Response to Instruction and Intervention: One District's Approach

Colorado began requiring a district plan for RtI implementation beginning in the 2007–2008 school year. To meet that requirement, the Thompson School District created a district RtI leadership team headed by the Director of Special Education. The team comprised approximately 15 people, including district-level administrators, building administrators from elementary and secondary schools, and school psychologists. There were no general education teachers on the initial team. At the end of the 2007–2008 school year, it was determined that to move forward with RtI implementation at a systems level, the district would need to hire an RtI Coordinator and that this position would need to be housed in the Curriculum and Instruction Department rather than in Special Education.

During the 2.5 years that we have had the coordinator position in place, we have created a rubric to guide our work and begun to implement a procedure to reflect on our growth as a district and at the building level. This rubric has guided our decision making in terms of the allocation of resources for people, materials, time, and so on. Our rubric includes six components, and in this article I briefly describe our work in each of the areas. At the end of this article I have included a graph that shows our district self-reflection data for this fall based on our rubric and the perceptions of the leadership teams in each of our buildings.

Curriculum and Instruction

With our state’s adoption of the common core standards and our need to determine how to use them at a district level, we are currently working with all building level leadership teams and curriculum coordinators to implement a Rigorous Curriculum Design (Ainsworth, Lead and Learn Press, 2010), which we have modified to include Understanding by Design and other instructional design approaches. This is our first year beginning to use this process and it is requiring a high degree of leadership and professional development resources. Our intended outcome is to have aligned priority standards, essential questions, unit designs, and assessments that lead to increased student achievement at a robust level.

Assessment and Use of Data

We have implemented a comprehensive assessment cycle in our district that includes screening three times per year in early math and literacy for Grades K–2 and predictive assessments three times per year toward our state summative assessment (CSAP) in math and reading in Grades 3–10. This system also includes Explore, Plan, and ACT (American College Testing) assessment in 8th, 10th, and 11th grades, respectively, and The Colorado English Language Acquisition Proficiency Assessment (CELApro) testing for all students who are learning a second language.

In addition, we have implemented a districtwide, data-driven dialogue approach using the Collaborative Inquiry Process (Lipton and Wellman, 2004). We trained each of our instructional coaches, principals, and leadership teams within the buildings in this approach, and we model it regularly at a district level.

While we have not yet achieved our goal of reducing the gap in our targeted population areas by 15%, we are beginning to see a trend in that direction after 1.5 years of the comprehensive assessment process.

Problem-Solving Process

The Thompson School District had begun using a problem-solving approach approximately 5 years ago. During the past few years, we have refined this process in Grades pre-K–12. This has included streamlining forms used to document interventions and progress across the district and housing those in a central location within the district student information system. We have provided beginner- and advanced-level training in the areas of problem identification and analysis, gap analysis, and plan development and evaluation. Our biggest challenge in this area has been in getting consistency in decision making at a building level and in assisting building-level staff on how to collect data and how to use it for intervention design and effectiveness determination.

Family and Community Engagement

This has been our most difficult area to take on in a systemic manner. To do this well, you need a lot of family involvement, yet it is hard to get consistent family involvement when you don’t have an established process for doing so. We have begun building this process by creating a Family/Community Engagement Coordinator position and beginning a Family Academy that presents monthly symposiums for all families on a variety of topics.

School Climate and Culture

Our district had begun moving toward the Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS) universal social/emotional/behavioral approach approximately 7 years ago. We are now in our first year of 100% building involvement in PBIS. Our biggest hurdles were mostly at the secondary level with establishing buy-in from staff on the need for consistent expectations across the school environment. We are currently adding the CHAMPS (conversation, help, activity, movement, participation, success) approach to universal classroom management and have 9 of 20 sites implementing the curriculum this year, with another 7 sites on board for next fall.


This component is focused mainly on the principal’s involvement in RtI implementation at their school site and how they facilitate the growing capacity of their building staff to support each of the other component areas. As would be typical, this can often be person specific, but, in general, our administrators indicate that they feel highly involved as a whole in this process, and their leadership teams support this with their own reflections as indicated on the graph provided below.

This graph shows the ratings that our buildings gave themselves during our RtI rubric self-reflection visits in December 2010. They are separated by level and the graph also includes the target, which is the Best Practice Level based on our rubric. The rubric had four levels: adoption readiness, initial implementation, best practice, and exemplar. Not all areas have the same number of targets they are assessing, so use the red target bar for guidance when evaluating the results in each of the six areas.

Our goal was to have all schools at the Best Practice level by the spring of 2012. As you can see from these reflections, our building leaders are feeling that they have many areas of Best Practice already in place. These ratings reflect approximately 80% of our buildings at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. The rubric is a dynamic tool and will continue to be updated on an annual basis. The area of greatest concern is in Family and Community Engagement, so this year we are focused on updating the Family/Community Engagement and School Climate and Culture components of the rubric.

The advice I would give to others who are beginning the RtI implementation process is to remember that it is most successful at a systems level and that solid leadership is required in order to achieve the hoped for results. It is important to take the time to evaluate current functioning and then create a plan that allows you to comprehensively move forward. This is heavily dependent on the allocation of resources and requires a district-level commitment to all components of RtI implementation.
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