Saturday, November 28, 2015

Start the School Day Later? How Students Use their After-School Time, Media and Smartphones, and Opportunities to Sleep

Use Your Time to Read this Blog !!!
 Dear Colleagues,

   As we all take time this long holiday weekend to think about everything that we are thankful for, I’ve been thinking about the issue of time that keeps popping up in a number of national studies, surveys, and professional positions.

   In a nutshell, the issue involves recommendations to start the school day later in the morning at the middle and high school levels. . .  and how this contrasts with the time that adolescent students have out-of-school, and how they typically use that time.

   But. . . . let’s begin with the “end in mind.”
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National Associations Say:  Start Middle/High School @ 8:30 AM or Later

   In August 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement calling on schools to begin the middle and high school day no earlier than 8:30 AM so that students can get at least 8½ hours of sleep per night.  Part of their rationale involves research showing that adolescents’ typical sleep biorhythms are set for them to go to bed between 12 – 1 AM and to wake up between 8 – 9 AM.  [This compares with the sleep biorhythms for adults that are set between 11 PM to 6:30 AM.]

   Significantly, according to an August 7, 2015 Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report (that surveyed 39,700 schools- - representing 26.3 million students- - during the 2011-2012 school year), the average middle/high school in the US starts at 8:03 AM, and only 17.7% of these schools begin their day at 8:30 AM or later. 

   Citing a number of health and youth-at-risk surveys, the CDC report stated that only 31% of adolescents across the country get enough sleep on school nights.

   The implications?  According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep deprived adolescents “carry a significant risk for drowsy driving; emotional and behavioral problems such as irritability, depression, poor impulse control and violence; heath complaints; tobacco and alcohol use; impaired cognitive function and decision-making; and lower overall performance in everything from academics to athletics.” 

   The CDC report added the risks of being overweight, developing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, and being less likely to get enough exercise.

   Given all of this, some national sleep groups have gone one step further- - suggesting that middle and high schools should begin the day at 10 AM.  Of course, this would push these schools’ dismissal times to 4 or 5 PM!
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   Critically, the AAP and CDC reports and recommendations make an implicit assumption:  that a later start to the school day will result in adolescents getting the right amount of sleep at the right time of the night.

   But, in a “parallel universe” this assumption may have some holes.
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What Adolescents Do with their “Free Time

   When adolescents are not in school during the week, they typically engage in many diverse activities:

   *  Sports, music, clubs, or other extracurricular activities
   *  Socializing or relaxing
   *  Taking care of siblings (or other family members) or doing chores
   *  Working at after school jobs (some to financially help their families)
   *  Traveling from school to home (which may involve long distances in some rural areas)
   *  Completing their homework
   *  Watching TV, listening to music, interacting with other media

   In the latter area, a report published earlier this month (November 3, 2015) by Common Sense Media investigated the media use of 2,658 adolescent “teens and tweens.” 

   This Report detailed the following primary results:

   * Teenagers spend nearly 9 hours a day involved in some type of media- - with music and TV remaining the favorites.  Pre-teens (aged 8 to 12) spend about 6 hours a day in one or more media-related areas.

   * 67% of teenagers listen to music every day, between 58% and 62% watch TV, and 45% use social media every day.

   * Boys are more involved in video games.  Male teenagers spend an average of 56 minutes a day gaming, while girls spend only 7 minutes a day.  Girls spend more time on social media or reading than boys.

   * Students from poverty backgrounds have less access to computers, tablets, and smartphones than non-poverty students- - but spend more time on these devices when they own one.

   * African-American teenagers spend more time in media-related interactions than other ethnic groups (averaging 11 hours and 13 minutes per day).  This contrasts with Caucasian teenagers who average 8 hours and 48 minutes in media-related involvements.

   * Half of the teenagers say they watch TV or use social media either “a lot” or “sometimes” while doing their homework, and 76% say they listen to music while working.  Half of the teens say that listening to music helps their work, while only 6% thought that it hurt their work.
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   While adolescents are clearly multi-tasking- - being engaged in the after-school activities noted above at the same time that they are media-involved and media-connected- - there are two concerning issues.

   *** The first concern involves the last Common Sense Media survey result indicating that 50 to 76% of the teenaged respondents are media multi-tasking while doing their homework. 

   With most middle and high school homework focused on applied and higher ordered thinking activities, this multi-tasking may be directing students’ attention more to their “social worlds”. . . and less to the cognitive learning processes needed to learn and master the skills embedded in their homework.

   *** The second concern relates to the fact that some adolescents are media engaged not just late at night, but in the middle of the night.  Indeed recent 2015 studies in Great Britain and Scandinavia have found that 25% or more of the adolescents there keep their smartphones and other devices on during the night, and that they frequently are woken up by, for example, friends’ texts or social media prompts.

   Knowing that this is occurring here in the US (as discussed in a 2014 New York Times article), we come full-circle back to the issue of how much sleep our adolescents need and how much sleep- - due to their own social media habits- - they are not getting.
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So. . . What Do We Do?
   With the broad prevalence of technology (see below), it is crucial that parents/guardians:
   * Supervise and help manage their children and adolescents’ access to media hardware and software (especially for young children up through their “tweens”); and
   * Teach them, over time, the skills needed to self-manage their own media behavior during their tween and teen years.

   While this has always been the case with television, this now must generalize to the other types of media available to students.

   Critically, this management and education to self-management needs to occur at a very early age.

   A recent Pediatrics study (Kabali et. al, 2015) of 289 parents of 350 children from an urban, low-income minority community found that 75% of the children owned their own mobile device at age 4, and about half multi-tasked (sound familiar?)- - using more than one device at once.

   Additional results indicated that:

   * 20% of 1-year-olds in the study owned a tablet computer
   * 28% of 2-year-olds could navigate a mobile device with no help
   * 28% of parents said they used a mobile device to put their children to sleep (!!!)

   And so, early parent education is needed, but- - in order to be accomplished- - educators (and others) need to help parents by providing training materials and realistic, workable approaches.
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   Schools also have a responsibility here. 

   Indeed, schools need to provide kindergarten through high school training to students in the areas of media courtesy, prosocial interactions, self-management, and conflict resolution.

   This is especially true as schools are:

   * Using computer, smartphone, and bring-your-own-device programs for instruction;

   * Responsible for addressing cyberbullying and other social media disruptions (even when they occur out-of-school) if they impact the school climate or students’ behavior in school; and

   * Invested in helping students to come to school physically, emotionally, and academically prepared to fully benefit from the instruction and other learning opportunities available to them.
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   And so, now we are ready to complete the circle.
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   There is no debate that adolescents need more sleep than they are getting, and that their biorhythms have set their “sleep clocks” forward to wake up between 8 and 9 AM each morning.

   However, our adolescents also are spending excessive amounts of after-school time engaged in different media interactions; they are not managing their time well in this (and other) regards; and they are further undermining their own (needed) restful sleep patterns by keeping their devices on and near their beds- - resulting in, for example, 3 AM text, video, and snap-chats.

   And so. . .any recommendations to begin the school day later for adolescents need to be accompanied by simultaneous recommendations for school and parent programs and strategies to help manage young students’ media devices, and to teach older students how to self-manage their personal devices.

   Said a different way:  It makes little sense to start the middle and high school day later if students are defeating the purpose by staying up even later and/or waking up due to 3 AM text or other media messages from/to their peers.
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   The recommendations above demonstrate the value and importance of multi-disciplinary conversation, collaboration, and collective thinking.  Too often, policy recommendations or decisions are made in a uni-disciplinary context.  When this happens, the recommendations may make sense on the surface, but they are likely to be faulty in reality.

   Students grow up in a multi-faceted and ecological social, biological, educational, familial, and extracurricular world.  Educational policy recommendations due to factors in one area (in today’s case, biological) should not be made without understanding the functional realities that exist in others (social, familial, and extracurricular).

    Who knows?  If middle and high school students get enough sleep- - because they learn and demonstrate self-discipline relative to when they go to sleep and how they are going to stay asleep- - then maybe an 8 AM start (when most middle and high schools start now) will have no adverse effects.

   At the same time, we still need to factor in bus and other transportation schedules, how far our students are traveling to school, and what will happen to the elementary school schedules if we change the middle and high school schedules.

   Life is complex.  In the end, we do the best we can. . . accounting for the variables and conditions that we can control.
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   Meanwhile, on this Holiday weekend, I hope that you have had opportunities to share time with your loved ones, and to reflect on the many blessings in our lives.

   As well, I THANK YOU for the time, dedication, care, and support that you give every day to your students and their families, and to your colleagues and collaborators. 

   Finally, I hope that MY thoughts have reinforced your thoughts- - or helped you to generate new thoughts. 

   As always, let me know, at any time, how I can help you in your mission and work.



Saturday, November 14, 2015

New U.S. Department of Education Report: Students in RtI Tier II Interventions are Losing Ground

What the Report Says. . . Why RtI is Not Working. . . Recommendations for Improving the RtI Process 

Dear Colleagues,

   This past week, a new federal report, Evaluation of Response to Intervention Practices for Elementary School Reading- - commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, and completed by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance - - was disseminated across the country.

   The largest federal investigation of its kind, the study involved approximately 24,000 first through third grade students in 13 states.  More importantly, it statistically compared 146 schools that had been implementing key elements from the U.S. Department of Education’s Response-to-Intervention (RtI) framework in literacy for at least three years, with 100 randomly-selected comparison schools in the same 13 states- - that were not implementing RtI.

   As a quick review:  RtI is a multi-tiered instructional and intervention system that has its historical roots in the 2004 reauthorization of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  Its framework has been promoted (if not mandated during the Reading First era) by the U.S. Department of Education- - especially through a number of its federally-funded national Technical Assistance and Dissemination Centers. 

   Typically, RtI involves assessing students (in reading for this new study) with a screening tool, putting moderately or significantly deficient students (identified by the tool) into intervention groups (called “Tier II”), and monitoring their progress over time.  If the student makes good progress, then the (Tier II) intervention is discontinued.  If the student does not progress or falls further behind, then more individualized Tier III interventions are attempted.

   Significantly, this RtI framework has always had many critical flaws- - flaws that violate psychometric and psychoeducation principles of sound practice. . . flaws that:

   * Have delayed services to students
   * Have resulted in the wrong interventions being implemented, and that
   * Have actually added to, increased, or made some students’ academic problems more resistant to change

   I have discussed these issues in at least two previous Blogs and one extensive Technical Assistance paper:

National Concerns about RtI and PBIS:  A Review of Policy and Practice Recommendations Not Based on Research or Effective Practice
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   September 7, 2015   “When Kids Can’t Read:  Policy and Practice Mistakes that Make it Worse”

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   February 15, 2015   “Your State’s Guide to RtI:  Some Statutes Just Don’t Make Sense (What your Department of Education isn’t Sharing about its Multi-tiered/Response-to-Intervention Procedures)”

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    Below is a summary of the most important results from this important RtI Report, and then recommendations (and resources) to help explain and improve RtI processes across this country.

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What Did the RtI Report Find?

   While this extensive, 308-page Evaluation of Response to Intervention Practices for Elementary School Reading report has many primary and related outcomes, here is a brief summary of the most essential “take-aways.”

   * First of all, the study compared the literacy progress of 1st through 3rd grade students during the 2011 to 2012 school year primarily using individually-administered norm-referenced tests and their state’s high-stakes proficiency test. 

   * The students in the 146 “RtI Schools” qualified for RtI Tier II interventions, and the students in the 100 “Comparison Schools” barely made or just missed the cut-offs for Tier II intervention- - all based on a Fall screening test (the DIBELS or AIMS were clearly the most-used screeners). 

   Due largely to different school site configurations, data from 119, 127, and 112 RtI schools were collected at the Grade 1, Grade 2, and Grade 3 levels, respectively.

   The Results?  Based on Fall to Winter interventions and assessments:

   * The 1st graders receiving Tier II interventions performed 11 percent lower on the reading assessments than the comparison students who barely missed qualifying for the Tier II intervention approaches.

   * The 2nd and 3rd graders receiving Tier II interventions experienced no significant reading benefits- - although they did not lose ground.

   * At Grade 1, only four of the 119 schools studied found data-based benefits for their Tier II students, while 15 schools had negative effects for their Tier II students.  [100 schools showed no benefits for all of the staff and student time- - and resources- - expended.]

   * At Grade 1, 86% of students who began in Tier I remained in Tier I; 50% of the students who began in Tier II remained there; and 65% of the students in Tier III remained.  Across the Grade 1 student sample, 13% of the students moved to a more intensive Tier, and 14% moved to a less intensive Tier.  [The percentages of students moving were smaller in Grades 2 and 3.]

   * Students already receiving special education services or who were “old for grade” (probably due to delayed entrances or retentions) had particularly poor results when they received Tier II interventions.

   * For all students, the reading results did not significantly differ for students from different income levels, racial groups, or native languages.
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Additional “More Subtle” Report Findings

   In addition to the primary results above, a “close reading” of the RtI Report reveals some important additional findings for the RtI schools:

   * 79% of the schools for the Grade 1 students, 75% of the schools for Grade 2, and 80% of the schools for Grade 3 used only ONE screening test when placing their students in Tier II interventions in the Fall.

   * Once again, two curriculum-based measurement tools (the DIBELS or the AIMS) were the most-used screeners.

   * Between 31% (Grade 3) and 38% (Grade 1) of the students in the study were placed into Tier II or III interventions using no other information but the screening test.

   * The “interventions” tracked by the RtI Report were simply small-group instruction or one-on-one tutoring. 

   While the schools were surveyed on the focus of the interventions (e.g., phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, or reading comprehension), the Report did not identify or track the specific skill-based interventions received by the students.

   * However, in 1st grade for example, 45% of the schools provided Tier II interventions to groups of students at all reading levels- - not just for students reading below grade level.  Moreover, 67% of schools provided Tier II interventions during the core reading instruction- - not just in addition to it.

   * Across Grades 1 through 3, teachers provided Core Instruction for approximately 102 minutes per day.  97% of the schools provided Tier II interventions at least 3 times per week- - for approximately 39 minutes per day.  68% of the schools provided Tier III interventions at least 5 times per week- - for approximately 49 minutes per day. 

   * Finally, for the Below Grade Level students in intervention groups, 37% of them in Grade 1, 28% in Grade 2, and 22% in Grade 3 were receiving their interventions from paraprofessionals- - not certified teachers or reading or other specialists.
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Some Notable Quotes about the Report

   While a number of national experts have yet to “weigh-in” regarding the Report, here are some interesting early quotes.

   * Regarding the 1st grade Tier II intervention results, Rekha Balu- - the lead author of the RtI Report- - said that these students’ academic losses "(were) the equivalent of losing one-tenth of a year of learning."  

   * Fred Doolittle, a co-author of the Report said, "We're looking at this framework that has developed over the years and how it has really played out in classrooms... We weren't expecting to see this pattern."

   He went on to say, "We don't want to have people say that these findings say these schools aren't doing RTI right; this turns out to be what RTI looks like when it plays out in daily life."

   * Finally, Sarah Sparkes, a writer for Education Week, who interviewed a number of national experts about the RtI Report, concluded that the study “raises questions about the evolution of a model originally designed to target students as soon as they started to struggle, and prevent their difficulties from escalating to the need for a special education evaluation.”

   She also noted that both Doolittle and another national expert suggested that school leaders using RtI for early-grades reading should re-examine how they identify students and what interventions they provide to them.
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Recommendations to Improve RtI Processes across the Country

   This RtI Report is critical because our almost-annual surveys now estimate that (a) more than 70% of school districts across the country are using RtI processes in at least some classrooms, (b) it has become largely a general education approach, but that (c) most schools are using the same RtI approaches reflected in the RtI Report.

   While the Report spent precious little time discussing the hypothesized reasons for the bleak results, a number of the results are because the RtI process- - largely used since the mid-2000s as promoted by the U.S. Department of Education- - has (as suggested earlier) many critical flaws- - flaws that violate psychometric and psychoeducational principles.

   Please understand:  my purpose here is not to bash RtI.  My purpose is to correct the bad practices that have been advocated, and improve the outcomes for students, staff, and schools.

   At the same time, please understand that nothing in education should be utilized in a “one-size-fits-all” manner.  We need to strategically use RtI to attain its best outcomes.  But RtI needs to be implemented in the context of school improvement at the systemic level, and sound data-based problem-solving at the student level.

   And so, here are some recommendations to improve RtI processes around the country:

Recommendation 1.  Academics is Interdependent with Behavior.

   I often ask teachers with struggling students two critical questions:

   * Do you have students who are behaviorally acting out because of academic frustration?

   * Do you have students who are academically not learning (or not learning quickly enough) because they do not have certain behavioral skills (sitting in their seat, paying attention, working in interpersonally effective ways with others)?

   When they answer "Yes" to both questions they are demonstrating that academic instruction, learning, and mastery is interdependent with classroom discipline, behavior management, and student self-management.

   Thus, it does not make sense for our RtI processes to focus only on academic skills. . . to the exclusion of students' social, emotional, and behavioral skills.  

   Indeed, if a student does not (a) have the social skills to get along with others (e.g., in a cooperative learning group); (b) feel emotionally secure in class (e.g., due to teasing or school safety issues); or (c) have the behavioral skills to organize themselves (e.g., to work independently), then the even best teachers, curricula, technology, and instruction will not result in the desired academic outcomes.
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Recommendation 2.  Intervention Occurs along a Continuum of Instruction.

   Many state RtI guidebooks and systems do not provide a research-based continuum of services and supports that help to organize and differentiate the difference between "instruction" and "intervention." These guidebooks talk about the need for intervention, but rarely provide any specificity.

   Over the past decade (or more), I have presented the continuum below to states, districts, and schools across the country---organizing it as the PASS (Positive Academic Supports and Services) model.

   As is evident in the slide, RtI starts with an effective teacher providing sound, differentiated instruction, supported by good classroom management, and the data-based monitoring of students' academic and behavioral learning and mastery.  

   When students are not learning (or learning quickly enough), an assessment process must be conducted to determine why the progress is missing (see Recommendation 3 below). This assessment could be done (a) by the teacher, (b) with the support of grade-level colleagues as part of a Grade-level RtI Team, or (c) with the support of the multidisciplinary Building-level RtI Team. How the teacher assesses the problem is determined largely by his/her skills, and the duration or intensity of the problem (see Recommendation 7 below).


   Once the underlying reasons for the problem have been validated, the teacher (once again- - by him/herself, supported by grade-level colleagues, and/or with members of the Building-level RtI team) strategically decides how to solve the problem (see Recommendation 4).  As in the slide above, the problem may be solved through strategically selected:

   * Assistive support technologies
   * Remedial approaches
   * Accommodation approaches
   * Curricular modification approaches
   * Laser-targeted Interventions
   * Compensatory strategies

   When students are demonstrating social, emotional, or behavioral problems, a comparable continuum is used (after completing the needed functional assessments) that consists of strategically selected:

   * Skill Instruction strategies
   * Speed of Learning and Mastery Acquisition strategies
   * Transfer of Training strategies
   * Emotional Coping and Control strategies
   * Motivational strategies
   * History of Inconsistency strategies
   * Special Situation strategies
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Recommendation 3.  Diagnostic or Functional Assessment Needs to Clarify Screening Test Results (at Tier 1)

   Many state RtI guidebooks, adopting the flawed approaches of the U.S. Department of Education's RtI technical assistance centers, advocate for a "wait to fail, then assess" strategy. That is, when students are not succeeding academically (for example) at Tier I, they recommend 30 minutes of largely unspecified group interventions at Tier II. Then, if the students are still having problems, they recommend a diagnostic (or, for behavior, functional) assessment as the entry point to Tier III.

   And yet, critically, I don't know many doctors, electricians, car mechanics, or other professionals who would not do a diagnostic assessment at the beginning of the problem solving process. . . to ensure that their first recommendations are their last recommendations (because the problem is solved).

   And so. . . Why would we, in good conscience, "allow" a student to struggle for six to ten or more weeks in the classroom, and in a Tier II intervention, so that we can get to the point where we finally do a diagnostic assessment to figure out what really is wrong?  

   And why would we do this knowing that, after these multiple and prolonged periods of failure, the problem may be worse (or compounded), the student might be more confused or frustrated, and we might need even more intensive interventions because we did not identify and analyze the problem right from the beginning?

   ALL of these practices and issues were confirmed by the RtI Report.
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Recommendation 4.  Assessment Must Link to Intervention.

   Many state RtI guidebooks and systems do not delineate the different types of assessment (e.g., screening versus progress monitoring versus diagnostic versus implementation integrity versus high stakes/proficiency versus program evaluation assessments).  This often occurs because state departments of education write their guidebooks to meet a statutory requirement. . . rather than to educate their practitioners. 

   Relative to RtI processes that will effectively help students with academic or behavioral difficulties, state guidebooks and systems typically do not emphasize the importance of linking diagnostic assessment results with the instructional or interventions approaches that have the highest probability of success.

   Critically, when school practitioners do not strategically choose their student-focused instructional or intervention approaches based on reliable and valid diagnostic assessment results, they are playing a game of "intervention roulette."  

   And, as in Vegas, the "house" usually wins. But, in the classroom, the loss here is the student's loss.

   Every time we do an intervention that does not work, we potentially make the problem worse, and the student more resistant to the next intervention.

   Said a different way: Intervention is not a benign act. . . it is a strategic act.  We should not be satisfied, professionally, because we are implementing interventions. We should be satisfied when we are implementing the right interventions that have the highest probability of success for an accurately identified and analyzed problem.
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Recommendation 5.  Progress Monitoring is NOT an Intervention. . .  When Needed, Focus on Strategic Instruction and/or Intervention

   Many state RtI guidebooks and systems overemphasize progress monitoring. . . and then, they compound the problem by overemphasizing curriculum-based measurement (CBM) to the exclusion of other curriculum-based assessment (CBA) approaches.

   In addition, most of the progress monitoring examples-- in the state guidebooks that I have reviewed-- are in the area of reading decoding and fluency (where the progress monitoring research and writing has been most prevalent).   

   Rarely do you see state guidebooks discuss progress monitoring for vocabulary and comprehension. . . not to mention the lack of progress monitoring examples in the different areas of math, written expression, spelling, and oral expression.  This is because progress monitoring for these outcomes does not work well with CBM. 

   Finally, most state guidebooks do not explain how to effectively create (or evaluate the acceptability of) a progress monitoring probe.  That is, they do not emphasize that progress monitoring approaches must be connected to the instructional or intervention goals, outcomes, and implementation strategies.  

Said a different way:

   * If the instructional or intervention target for a student is increasing his/her understanding and receptive/expressive use of a specific list of grade-level vocabulary words, then the assessment protocol must be designed to sensitively measure these explicit outcomes.

   * If the instructional outcome is a certain format of expressive writing, then reliable and valid scoring rubrics need to be created to guide not just progress monitoring, but instruction and student self-evaluation.

   As noted earlier, progress monitoring is an evaluation approach. Thus, for students with academic or behavioral problems, it follows the (a) identification and (b) analysis of the problem, and the (c) intervention preparation and implementation stages. Unfortunately, some educators still believe that progress monitoring is the intervention. Or, they believe that the intervention must fit the progress monitoring tool adopted by the district- -rather than the tool being fit to the intervention outcomes desired.
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Recommendation 6.   The Intensity of Student Interventions and Services are based on the Intensity of Student Needs

   I have no problem with a state RtI guidebook providing a blueprint on the typical sequences and decision rules that a teacher needs to follow to "move" a student from Tier I to Tier II to Tier III. However, I do have a problem when the sequence must be followed in a rigid, fixed way.

   Simplistically, there are two types of students with academic or behavioral problems: students with progressive, longstanding, or chronic problems; and students with significant, severe, or acute problems.

   For the latter students especially, they often need immediate and intensive (Tier III, if you will) services, supports, strategies, and/or programs. They (and their teachers) should not have to go through a series of intervention layers so that they eventually "qualify" for the services that they need.

   I "get" that many worry about an influx of inappropriate referrals to the Building-level RtI Team. But, if you break your leg, you need to go to the emergency room. If you try to fix it yourself, you may get an infection and lose the whole leg.

   The "trick is in the training." In the schools where I work, we create a collaborative system where everyone in the school is trained on the data-based problem-solving process. We also create an early warning "problem solving, consultation, intervention" culture, along with a "check and balance" approach to minimize the number of capricious referrals to the Building-level team.

   It works. But more important is the fact that more students are receiving earlier and more successful instructional and intervention approaches. And, the teachers are leading the entire process. . . with greater enthusiasm, involvement, self-direction, and success.

   Isn't this the true goal of RtI? 

   Parenthetically, based on the RtI Report, two critical questions in this area emerge:

   1.  Why didn’t the Report identify the specific instructional or skill-based interventions being implemented at the Tier II and Tier III levels?

   Small group instruction or one-on-one tutoring are NOT interventions.  The interventions are the strategies that are implemented in these instructional formats.
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   2.  Are we comfortable with the fact that between 22 (Grade 3) and 37% (Grade 1) of our most needy students were receiving their “intervention” services from paraprofessionals and not certified teachers or reading or other specialists?

   With all due respect to our hard-working paraprofessionals, and even assuming that they were being supervised, can we expect these individuals to have the expertise and sensitivity to know how to deliver, monitor, evaluate, and adapt (as needed) specific interventions for students who (if correctly identified) have diverse and sometimes complex needs?
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Recommendation 7.  Students Receive Multidisciplinary Attention when they NEED Multidisciplinary Attention

   To concretize the ultimate point in Recommendation 6 above:  If a student needs to be immediately considered by the Building-level RtI Team, then this should occur without the need for a certain number of interventions implemented for a certain number of weeks, under a certain level of conditions.

   In other words, get on with it. . .
   But I want to extend this point:  If a teacher needs a consultation with a colleague in order to better understand and work with a student, there should not be restrictions on what colleagues are available.

   To be explicit:  Too often, I hear that general education teachers cannot consult with special education personnel (teachers, OTs, PTs, speech pathologists, etc.) until a student needs "Tier III" attention. This makes no sense if this earlier consultation will result in "Tier I" success. . . thereby eliminating the need for more intensive Tier II or Tier III attention.

   Sometimes, the reason for restricting the consultation is that the "special education teacher is paid through federal special education funds that don't allow the consultation to occur earlier."

This is simply not true.  

   Even in the most extreme interpretation, the federal special education law (IDEA) encourages early intervening services, and it allows districts to use up to 15% of their special education funding for services and supports that are not directed to students with a disability.
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   This week’s RtI Report is a wake-up call. 

   Educators need to be “good consumers” of research and practice.  We should not jump on the newest bandwagon, and we cannot assume that a framework will work for students, staff, and schools just because the federal or a state department of education has recommended (or near-mandated) it.

   In fact, as soon as the RtI Report came out this week, I e-mailed one of the Report’s authors (who I know) and commended him/her on getting it published- -  even in the face of what I expected would be U.S. Department of Education pressure to bury it.

   This individual assured me (in a return e-mail) that there was no such pressure. 

   But understand, the U.S. Department of Education has a documented history of using its bully-pulpit to advance its own (largely in-house and less-than-validated) agenda. . . for example, in school improvement, PBIS, and RtI.

   While I have written about this assertion elsewhere, why else do you think that Congress is trying to minimize the role of the Secretary of Education in dictating policy in the current draft of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act’s (ESEA) reauthorization?
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   As always, we need to use common sense and focus our decision making on student outcomes.  

   We need to use RtI processes that are supported by sound (not self-selected) research. . . that are based on extensive, real, and representative (not limited trial) field studies. . . and that result in demonstrable (not hypothetical, or even meaningless but statistically-significant) student outcomes.

   Rigid, one-size-fits-all approaches do not work. Schools need be given the flexibility, within the federal and state blueprints provided, to implement the best problem solving, progress monitoring, and services and supports to academically struggling and behaviorally challenging students.  And educational practitioners who are working directly with those students are in the best positions to do this.  
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   I hope that some of the ideas above are thought-provoking, and motivate you to look at how you are providing services and supports to all of your students. 

   If these ideas validate what you are doing. . . excellent !!!  If they uncover areas of improvement. . . I appreciate your willingness and dedication to the change and improvement process.

   PLEASE read the Report.  But also, PLEASE feel free to look at the following free resources:

   Our TA Paper:  National Concerns about RtI and PBIS:  A Review of Policy and Practice Recommendations Not Based on Research or Effective Practice

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   Our Model RtI Implementation Guidebook:  A Model Response-to-Instruction and Intervention School and District Implementation Guidebook

   CLICK HERE for Guidebook ...   Just below the TA Paper above
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   Meanwhile, thanks for everything that you do to support your students, staff, and schools.  Let me know if I can be of help.