Implementing a Combined RTI/PBIS Model: Moving From Implementation to Sustainability

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    Part 1 of a 2 part series

    Our implementation project at Silver Sage is rapidly coming to an end. A concern of ours has been with the sustainability of the project once the support that has been provided through Boise State University (BSU) is no longer available. We’ve focused our last few sessions with the school on issues related to sustainability.

    This is not a small question. It would be naïve to think that just because we have been working on tiered service delivery implementation for 2 school years that there is sufficient momentum to maintain the systems and practices currently in place. For starters, although the end of Year 2 data on behavioral and academic outcomes presents a strong rationale for the school to maintain its practices, not only is the funding for the BSU involvement ending, but the school is also facing budget and personnel cuts that will likely have an impact on its ability to maintain the level of support that was able to be provided to students over the past 2 years.

    The Center for Elementary and Secondary Mathematics Education (CEMSE) at the University of Chicago hosts a website called Researchers Without Borders. As part of an extensive literature review, they’ve grouped factors that have an impact on sustainability into six categories:

    1. Characteristics of the innovation
    2. Elements of the environment
    3. Characteristics of people in the organization
    4. Strategies
    5. Fit
    6. Emotional mediators

    It’s not the goal of this blog entry to give a detailed discussion of each of these categories and their specific connection with tiered service delivery models—rather, our goal is to offer a helpful framework for understanding and considering some of the issues that need to be addressed if an education reform is to be sustained. In this blog, we’ll focus primarily on the first three categories, and address the remaining three in an upcoming blog entry.

    CEMSE lists specific factors within this category such as understandability, effectiveness, adaptability, and scope. In this regard, the systems, practices, and data collection that have been implemented to guide the RTI/PBIS implementation process provide a long-term infrastructure that has an impact on most of the school’s daily operations (scope). Within the infrastructure however, there is flexibility for the school to focus on specific aspects of the model, depending on the results of their data collection (adaptability). Additionally, a look at the end of Year 2 outcomes for both behavior and academics presents a convincing argument that the model is working (effectiveness).

    On the behavior side, the number of office discipline referrals was reduced from over 200 per year to 37. In all other aspects of implementation related to behavior, the school met its targets for implementation—to include developing and implementing a Tier 2 intervention (check in, check out) that was effective for most students as evidenced by high numbers of students reaching their 80% daily points each day. For academics, the school saw increases from the beginning of the implementation period to the end of Year 2 in reading, math, and language usage. Additionally, over 80% of students who received Tier 2 interventions in math and writing made strong progress in these areas. In short, the positive effects of implementation are evident in these improved student outcomes.

    Factors within this category include both internal and external climates, resources, loci of decision making, and opportunities for learning. In other words, although the characteristics of the model seem supportive of long-term sustainability, are there other factors that might have an impact on the school’s ability to sustain the model? The school is facing budget cuts and will lose some key staff positions, including the loss of its Title I teacher (who was instrumental in moving the school forward with academic data collection) and will also face a reduction in special education staff, which will limit the school’s ability to provide intervention services. In light of these resource issues, we also worked with the staff on action planning for next year. We recommended that the school consider providing leveled reading and math instruction so that students who were receiving Tier 2 interventions might have those provided by a general classroom teacher as a part of the general instruction. It is a model that I recommended for another school with similar personnel resource issues—there was no staff available to provide intervention, so we grouped students for reading and math and designed instructional programs to meet the needs of the groups, with the added flexibility of allowing for movement based on student outcomes.

    For behavior, teachers were responsible for administering Tier 2, and a team that will remain is responsible for Tier 1 data collection. Additionally, the school will take advantage of a statewide PBIS project that provides training to schools and districts. We feel confident that the statewide PBIS system will remain intact for Tier 1, and so long as the school can maintain the infrastructure it developed through the Tier 2 leadership team to systematically collect and review data, we are optimistic that the practices will be sustained too.

    This category includes factors that are primarily related to key personnel involved in implementation and decision making. The good news for the school is that the principal is beginning her 4th year and is a strong advocate of maintaining the tiered model. Additionally, key personnel at the district level support tiered service delivery models. What is less well known in this case is how individual teachers might react next year to the loss of the support that has been provided by BSU staff, the additional loss of key staff at Silver Sage, and the concern that they are being asked to do much more with much less—do they believe that they can sustain the model in the face of numerous personnel losses?

    In summary, we believe that sustainability is best achieved by routinely reviewing outcome data. We believe that the many successes achieved by the school provide a compelling rationale for the continuation of the implementation that led to those successes. In addition, although the school is facing some significant budget and personnel reductions, there remains strong support for maintaining a model of tiered service delivery, and the school is already involved in a statewide PBIS project that should provide training and information support. Finally, it remains to be seen how teachers will be affected by the upcoming changes. However, we believe that through strong collaborative planning and continued focus on the many successes that have been achieved to date, the school will be able to sustain their practices. Please tune in for our next entry as we elaborate more on the strategies, fit, and emotional mediators categories.
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