Response to intervention – The key to a deeper understanding

Recently I left the doctor’s office with the diagnosis of anemia and prescription for iron supplements. My doctor wished me well and said, “See you next year!” I paused, a bit bewildered that he didn’t want to run any follow-up tests, and asked, “Well, don’t you want to see if the supplements are working?”

When it comes to our physical health, it makes perfect sense to “test” and ensure that the new treatment is working. I wonder how often and how effectively we do that with learning. We are quick to make judgment calls after the administration of a high stakes assessment. We diagnose the problem and schedule students into interventions or select classes, but how often do we check to make sure that our “treatment” is working? And yet, how often do we find data that shows us we are treating the wrong problem?

There is nothing more precious that the hours we have to nurture and grow our students, and without monitoring multiple sources of data, our assumptions could be skewed. What if my doctor monitored my iron levels by testing for cholesterol? The myriad of data points and disparate programs can be overwhelming, especially with limited time to gather the data and then understand the information. It is possible that students can be showing growth in an intervention program, but not make progress in on-grade-level standards. How does a teacher juggle it all, making sure students are moving forward in all the right areas? The first time I saw the RTI solution offered by TalentEd, I knew there was a real opportunity to make a difference in the lives of teachers and ultimately, students.

When a student has been identified in need of intervention, the teacher takes on a clinical role to determine the best course of action, set strategic, academic goals and then progress monitor the student’s movement within the set intervention. The multitude of variables to be considered in making quality decisions include the fidelity of implementation of the intervention, as well as the student’s attendance and participation, along with analysis of student achievement data. Typically, intervention data is warehoused externally – whether it is located within a computer program or kept manually in a notebook. When teachers sit down to gauge student progress, the aggregation of data is a heavy lift requiring the teacher to manage multiple sources of often disparate data.

Response to Intervention offers teachers the opportunity to look at multiple data sources in one spot and leverage powerful graphing functions that overlay in-program interventions alongside on-grade-level assessments. As teachers ask questions about progress and performance of students, they can quickly view student engagement in the intervention and record anecdotal data. They can see performance within the intervention to determine if the student is progressing to target and then overlay on-grade-level assessments and compare trend lines. Having all the information in one place allows the teacher to spend time doing important things like adjusting the intensity or duration of the intervention, rather than hunting down and pushing paper.

Teachers are highly skilled and trained experts in their field. Finding ways to maximize their time doing important things with data, rather than tracking down data, results in a much higher return on investment for schools, but ultimately for the students they selflessly serve. Just as I would question my doctor for the tools he used to monitor my anemia, so we should, as educational clinicians, question the measures we are using to help our students.

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