a response to intervention framework about struggling Latino English language learners in early primary grades



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Response to Intervention (RTI) is a multi-tiered framework that focuses on the early identification and support of students who are struggling to learn. In the problem-solving model of RTI, where a multidisciplinary team uses data to drive decision making, much remains unknown about how RTI should be implemented when struggling English language learners (ELLs) are the focus of team deliberations. The development of the multidisciplinary problem-solving team (PST) is grounded in the assumption that professionals from different disciplines such as school psychology, special education, and counseling would make less biased decisions than a single individual. However, a group of professionals may still make biased decisions based on stereotypes of ethnicity (Orosco, 2010), social class (Knotek, 2003), and inadequate knowledge of second language acquisition and bilingualism (Orosco, 2010). Not much is known about the process of team decision-making; in fact, no research to-date has examined how a PST deliberates about struggling ELLs. A qualitative case study approach was utilized to investigate how one school’s multidisciplinary problem-solving team used data in their deliberations about struggling ELLs in early primary grades. Ten members of a PST at an elementary school in an urban area of Texas participated in this study; seven ELLs were the focus of the observed team meetings. Data were generated from the discourse of the team meetings, interviews, and school documents, including students’ cumulative folders and language proficiency assessment records. Data were analyzed using discourse analysis, content analysis, and pattern-matching logic. Findings revealed that the Tier 3 problem-solving process was not aligned with the district’s expressed intent. In addition, a hierarchy of control constrained the problem-solving process and restricted the PST’s ability to freely discuss the cases of struggling ELLs. Implications for implementing RTI with ELLs and suggestions for future research are presented.