Saturday, November 4, 2017

New Articles Again Debunk “Mindfulness” in Schools



Teaching Emotional and Behavioral Self-Management through Cognitive-Behavioral Science and The Stop & Think Social Skills Program

Don’t We Really Just Want Students to “Stop & Think”? [Part I of II]


Dear Colleagues,

Introduction

   It is a simple fact that how students feel, feel about themselves, behave, and get along with others strongly predicts their interactions and even their achievement in school. 

   Indeed: 

   * If students feel pressured, bullied, or unsafe, they focus more on these emotional conditions than on academic instruction and learning. 

   * If they are unsure of themselves, lack self-confidence, or are self-conscious, they may not believe that they can succeed. 

   * If they do not have the behavioral skills to pay attention, work independently, or organize themselves, their academic work may suffer. 

   * If they cannot relate to others, work cooperatively in a group, and prevent or resolve conflicts, they will not socially survive.
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   We have also known for decades that students’ social, emotional, and behavioral competency and self-management in school is essential to their academic and interpersonal success.  And that a cognitive-behavioral approach that uses instruction grounded by social learning theory (Teach, Model, Provide Feedback, and Apply the Training to Real-life) is the best social, emotional, and behavioral approach when (a) teaching all students interpersonal and interactional skills, and (b) addressing the serious, extreme, and complex needs of emotionally disturbed and behaviorally disruptive students.

   This science-to-practice approach has not changed in its school and clinical use and effectiveness.
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And yet . . . The Mindfulness Bandwagon Persists

   Despite established and effective cognitive-behavioral approaches (like social skills training—see below), districts and schools across the country continue to jump on the Mindfulness bandwagon.

   Moreover, they continue this pattern despite knowing (and, presumably, valuing) the importance of implementing scientifically- and research-based practices in our schools.

   I have tried to assist by reviewing the Mindfulness research, and by documenting my concerns about the Mindfulness “wave of popularity.”

   Specifically, I have discussed Mindfulness and . . .

   * Its lack of research support

   * The number of schools wasting precious professional development and classroom time and money on this fad

   * The potential harm to students—who need an evidence-based approach to address their social, emotional, and behavioral needs—who are getting this approach instead

. . . in three previous Blogs:

   June 4, 2017.  “Effective School-wide Discipline Approaches: Avoiding Educational Bandwagons that Promise the Moon, Frustrate Staff, and Potentially Harm Students

Implementation Science and Systematic Practice versus Pseudoscience, Menu-Driven Frameworks, and ‘Convenience Store’ Implementation”

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   January 30, 2016.  “Reviewing Mindfulness and Other Mind-Related Programs: Have We Just Lost our Minds? (Part I)

Why Schools Sometimes Waste their Time and (Staff) Resources on Fads with Poor Research and Unrealistic Results”

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   February 13, 2016.  “Reviewing Mindfulness and Other Mind-Related Programs: More Bandwagons that Need to be Derailed? (Part II)

Why are Schools Wasting their Time and Resources on Fads with Poor Research and Unrealistic Results?

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Psychoeducational Researchers Continue to Caution Against the Large-Scale Use of Mindfulness

   On October 11, 2017 (less than three weeks ago), an article in Scientific American (“Where’s the Proof that Mindfulness Meditation Works?”) referenced an article published the day before in Perspectives on Psychological Science, as well as other research and psychologists, stating:

The concept of mindfulness involves focusing on your present situation and state of mind. This can mean awareness of your surroundings, emotions and breathing—or, more simply, enjoying each bite of a really good sandwich. Research in recent decades has linked mindfulness practices to a staggering collection of possible health benefits.

Yet many psychologists, neuroscientists and meditation experts are afraid that hype is outpacing the science. In an article released this week in Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15 prominent psychologists and cognitive scientists caution that despite its popularity and supposed benefits, scientific data on mindfulness is woefully lacking. Many of the studies on mindfulness and meditation, the authors wrote, are poorly designed—compromised by inconsistent definitions of what mindfulness actually is, and often void of a control group to rule out the placebo effect.

The new paper cites a 2015 review published in American Psychologist reporting that only around 9 percent of research into mindfulness-based interventions has been tested in clinical trials that included a control group. The authors also point to multiple large placebo-controlled meta-analyses concluding that mindfulness practices have often produced unimpressive results. A 2014 review of 47 meditation trials, collectively including over 3,500 participants, found essentially no evidence for benefits related to enhancing attention, curtailing substance abuse, aiding sleep or controlling weight.

Lead author of the report Nicholas Van Dam, a clinical psychologist and research fellow in psychological sciences at the University of Melbourne, contends potential benefits of mindfulness are being overshadowed by hyperbole and oversold for financial gain. Mindfulness meditation and training is now a $1.1-billion industry in the U.S. alone. “Our report does not mean that mindfulness meditation is not helpful for some things,” Van Dam says. “But the scientific rigor just isn’t there yet to be making these big claims.”

He and his co-authors are also concerned that as of 2015, less than 25 percent of meditation trials included monitoring for potential negative effects of the intervention, a number he would like to see grow as the field moves forward.

Van Dam acknowledges that some good evidence does support mindfulness. The 2014 analysis found meditation and mindfulness may provide modest benefits in anxiety, depression and pain. He also cites a 2013 review published in Clinical Psychology Review for mindfulness-based therapy that found similar results.

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   This article echoes virtually all of the concerns that I have addressed in previous Blogs.

   But a few more points are important:

   * Those studies that have shown “good evidence” have focused on the treatment of clinically significant mental health issues (anxiety, depression, and pain). 

   Sound research demonstrating that Mindfulness prevents these issues (for example, at Tier 1 in schools) has not yet been established.  Moreover, there is virtually no research that has differentially investigated Mindfulness versus Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy approaches in controlled, randomly-selected, and double-blind samples.
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   * As noted above, most of the Mindfulness research has either not been methodologically sound, or it has not produced objective and demonstrable success.

   Thus, rather than use the few studies that have shown “good evidence” to rationalize the use of Mindfulness in schools (or worse, someone’s personal testimony), educators need to look at the substantial body of research that contraindicates its consideration—much less use.

   By way of analogy, college football players do not win the Heisman Trophy based on one or two exemplary games.  They win the award based on a consistent “body of work” or evidence of excellence over an entire football season.
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   * Finally, most of studies that have shown “good evidence” have focused on adults, not on school-aged students.

   BUT. . . a recent article has again summarized the research on Mindfulness with students . . . once again, questioning the efficacy of this approach.
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Recent ResearchWith StudentsAgain Debunks Mindfulness

   Yet another Scientific American article (“Mindfulness Training for Teens Fails Important Test”), published this week on October 31, 2017, began as follows:

Over the past several decades, the practice of mindfulness has evolved into a booming billion-dollar industry, with growing claims that mindfulness is a panacea for host of maladies including stress, depression, failures of attention, eating disorders, substance abuse, weight gain, and pain.

Not all of these claims, however, are likely to be true. A recent critical evaluation of the adult literature on mindfulness identifies a number of weaknesses in the extant research, including a lack of randomized control groups, small sample sizes, large attrition rates, and inconsistent definitions of mindfulness.

Moreover, a systematic review of intervention studies found insufficient evidence for a benefit of mindfulness on attention, mood, sleep, weight control, or substance abuse.

That said, there is empirical evidence that mindfulness offers a moderate benefit for anxiety, depression, and pain, at least in adults.

_ _ _ _ _

   This article then asks whether Mindfulness can effectively address depression and anxiety in teens.  It notes that some research suggests that Mindfulness can be useful, but it again reinforces the critique above regarding the shortcomings in the research.

   Finally, the article summarizes a large-scale study with 308 middle and high school students who were randomly assigned to a Mindfulness training or Control group (published in Behavior Research and Therapy in 2016).

The students were enrolled in 17 different classes across 5 different schools. Students opted in to the study, and were randomly assigned to the control group or the mindfulness training group. Students in the control group received no mindfulness training but instead participated in community projects or received lessons in pastoral care. Students in the mindfulness group completed 8 weeks of training in the.b (“Dot be”) Mindfulness in Schools curriculum, which is based on the “gold standard” Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention for adults.

The training sessions varied in length from 35 to 60 min and were administered once a week. All mindfulness training was conducted by the same certified instructor. Beyond the weekly training sessions, teens in the mindfulness group were encouraged to practice mindfulness techniques at home and were given manuals to assist in this practice.

All participants were assessed at three different time points: a baseline taken one week before the intervention, a post-test measure taken a week after the sessions were over, and a follow-up assessment administered about 3 months later. The study included measures of anxiety and depression, weight and shape concerns, well-being, emotional dysregulation, self-compassion, and mindfulness. Participants were also asked to report their compliance with home practice, and to provide an evaluation of the intervention. Attrition rates were low (just 16 percent at follow up) and comparable for both groups.

Despite the numerous outcome measures employed in the study, there was no evidence of any benefit for the mindfulness group at either the immediate post-test or the follow up. In fact, anxiety was higher at the follow up for males in the mindfulness group relative to males in the control group. The same was true for participants with low baseline depression and low baseline weight concerns; mindfulness training led to an increase in anxiety in these individuals over time.

   While there were some limitations noted in the students’ Mindfulness practice at home and the fact that the length and number of sessions needed to be adapted for school use, the methodological strengths of this study, and the negative effects are notable.
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Cognitive-Behavioral Interventions and Social Skills Training Still Remain

   So . . . given these consistent cautions and research results, why are districts and schools still jumping aboard the Mindfulness Express?

   And what are the alternatives?
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   The alternative is a focus on teaching students’ social, emotional, and behavioral self-management . . . that is, interpersonal, social problem-solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional control and coping skills.

   While this certainly takes time in the classroom, we recommend that these skills be embedded in a Health, Mental Health, and Wellness “curriculum” that involves a preschool through high school scope and sequence of units and instruction.

   Consistent with the cognitive-behavioral and social learning theory points in the Introduction to this Blog, research reviews of over 200 studies of school-based programs [CLICK HERE FOR ABSTRACT] revealed that classroom time spent on addressing the social, emotional, and behavioral skills and needs of students helped to significantly increase their academic performance and their social and emotional skills, and that the students involved were better behaved, more socially successful, less anxious, more emotionally well-adjusted, and earned higher grades and test scores. 
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   And so, while social skills training is needed by all students in the schools, it also facilitates the classroom management process for teachers, and it is especially essential for students demonstrating social, emotional, and behavioral challenges.

   Indeed, if the primary goal of a Mindfulness program is to help students to be more aware and in control of their emotions, thoughts, and behavior, why would we not focus on the same goals—but use a research-based approach that has a 30-year track record of success?
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Summary . . . and Prelude to Part II

   When critiquing some of the current practices in our schools (while also recommending that some be avoided, and others be discontinued), it is equally important to suggested well-researched and effective alternatives.

   That, in essence, is what I have tried to do in this Blog.

   Indeed, I have tried to emphasize that we:

   * Know and have well-researched approaches to help children and adolescents progressively develop social, emotional, and behavioral self-awareness, self-management, self-evaluation, and self-correction and reinforcement skills;

   * Need to invest our school-based social, emotional, and behavioral training and application time in approaches that have demonstrated their student-specific benefits—including academic benefits—and “return on investment”; and

   * Need to discriminate the “marketing, social media, and testimony-based” hype from the “objective, science-driven, and professionally-refereed” facts that bombard educators, and make critical decisions more difficult than they need to be.
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   In Part II of this two-part “series,” I will use the evidence-based Stop & Think Social Skills Program as an exemplar of a social skills approach to teaching students social, emotional, and behavioral self-management.

   In doing this, I will identify the scientific foundations of a sound social skills program, and use the Stop & Think Program to provide examples of how that science is translated into practice.

   The Stop & Think Social Skills Program is written for classroom teachers with implementation at the preschool to Grade 1, Grades 2/3, Grades 4/5, and Grades 6 through 8.  At the same time, the Program has been implemented strategically at the high school level, in alternative and juvenile justice facilities with students who are 18 years old and beyond, and in residential and day treatment programs for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities.  There also is a Stop & Think Program for parents—to help guide them on how to teach and reinforce prosocial skills at home from preschool through early adolescence. 
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   Meanwhile, I hope that this review of the recent Mindfulness research and thought has been helpful to you, and that the information will assist you in making the sometimes-confusing decisions that are relevant to your school discipline, classroom management, and student self-management program.

   I always look forward to your comments. . . whether on-line or via e-mail.

   If I can help you in any of the student support and intervention areas discussed in this message, I am always happy to provide a free one-hour consultation conference call to help you clarify your needs and directions on behalf of your students.

Best,

Howie

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Improving Student Outcomes When Your State Department of Education Has Adopted the Failed National MTSS and PBIS Frameworks (Part II of II)



Effective Research-to-Practice Multi-Tiered Approaches that Facilitate All Students’ Success

Dear Colleagues,

A (Re)Introduction

   [CLICK HERE to read or re-read Part I of this two-part Blog discussion.]

   The focus of this two-part Blog discussion (this being Part II) involves the reality that:

   * Many districts and schools across the country are struggling to implement sound and effective multi-tiered services that are actually demonstrating the outcomes needed for academically struggling and behaviorally challenging students.

   * Many schools have limited intervention resources and resource people... but the resources they have often do not have the deep and intensive intervention expertise that they need, or they are not strategically deployed so that they can provide the intensity of services needed by their students.

   And most critically, that:

   * Many districts and schools are using (or are “required” by their State Departments of Education to use) obsolete and originally scientifically-unsound frameworks in the areas of MTSS (Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports), PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports), and RtI (Response to Intervention).

   Said a different way:

   * Many districts and schools have professionals with (a) intervention gaps, that (b) are compounded by unsound MTSS/RtI implementation processes (sometimes advocated by their state through professional developers at their county school districts, Regional Resource Centers, University Institutes and departmental faculty, etc.), that (c) are based on the U.S. Department of Education’s (largely through the Office of Special Education Programs—OSEP—and its tax-dollar-funded National Technical Assistance Centers) less-than-effective MTSS, PBIS, and RtI frameworks. 
_ _ _ _ _

   Part I of this two-part series described (and included near-verbatim) sections of a state grant MTSS proposal that was submitted for a district applying for school improvement funds in a state that had largely codified OSEP’s MTSS/RtI process in law and statute.  This District had numerous schools that were identified as “Focus” schools—in need of improvement—based on the State’s Accountability Model.

   As such, the grant RFP appeared to require unsound practices that anyone with psychometric, implementation science, and systems scale-up knowledge and experience would know would not work, and would either delay services to or educationally harm students.

   As noted in Part I:  In writing the RFP, we addressed this situation by:

   * Presenting the research-to-practice data and results that invalidated the unsound practices in the state’s framework;

   * Detailing the research-to-practice data and results that validated our proposed effective practices; and

   * Framing our proposal as one with “valued-added” procedures, services, supports, strategies, and interventions that would (a) build on the defensible ones in the state’s statute; (b) improve upon or substitute for the indefensible ones; (c) help more effectively and efficiently meet the grant’s “ultimate” student-focused outcomes; and that might (d) require some levels of waivers (if needed).

   And so, Part I of this two-part Blog series shared the proposal’s description of the district and state’s current MTSS system, followed by a section that we titled, Why the RFP as Written will not Succeed.  Finally, Part I quoted from the proposal as it discussed Seven Flaws that Need Attention in a Multi-Tiered Services Re-Design.
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   In reviewing the feedback to Part I from our Blog-Readers:  It was interesting that some questioned the “wisdom” (from a grant-writing perspective) of including subheadings like, Why the RFP as Written Will Not Succeed.

   While you may agree or disagree, please understand that this was done because:

   * We know that many department of education staff (who review grant proposals) know that there are flaws in their state models and RFPs.

   I know this because I worked in the Arkansas Department of Education for 13 years, and saw many faulty or unsound educational laws or procedures passed by our Legislature—laws that were grounded in politics, and not educational integrity.  Similarly, I saw state education statutes or rules promoted and signed by Commissioners with virtually no educational training, or Assistant Commissioners who were na├»ve, uninformed, or motivated by power and control.

   And yet, in those same departments of education, there were professionals with expertise in the substance of these laws or rules.  And while they were appalled by their passage or promotion, they could not say anything publicly for fear of losing their jobs.
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   * We wanted to transparently voice our MTSS concerns and outline our alternative approaches with the State Department of Education—so that we would not be accused of changing our approaches or being disingenuous later—after we won the grant award)
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   * We truly wanted to educate the Department of Education’s professionals—some who “don’t know what they don’t know,” because they have not been educated or are not experienced in the psychometric, implementation science, and systems scale-up principles we are discussing today.
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   Parenthetically. . . (and with all due respect to those who do not “fit” this characterization), some department of education staff (as well as some working in regional resource centers, universities, and in other settings that provide “consultation” to districts and schools) are providing “professional development” using “paint by number approaches.”

   That is, they recommend and/or try to implement practices using faulty frameworks or protocols that they have been “trained” on by “national experts.” 

   But they do not have:

   * The knowledge to know when the training or practices are unsound;

   * The experience or expertise to know how to effectively tailor or modify their practices to individual districts and schools; and

   * They sometimes (arrogantly) reject more effective models and practices because, for example, they do not “fit” their protocols, they have been told to rigidly adhere to their protocols, or they have been told not to use someone else’s (even if effective) models or practices.
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Today’s Part II

   Today’s Part II completes this Blog series by discussing Ten Resulting Practices that Need Inclusion in a Multi-Tiered Services Re-Design, and making some concluding comments. 

   The “Ten Practices” are inextricably linked to the “Seven Flaws” discussed in Part I.  Thus, a review or re-review of these in Part I might be helpful now.

   [CLICK HERE to read or re-read Part I of this two-part Blog discussion.]
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   State RtI or multi-tiered services guidebooks need to provide blueprints, guidance, and procedures that are (a) supported by sound (not self-selected) research; (b) based on effective and diverse (not limited-trial) field tests; and that (c) result in demonstrable (not hypothetical) student outcomes that are sustained over time.  Rigid, one-size-fits-all approaches do not work.

   Unfortunately. . . especially when states adopt the MTSS/RtI framework from OSEP, they (inadvertently?  Not that this is a defensible excuse). . . have not accomplished this.

   Beyond this:  Districts and schools need to be given the flexibility, within the context of mandated federal and state laws and regulations, to implement the best problem-solving, progress monitoring, and multi-tiered system of support approaches for their academically struggling and behaviorally challenging students. 

   To this end, below are ten multi-tiered system of support, response to instruction and intervention, and positive behavioral intervention and support practices that address and/or alleviate the Seven Flaws discuss in Part I of this series, and that either have been ignored by the frameworks advocated by OSEP (and/or its tax-funded National Technical Assistance Centers), or have been mistakenly recommended for use by policy and/or practice “experts.” 

   While it is strongly recommended that these practices be infused into any state’s reconceptualization of its multi-tiered approaches, they are recommended here so that districts and schools can increase their students’ academic and social, emotional, and behavioral success.
_ _ _ _ _

   Practice 1.  Multiple gating procedures need to be used during all academic or behavioral universal screening activities so that the screening results are based on (a) reliable and valid data that (b) factor in false-positive and false-negative student outcomes.

   Too many screening procedures go from screening to intervention— without considering whether any derived results are accurate.  Part of this process is determining if the screening procedures have “identified” students who do not have any problems (i.e., “false-positive” results), or have not identified students who actually do have problems (i.e., “false-negative” results).
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   Practice 2.  After including false-negative and eliminating false-positive students, identified students (who have been “red-flagged” by a screening procedure) receive additional diagnostic or functional assessments to determine their strengths, weaknesses, content and skill gaps, and the underlying reasons for those gaps.

   When screening procedures do not exist or are not accurate, Practices 5 and 6 below should occur with all students who are academically struggling in the classroom or demonstrating social, emotional, or behavioral concerns (in any school setting). 
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   Practice 3.  When focusing—especially at the elementary school level—on helping students to learn and master foundational academic skills (e.g., phonemic awareness, phonetic decoding, numeracy, calculation skills), students should be taught at their functional, instructional levels—regardless of their age or grade level. 

   When focusing—at the secondary level—on academic content, comprehension, and application skills, teachers need to be sure that students have mastered the foundational and prerequisite literacy, math, written expression, and oral expression skills needed to be successful.
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   Practice 4.  All students should be taught—every year and continuously across each year—social, emotional, and behavioral skills as an explicit part of the district’s formal Health, Mental Health, and Wellness standards.   

   These standards should be operationalized across an articulated and scaffolded preschool through high school scope and sequence curriculum map with specific required courses, units, content, and activities.  The social, emotional, and behavioral skills taught should especially be applied to facilitate students’ academic engagement and independence, and their ability to interact collaboratively in cooperative and project-based learning groups.
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   Practice 5.  Before conducting diagnostic or functional assessments (see Practice 2 above), comprehensive reviews of identified students’ cumulative and other records/history are conducted, along with (a) student observations; (b) interviews with parents/guardians and previous teachers/intervention specialists; (c) assessments investigating the presence of medical, drug, or other physiologically-based issues; and (d) evaluations of previous interventions.
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   Practice 6.  Diagnostic or functional assessments should evaluate students and their past and present instructional settings.  These assessments evaluate the quality of past and present instruction, the integrity of past and present curricula, and interventions that have already been attempted.  This helps determine whether a student’s difficulties are due to teacher/instruction, curricular, or student-specific factors (or a combination thereof).
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   Practice 7.  Diagnostic or functional assessments to determine why a student is not making progress or is exhibiting concerns should occur prior to any student-directed academic or social, emotional, or behavioral interventions.

   These assessments should occur as soon as academically struggling or behaviorally challenging students are recognized (that is, during Tier 1). 

   These assessments should not be delayed until Tier 3 (unless the student’s case is immediately escalated to that level).  In the absence of early assessment—and the initiation of (what typically are) global or random Tier 2 interventions—it is likely (as discussed above) that the Tier 1 and 2 interventions implemented (under the existing OSEP/state department of education frameworks) will not be successful, will make the student more resistant to later interventions, and may actually change the problem or make the original problem worse.
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   Practice 8.  Early intervention and early intervening services should be provided as soon as needed by students.  Tier 3 intensive services should be provided as soon as needed by students.  Students should not have to receive or “fail” in Tier 1 instruction, and then in Tier 2 services in order to “qualify” for Tier 3 services.

   Multi-tiered service delivery should occur on a needs-based and intensity-driven basis.

   Early intervention services may include—based on diagnostic or functional assessment results—the use of assistive supports, the remediation of specific skill gaps, accommodations within the instructional setting and process, and curricular modifications as needed and as identified through a data-based assessment process. 

   General education teachers and support staff need to be skilled in the different strategies that may be needed within these service and support areas (i.e., remediation, accommodation, and modification), and skilled in how to strategically choose these different strategies based on diagnostic or functional assessment results.

   Tier 2 and 3 services include strategic or intensive curricular or skill-targeted strategies or interventions, other services or support programs (e.g., computer-assisted interventions, or more specialized assistive supports), student-tailored compensations (for academic problems), and crisis-management services (for social, emotional, or behavioral problems).
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   Practice 9.  When (Tier 1, 2, or 3) interventions do not work, the diagnostic or functional assessment process should be reinitiated, and it should be determined whether (a) the student’s problem was identified accurately, or has changed; (b) the assessment results correctly determined the underlying reasons for the problem; (c) the correct instructional or intervention approaches were selected; (d) the correct instructional or intervention approaches were implemented with the integrity and intensity needed; and/or (e) the student needs additional or different services, supports, strategies, or programs.

   That is, it should NOT be assumed—without validation—that the interventions SHOULD have worked, and DID NOT work because the student has a MORE significant problem that will require MORE intensive and specialized services (although, based on data, that may be the case).
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   Practice 10.  The “tiers” in a multi-tiered system of supports reflect the intensity of services, supports, strategies, or programs needed by one or more students.

   The tiers do not reflect the percentage of students receiving specific intensities or services, nor do they reflect the organization (i.e., small group or individual), the delivery setting or place, or the expertise of the primary providers of those services.

   Moreover, the services and supports that are organized within a specific tier are generally idiosyncratic to each specific school or district.  That is, these services and supports are related to and dependent on the available resources in each school or district—for example, the number, skill, and expertise of the existing core and related services/support staff. 
_ _ _ _ _

   For example, in a rural, poor school district, the absence of a Tier 1 social skills curriculum taught by the classroom teachers for all students might result in several students with social, emotional, and behavioral gaps that require the involvement of “Tier 2” counseling services, or (worse case scenario) “Tier 3” community mental health referrals and attention. 

   Because the district is in a rural area, the “Tier 3” designation of the community mental health services occurs largely because the district does employ the more specialized mental health support staff to provide these services on-site, and, for example, at the Tier 2 level. 

   In a larger school district—that has purchased and trained (through formal professional development) teachers to implement a Tier 1 primary prevention social skills curriculum, there likely are fewer students who have social, emotional, and behavioral gaps.  Moreover, because these districts can afford to employ counselors, school psychologists, and/or social workers, the “gap” students will receive the additional supports that they need at the “Tier 2” level.
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   In summary, we should not assume that the terms “Tier 1, 2, or 3” reflect the same thing across schools, districts, or states.

   In many ways, we should discontinue the use of the term “Tier,” and replace it with the terms: “Preventative and Universal Instructional Services,” “Strategic and Specialized Services,” and “Intensive and Compensatory Services.”
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From the Grant Proposal:  Multi-Tiered Services in the Context of Continuous School Improvement


   In order to be effective, a district or school’s multi-tier system of supports must be an inherent part of its continuous school improvement process.  While the ultimate goal of this process is to graduate students who are academically proficient, and who demonstrate effective social, emotional, and behavioral skills and interactions, we have already noted that there are many students who are not demonstrating academic learning, mastery, and proficiency; and/or the social, emotional, and behavioral progress, mastery, and proficiency needed in the classroom—much less than when they graduate from high school. 

   Thus, a critical part of a school or district’s continuous improvement process involves its ability to provide students with the multi-tiered services, supports, strategies, and programs that they need to be successful in all academic and social, emotional, and behavioral areas. 

   The Take-away:  A district and school’s multi-tiered system of supports is an inherent part of its continuous school improvement process, and hence, it should be strategically planned for and resourced as part of the district’s ongoing needs assessment, resource analysis, personnel management, and budgeting processes.
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Summary and Next Steps

   The remainder of the grant proposal (being paraphrased above) discussed the (a) evidence-based components, (b) training and implementation activities, (c) timelines and implementation steps, and (d) formative and summative outcome evaluations that we recommended to attain the desired improvements in the students’ academic and social-emotional and behavioral progress and proficiency within the RFP’s target schools. 

   These components, activities, and processes were based on our Project ACHIEVE, an evidence-based school improvement program that has been implemented in thousands of schools across the country over the past 30+ years (see www.projectachieve.net).
_ _ _ _ _

   I hope that this discussion has been useful to you.  In fact, to make it most useful, I recommend the following:

   * (Re)Read Part I of this two-part series [CLICK HERE]

   * (Re)Read your state’s multi-tiered system of academic and behavioral support laws, statutes, and implementation guides.  Look for the flexibility (if present) in these documents where your state says, “This is recommended,” as opposed to “This is mandated.”

   Many departments of education overstate what is actually required by law, by making their recommendations sound like they are mandated.  More often than not, state department of education recommendations are actually advisory (the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs does this all the time).  And even if they are mandated, districts can always apply for a waiver.

   Said a different way:  Find the multi-tiered areas of flexibility—where you can create your own procedures and approaches—as long as they are defensible, and result in definitive student outcomes.
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   * Analyze your state’s multi-tiered academic and behavioral process, as well as your district’s process, against (a) the Flaws in Part I (to determine if you are inadvertently following procedures or practices that are represented in one or more of the Flaws; and (b) the Recommended Practices above (to ensure that you are using the best policies, procedures, and practices on behalf of your students, staff, and schools).

   Remember, one of the only ways to change is to first acknowledge the presence of a problem.
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   * Finally, initiate (or continue) a strategic review and planning process—at the district, school, and grade/instructional levels to objectively look at what you are doing that is successful for all students, what needs to be discontinued or changed, and what gaps exist. . . that need to be analyzed, resourced, and addressed.

   In the end, we all want to implement programs in our schools that have the highest probability (and actuality) of success for all students.

   But. . . we must use processes that have actually demonstrated successful science-to-practice outcomes—based on sound psychometric, implementation science, and systems scale-up principles and practices.
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   As always, I always look forward to your comments. . . whether on-line or via e-mail.

   If I can help you in any of the multi-tiered areas discussed in this message, I am always happy to provide a free one-hour consultation conference call to help you clarify your needs and directions on behalf of your students.

Best,

Howie