Response to Intervention Implementation Mistakes

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    More and more, as I talk to principals in both my own school district and in districts across the country, I see multiple instances where the implementation of Response to Intervention is scattered, incomplete, and superficial. Schools and districts continue to struggle with challenges in fully implementing all key RtI components due to funding problems, staff resistance to change, and, most importantly, weak and inadequate professional development (both for teachers and administrators) causing an insufficient knowledge base and a lack of understanding of the importance of fully and deeply implementing each key component in the Response to Intervention process. Let’s review why is each component of Response to Intervention is so critical to success.

    Universal Screening is the key component that tracks individual student growth and allows us to determine the overall effectiveness of our reading and math instructional programs in increasing student achievement. We must assess our students in September to determine their initial level of performance using a grade level or lexile standard, reassess mid-year to determine which students are making adequate growth and make necessary adjustments when that growth is not occurring, and, finally, reassess yet again at the end of the year for a final look a just how much growth each student has made. This allows us to also make important decisions about the effectiveness of our entire instructional and intervention program, as well as which teachers need support in improving their instructional skills. When this essential screening is completely omitted, schools have no true measure of individual student, class, or school growth in reading and math. Or, if a universal screening tool is used, schools and districts often omit the critical midyear administration check that provides data for program adjustments and, even, major modifications. The end of the year is too late to find that your program is not creating the student growth that you expected.

    Progress Monitoring assessments identify skill specific non-proficiencies in students. These assessments provide the critical data needed to identify students in need of additional, skill-specific support; inform our instructional planning and delivery; determine the effectiveness of our instruction; and identify teachers who are in need of support in a particular content standard. These assessments must be frequent, quick, and very skill specific. Unfortunately, many schools and districts are not collecting this data frequently enough. Districts and schools sometimes rely solely on quarterly benchmarks that are often long, time consuming, and cover so many skills that teachers and intervention programs become overwhelmed and less effective. Or, if the assessments are frequent, short, and clearly focused on a few power standards as they should be, then the data is not analyzed deeply and precisely enough to provide sharply focused intervention planning.

    Data Analysis uses the data collected from progress monitoring assessments to align specific skill non-proficiencies to individual students. This data provides the critical information needed to form intervention groups that are sharply focused on specific skills not mastered by individual students. The data also reveals instructional weakness in our core and intervention programs that should drive both the design of our programs and the on-going adjustments and changes we make to improve the instruction we provide for our students. This requires a very deep analysis of our student assessment data. Sometimes, a superficial look at test scores to simply identify and rank failing students results in a program that pulls together students who do not pass an assessment for a remediation group that may not address their individual skill proficiency needs.

    Evidence-based Instructional Strategies, selected by careful research of both highly respected and current educational literature, guide teachers and schools in planning and delivering core and intervention instruction that is based on well established best practices for increasing student learning and proficiency. Too often teachers fail to leave their comfort zone, continuing to use the same old strategies that resulted in poor proficiency levels during past core class instruction. Then these same old strategies are repeated at the intervention level. Not surprisingly, hoped for increases in student learning do not materialize.Instead, schools must identify powerful instructional strategies, provide extensive professional development in their use, and closely monitor their deep implementation during instructional delivery.

    Tiered Interventions provide additional instructional time and intensity for students who do not demonstrate skill mastery after core classroom instruction. Each tier is added to a student’s instructional time to provide second and, if needed, third doses of sharply- focused, teacher-directed intervention lessons designed to ensure that all students master all standards. Each tier of intervention is provided in addition to other tiers and one is never substituted for another. The power of this type of intervention is that it gives the student the gift of increased instructional time and sharply-focused support. Finding the time and staff for providing these additional lessons can be a scheduling and staffing challenge. However, the biggest mistake a school can make is to substitute one tier for another. For example, removing a student from core classroom instruction for an intervention lesson under the guise that being in a small group is better than being in a whole-class group, while probably true, is not nearly as powerful as having BOTH the core lesson and an additional small group or individualized second dose lesson. It is in the addition of instruction that the power of Response to Intervention lies.

    Remember, if you choose to cherry pick the key components in implementing Response to Intervention, you cannot expect to get the big gains in student proficiency and academic achievement that RtI offers. Despite all the challenges (funding, staffing, scheduling, professional development, teacher resistance), fully and deeply implementing all five key components of Response to Intervention is critical in creating and implementing a successful and sustainable RtI initiative.
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