The Role of Beliefs in Response to Intervention

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    I appreciated the blog posting from Bob Heimbaugh entitled "Getting Buy-In for RtI Implementation." The recommendations provided are ones I echo in my practice and work with schools in my district. As we have continued to mature our efforts with RtI, I have had further thoughts about the importance of discussing implications of the core principles of RtI on our personal and collective practices. For a recent presentation, I framed these implications as "RtI: Expecting and Capitalizing on the Dissonance." Framing the issues in terms of "dissonance" seemed to fit because the principles are ones that seem so easy to agree with, but sometimes difficult to have our actions match the agreement in practice. For this post, let's focus on two of the core principles outlined in Response to Intervention: Policy Considerations and Implementation (2006) including:

    (a) we can effectively teach all children, and

    (b) monitor student progress to inform instruction.

    Core Principle #1: We Can Effectively Teach All Children

    This principle represents a foundational assumption for those embracing RtI practices. I believe this is typically the spoken goal we have as educators, but our confidence falls short in truly believing that we can achieve higher outcomes with our most difficult to reach and teach. It made me think about the description illustrating "different types of schools" presented in DuFour & Eaker (2004) Whatever It Takes: How PLC’s Respond When Kids Don’t Learn. All four schools share in common the belief that "All students can learn," but differ in what follows. The different schools are described as:

    • The Charles Darwin School believes that all students can learn…based on their ability.
    • The Pontius Pilate School believes that all students can learn…if they take advantage of the opportunity provided to them.
    • The Chicago Cubs Fan School believes that all students can learn…something, and we will help all students experience academic growth in a warm and nurturing environment.
    • The Henry Higgins School believes that all students can learn...and we will work to help all students achieve high standards of learning.

    I have used these descriptors in different ways as we have engaged in important dialogue as a building or district team. I think it is important to have the conversation regarding how we, as educators, approach teaching children. Likewise, it is equally important to have the discussion regarding how we, as adults, engage in continuous learning in order to be more effective teachers. With RtI, the expectation is that we stay active with the research as consumers and research practitioners. If we truly believe that we can achieve higher outcomes with students, then we will utilize the research more purposefully and engage in the deep thinking that is necessary for us to find that instructional fit with students for whom learning is challenging.

    Core Principle #2: Monitor student progress to inform instruction

    Monitoring student progress to inform instruction is a principle strongly supported in the research literature (see research summaries on the National Center on Student Progress Monitoring Web site). After the initial training involved in collecting data on a regular basis, using the data to inform decisions is where differences in beliefs begins to emerge. This is the second year most of our buildings have conducted grade-level progress-monitoring review meetings. The intent of these meetings is to systematically review individual student data to determine whether to:

    (a) stay the course with our core and intervention efforts,

    (b) reduce or eliminate intervention efforts, or

    (c) make adjustments to our core and intervention efforts.

    It was during these review sessions that I realized our early structuring work on core beliefs needed revisiting if problem-solving efforts were to be productive.

    When student progress is indicating efforts should be continued or possibly reduced, the discussion have not been difficult. These results provided needed opportunities for both celebration and acknowledgement of our role in impacting these outcomes. It has been when student progress is unsatisfactory that teams have had a difficult time wrestling with how to respond. Before even getting to a discussion regarding possible adjustments that could be made, the individual beliefs about student learning related to Core Principal #1, "We Can Effectively Teach All Children," starts to impact the direction the meeting will take.

    For example, if a student's performance measured weekly indicates that they are not demonstrating sufficient progress, then the translation from the different schools of thought may be:

  • The Charles Darwin School: "They are achieving commensurate with their ability."
  • The Pontius Pilate School: "If they applied themselves more and practiced at home, maybe it would make a difference."
  • The Chicago Cubs Fan School: "They are making some progress and we need to make sure they are feeling good about what progress they are making."
  • The Henry Higgins School: "Have we ensured we have a good fit with our intervention approach and time allocated? And, what have we learned works and doesn’t work with this child that will help us determine what to adjust?"

    In order for progress-monitoring data to inform instructional decisions, we must be willing to adopt the Henry Higgins approach or our monitoring efforts will merely document outcomes rather than play a part in changing outcomes. We have been embedding this discussion in all of the training materials and tools provided to our schools. We show a graph of a 1st grade student whose performance indicates insufficient progress and then a 2nd grade student whose performance is on track. After discussing each separately according to the "schools of thought," we share that they are the same student. Fortunately for this student, they are at a "Henry Higgins school." I share my deep concern for this student at the end of 1st grade looking toward 2nd grade if they had been in a school who adopted any of the other approaches.


    DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R. & Karhanek, G. (2004) Whatever It Takes: How Professional Learning Communities's Respond When Kids Don't Learn. Bloomington, IN: National Education Service.

    Batsche, G., Elliott, J., Graden, J.L., Grimes, J., Kovaleski, J., Prasse, D., Reschly, D. J., Schrag, J., & Tilly III, W. D. (2006). Response to Intervention: Policy Considerations and Implementation. Alexandria, VA: National Association of State Directors of Special Education, Inc.
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