Implementing a Combined RTI/PBIS Model: Is Meeting Proficiency on State Standards the Gold Standard?

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    The preparation for and administration of state testing creates a lot of changes in scheduling in schools, to include interruptions in the provision of Tier 2 services to students. The administration of the Idaho State Achievement Tests (ISAT) certainly disrupted the schedule at Silver Sage Elementary. Interventions for writing, math and reading were interrupted or postponed with increasing frequency as teachers made one last push to prepare all students to perform their best on the state achievement tests. How does this relate to implementing tiered-service delivery models?

    Well, in our last blog entry, we discussed the importance of defining a Tier 2 system when RTI was a component of disability determination. Here we extend that discussion to consider why it is important for schools to be clear about the purpose of their tiered-service delivery models in order to maintain focus on their objectives.

    Several purposes of tiered models have been described in the literature. They can be used as an early intervention and prevention model, a school reform model, or as a component of disability determination. At Silver Sage, the primary purpose of the tiered model is early intervention for students at-risk and the subsequent data (e.g. progress monitoring, interventions tried) is used to inform disability determination in cases where students do not respond. Once spring arrived however, the purpose seemed to shift to a focus on school reform – reform that is defined by ensuring the school meets its AYP goals. Kids who are just slightly below meeting performance standards received a lot of support in test taking strategies so that they might be in a position to pass the assessment. While the rationale for this approach is definitely understandable, and most likely not unique to Silver Sage, is this the goal of tiered-service delivery? What does shifting the purpose of intervention say about the larger intent of implementing such a model? Does it impact staff perceptions of what is important? Does it suggest that state assessments only should drive the system?

    Most people would say no to this last question - of course not. But people might also ask, what is a school to do? AYP drives everything. But should state tests drive the decisions we make about our students? This isn’t a new question – although few would argue with a desire to have accountability in schools, many argue the details by which this is accomplished. State proficiency exams come under fire for lots of reasons, by lots of stakeholders, in lots of ways. For example, comparisons of students who perform at proficient levels on state assessments compared to students who perform at proficient levels on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) highlights the disparity evident across all states – most states see higher “pass” rates on state tests than on NAEP. Another frequent criticism is that the emphasis on test results takes away from teaching content that is not assessed. Under a tiered-service delivery model what role should state assessments play? Are they the gold standard by which we measure the success of our model? Is proficiency on state assessments how we should define (either in whole or in part) whether a student may be learning disabled?

    If so, does that make disability a moving target? Calls for a common set of measurement standards to identify SLD are not new, yet under the current system in which proficiency on state assessments drives so much of what we do, we seem to be moving further away from a common definition, and increasing the idiosyncratic nature of SLD determination that has plagued the field for decades.

    Is RTI about school improvement or is it about preventing and identifying students with SLD? If the former than perhaps state standards should drive the system, but if the latter, then should we consider different standards for deciding when a student needs more intense support and/or when a student needs individually designed instruction?

    As has been the case lately, our implementation project seems to raise more questions than it sometimes answers! State testing at Silver Sage took place a few weeks ago, so interventions were placed on hold while teachers prepared their students in test-taking strategies and ensured that all the content that needed to be covered was covered. Interventions resumed when testing was done so that kids who need support in reading, writing and mathematics are receiving it. That is the reality under which schools operate. Understanding how that reality impacts the school’s ability to deliver tiered instruction in ways that address students’ learning needs will be important to sustaining such practices.
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