Alumnus helps lead the way on intensive intervention

August 1, 2019

Deciding on a career path is no easy task. When Rebecca Zumeta Edmonds (MEd '04) was young, she thought she wanted to be a teacher, then a pediatrician, and then an educational psychologist. However, one thing remained constant: her passion for helping children.

That passion led her from the University of Washington’s special education teacher preparation program to her present work as a principal researcher at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and co-director of its National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII). NCII works with educators and leaders in schools, districts, states and institutions of higher education to support the implementation of intensive intervention for students with severe and persistent learning and behavioral needs.

At NCII, Zumeta Edmonds built upon interests inspired by Professor Emeritus Joseph Jenkins, her mentor and adviser in the UW’s special education program. The focus on data-based decision-making and progress monitoring during the training she received in special education were instrumental to her career, Zumeta Edmonds said. "That was something that was very important to Joe, and he instilled it in all of us who went through the program with him."

The line of work "has been my interest and passion throughout my studies, both in the doctoral program (at Vanderbilt University) and also in running the center," Zumeta Edmonds said. "That notion of using valid, reliable data to make better intervention decisions for students is really fundamental to the work that we do."

Jenkins also connected Zumeta Edmonds to Seattle's Morningside Academy, which historically specializes in supporting students with intensive learning and behavior needs. Through her student teaching and work experience there, Zumeta Edmonds gained hands-on knowledge about how to deliver intensive instruction and use data formatively, which remains central to her current work.

Zumeta Edmonds taught at Morningside and Shoreline Public Schools, then earned her PhD at Vanderbilt University before working for the special education department of Washington state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). At OSPI, Zumeta Edmonds supported projects that helped school districts implement response to intervention, a tiered instructional framework designed to meet the needs of all students, including those with and at risk for disabilities. This work included intensive collaboration with AIR staff, who shortly after invited her to help start NCII, a new center funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs. 

To Zumeta Edmonds, this was a perfect match. "It was just a really wonderful fit for my interests, which were at that intersection of research, policy and practice. How do we get teachers and school systems using better evidence-based practices in the real world?"

In 2011, Zumeta Edmonds started as NCII’s coordinator of technical assistance and product development, later became deputy director and is now co-director of the center. Her duties include overall oversight and strategic visioning combined with the management of daily operations. 

With her NCII colleagues, Zumeta Edmonds recently co-edited “Essentials of Intensive Intervention,” a book that addresses the critical intervention needs of students with severe and persistent learning challenges, including those with disabilities.

Zumeta Edmonds noted that, in recent years, public schools’ focus on ensuring access and accountability for students with disabilities — while both critical — may have been insufficient to produce adequate progress for this population. The "next frontier" is to improve the quality of intervention services, a primary focal point of the book.

The book is designed to help support the preparation of pre-service and in-service teachers, school psychologists and related service providers, Zumeta Edmonds said, because "very often, people don't receive this kind of training in their preparation programs."

The first section of the book orients people to one approach of intensive intervention: data-based individualization (DBI). Meanwhile, the second part addresses critical considerations for implementation of DBI, with chapters on preparation, teaming, and alignment of intensive intervention with special education and tiered intervention frameworks.

The book is intended to be accessible to a variety of audiences, with guiding questions, example exercises and links to free online content and tools to help educators better support students with intensive needs. “Essentials of Intensive Intervention” is the first book of a series led by the series editor Dr. Sharon Vaughn to help educators and school psychologists implement intensive intervention successfully. 

As the center moves forward, Zumeta Edmonds hopes to explore further how intensive intervention can be used to promote high-quality special education service delivery and clarify the role of special education in a broader tiered service delivery system.

She further noted that her work in the classroom after graduating from the UW continues to shape her perspective on special education. Regardless of whether one’s interests are in education policy, school leadership, research or implementation, Zumeta Edmonds said, “the time you spend in the classroom and working in schools is really invaluable no matter what you plan to go on and do.”

Story by Tracy Dinh, marketing and communications student aide.


Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications