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Meeting the Challenge of Intervention: 3 Must-Have Features to Look for in Technology

Thursday, June 29, 2017 -- Chris Bolyard

Intervention programs in general and response to intervention specifically have received a lot of attention in American education recently. Advances in instructional technology are giving educators stronger and more reliable tools to meet the growing challenge of providing effective interventions for diverse student populations. It is imperative, however, that we not simply run to the newest shiny gizmos as they emerge in the marketplace. Just as it is crucial to design a solid, research-based approach to implementing instructional strategies across all classrooms, so too is it essential that instructional technology tools are selected and implemented with the same scrutiny. In this series, we will explore the building blocks of what makes a solid technology tool for intervention, unique implementation challenges and technology solutions in both elementary and secondary schools, and finally, partnerships with a company like Edmentum as vital in meeting the varied needs of today’s student. This week, we’ll focus on the specific features that effective technology for intervention include.

When I was working as a special education instructional specialist, I had a very wise and seasoned colleague who lead professional development with me on many occasions. He would begin every session with the same metaphor of tools to describe instructional and classroom management strategies—“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” 

In the previous post in this series, we discussed the absolutely critical role of the teacher in successfully intervening with struggling students. This week, let’s turn the focus to the resources available to assist teachers. We’ll discuss the key features to look for when evaluating effective instructional technology that will help those highly qualified and committed teachers lead students to success. And, if you will allow me to carry the tool metaphor a little further, consider not only the variety of tools (i.e., hammers, saws, screwdrivers, etc.) but also the quality of those tools. You don’t want a hammer made out of cheap and brittle plastic or a saw made out of low-quality metal that dulls quickly.

When it comes to our students in need of intervention, whether formally through response to intervention (RTI) and special education programs or informally as need is recognized through quality instruction and ongoing formative assessment, both teachers and students deserve the very best, most effective tools.

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There are three key areas that are must-haves when selecting instructional technology tools to implement as a part of intervention programs: high-quality, standards-aligned content; psychometrically sound assessment items; and data that can be easily accessed in a visual and actionable format.

1. High-Quality, Standards-Aligned Content

The foundational element of every successful intervention program is high-quality instruction in all classrooms. This is referred to as tier 1 instruction in the RTI model, and it’s critical to ensure that programming in tiers 2 and 3, which requires more time and human resources, does not become overpopulated. Oftentimes, when educational leaders think of instructional resources for intervention, tiers 2 and 3 are top of mind; however, there are plenty of tools available to assist in ensuring that tier 1 is rock solid.

There are two key components to consider when thinking about high-quality online content. First, there must be clear evidence that the instructional content is aligned to relevant state and/or district standards. It is a waste of instructional time for a student to work through content that will not eventually lead to mastery of standards. This might seem like it should go without saying; however, there are many school districts that have a plethora of instructional technology resources that have not been vetted and are being used with minimal impact on student success. Second, online instructional content must be engaging for students. Students are savvy tech consumers, and the selection of online instructional content must hold their interest through a variety of media types and opportunities for interaction. Both of these components must be met when selecting online intervention tools. 

2. Psychometrically Sound Assessments

At a minimum, an online intervention tool should diagnose a student’s strengths and challenges and provide an individualized, prescribed, and carefully curated learning progression that addresses the student’s individual needs. When shopping for these tools, you will find no shortage of providers who claim to offer this feature. However, it is essential to be skeptical and ask challenging questions before proceeding.

There must be strong documented evidence that the assessment items used are accurately measuring what they claim to measure. Item construct validity evidence is critical to ensure student success, and there are many online intervention products that are also norm-referenced, which lends even greater credibility to the efficacy of the tool. 

3. Clean, Actionable Data

When we are confident that students are working on high-quality, standards-aligned content in a personalized learning path that is prescribed after taking a valid and reliable assessment, the final step is to have data that is actionable. Online tools can provide the instructional intervention and can help students progress; however, students may encounter walls to making progress and when that happens, it is the teacher who must intervene.  

Every effective intervention product should have a clean dashboard and reporting capabilities that give the teacher a picture of where the class is performing on each standard. Reporting should enable teachers to drill down to the individual student and make instructional decisions that are laser-focused based on his or her performance on standards. 

Instructional technology is a tool that has powered significant progress when it comes to academic intervention. But, when selecting these tools, it is essential to resist the impulse to continually run after the shiniest new gizmo. Rather, educators must put in the research to find tools that contain engaging, standard-aligned content; offer assessment items that are psychometrically valid and reliable; and present data in a meaningful and actionable format. Additionally, different factors must be taken into account at different grade levels. Be sure to check back in the coming weeks when we will examine implementation challenges specific to the elementary and secondary levels.

Interested in learning more about how Edmentum solutions can support intervention efforts in your school or district? Check out how our online programs can help you meet the needs of every student