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Meeting the Challenge of Intervention: Implementation and Technology at the Elementary Level

Thursday, July 13, 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 challenges elementary educators face.

We’ve already talked about some overarching truths about the critical role of teachers and the technology features that can make a difference when it comes to response to intervention (RTI). But, the way RTI programs look and run varies widely from school to school, especially at different grade levels. This week, I want to turn our attention to the specific challenges of implementing RTI in elementary schools and how instructional technology can play a significant role in meeting those challenges. Let’s begin with a quick overview of tiered instruction:

Tier 1 intervention requires high-quality classroom instruction, screening, and group interventions. Tier 1 is considered the foundation of a strong RTI program because, without sound instruction and ongoing assessment, there will be an over-representation of students in the more intensive intervention levels, leading to capacity and resource issues. 

Tier 2 intervention is targeted and specific to identified gaps in skill and understanding. Students are moved into tier 2 intervention groups when tier 1 interventions in the classroom have not been sufficient to shore up academic achievement gaps.

Tier 3 intervention is rigorous, individualized, and focused on specific skill deficits for students. This is the most intensive and targeted of the three intervention levels. Students who do not achieve progress at this level are then referred to a comprehensive evaluation and considered for eligibility in special education. 

It is important to note that this tiered intervention model was born out of the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) as a response to an over-identification of students with learning disabilities nationally. Since 2004, schools have been striving to master this intervention approach to ensure that students receive early and appropriate intervention at the right level.

Elementary schools are on the front line when it comes to RTI implementation, and they have made great strides in ensuring student success. However, the education landscape is consistently evolving, and there are still many challenges they face. Here are three of the most significant of these challenges, along with pointers on how the right high-quality classroom technology programs can help educators meet them.

1. Managing the scale of tier 1 interventions

The sheer number of students to be managed in a personalized manner is the challenge at tier 1. Data must be accurate and instruction needs to be provided in real time when non-mastery is identified. When considering programs for tier 1 instruction, it is essential that they include a diagnostic or universal screener for each student. Data from this screening instrument must be valid, reliable, and most importantly, presented in a manner that is actionable and easy to consume for teachers and administrators. 

In addition, with the ever-increasing focus on blended and personalized learning, it’s important for educators to have intervention tools that are built to intuitively assist them in the blended learning environment. In addition to providing clean data and content delivered as students’ needs are determined , programs should be easy for educators to use for a station-rotation model, for direct instruction, and for intelligently informing grouping and reteaching opportunities.

2. Providing individualized instruction at tiers 2 and 3

Most elementary schools are very adept at identifying which students are in need of tier 2 and, subsequently, tier 3 interventions. The real challenge lies in the day-to-day delivery of those interventions. Time and personnel are limited, and this is exactly why it’s critical that a technology tool should be able to accurately diagnose skill deficits in a laser-focused manner. Educators can then focus their attention on developing meaningful learning paths and plans aligned to those assessed skill deficits and making adjustments as needed. Some individualized learning programs, like Edmentum’s Exact Path, even generate tailored learning paths automatically based on assessment data.

3. Completing administrative tasks related to RTI

If you were a fly on the wall in most RTI meetings, you would observe a sea of paperwork and hear a lot of anecdotal evidence being used in decision-making about whether to exit students, increase intervention intensity, or refer students for more restrictive settings through special education services. The administrative workload associated with RTI can be hugely time-consuming for educators, and it leaves more room for oversights than is ideal. Technology tools can help address this challenge by collecting results from assessments and performance on learning paths to provide accurate data regarding mastery and progress, along with offering educators the ability to record anecdotal evidence. Having all of this information in one organized platform can be a game changer for RTI programs in streamlining the administrative process.

Educators at the elementary level are experts at implementing RTI programs, and they should be applauded for their tireless efforts in reaching young students early in the academic journey. But, what about educators working with older students to help keep them on the path to graduation? Check back for the next installment of this series, when we will shift our focus to intervention challenges at the secondary level. 

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