By Joseph Kovaleski, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Many people trace the beginnings of RTI to team-based structures that were developed in the 1980s and 1990s. Beginning as teacher assistance teams (TATs), team structures such as instructional support teams (ISTs), instructional consultation teams (ICTs), and mainstream assistance teams evolved. Although there were substantial differences among these teams, all shared a problem-solving process as their central operating procedure.
Briefly, the problem-solving process involves the following steps:
- identify the problem
- set a measurable goal
- develop solutions to address the problem
- implement the solutions
- evaluate the effectiveness of the solutions
Today, most multi-tier (RTI) models continue to incorporate a problem-solving process as a key component. However, it cannot be said that problem-solving teams are equivalent to RTI. There are some crucial differences that need to be recognized.
First, problem-solving teams have historically addressed the needs of individual students. Typically, teachers would identify students who displayed academic or behavioral problems in their classrooms and request assistance from the problem-solving teams. The problem-solving teams would often conduct a thorough, curriculum-based assessment of the individual student and devise unique, customized strategies. In today’s terminology, these would be considered Tier 2 interventions.
In contemporary multi-tier models, on the other hand, teams of teachers are often working at Tier 1 to address the needs of all students based on universal screening data. Mike Schmoker has been credited with coming up with the idea of using the collaborative process to analyze group data to help teachers make instructional improvements with the goal of moving all students toward proficiency. Schmoker’s ideas have been incorporated into multi-tier models as data analysis teams.
In my experience in multiple states, I have found these teams to be excellent vehicles for helping teachers reflect on their work and improve their instruction. A good place to read more about the operation of data analysis teams is the RTI Network Web site. Search for “data analysis teams” when you get to the site. Of course, it should be noted that the problem-solving process, as described above, is recommended as the undergirding process for data analysis teams.
The second difference in contemporary teaming practices is at Tier 2. Instead of initially focusing on individual students, as we did in the past, teams analyze data from universal screening and progress monitoring to identify groups of students who have similar instructional needs. Interventions are then planned for these groups, often during supplemental instructional periods that have been variously called “tier time,” “power hour,” etc. The team then matches the students’ needs with carefully selected interventions that are research-based (i.e., highly likely to produce student gains). These interventions have been called “standard protocol” strategies because they are designed to be used with small groups in a highly scripted approach, so implementers can approximate the conditions that produced the gains in the research studies.
This approach is uniquely different from what was practiced 20 years ago in problem-solving teams. The reason for the change is that we now have a great deal of empirical evidence regarding effective instructional procedures that we just didn’t have in 1990. Without that research, problem-solving teams had to “brainstorm” strategies, often without regard to any evidence base. Nowadays, we can select research-based programs, many of which are commercially available.
So do we ever conduct individual problem-solving in RTI as we did with problem-solving teams? Certainly. Despite the fact that research indicates that standard protocol interventions can be successful with high percentages of students who are deficient in basic skills, there will still be students who do not respond to these robust interventions. Customizing interventions through problem solving will continue to be an important feature of multi-tier models, although this procedure would tend to be used with fewer students than in the past and would occur later in the process.
Another difference with the RTI process is that problem solving would be enhanced by in-depth assessment of the students, such as that provided by curriculum-based assessment (CBA) or curriculum-based evaluation (CBE) procedures (see my last blog post for more details). In addition, for behavioral concerns, functional behavioral assessment (FBA) would also be indicated. These data should give us precise ideas about interventions, which is a far cry from the days when we brainstormed or invented ideas to help our students.
It should be noted that it was just five years ago or so that various authors were distinguishing two types of RTI processes -- problem-solving versus standard protocol approaches. Now many school districts and states have incorporated both approaches into their RTI models. Clearly, the problem-solving process continues to offer a structure that helps teams systematically address students’ problems. However, it is also clear that utilizing standard protocol interventions as the first step to addressing the needs of struggling students has added immeasurably to teams’ effectiveness.