Seven Ways to Support RTI and Special Ed in 2021

December 14, 2021

Many teachers have found their rhythm when it comes to supporting student learning needs. Whether it’s by adding extended learning time, providing opportunities for extra skill practice, or goal-setting with students, teachers have been hard at work to curb learning loss amongst their general populations of students.

But, as the focus at the beginning of the year weighed heavily on the general population, many districts have now shifted their efforts towards supporting targeted groups of students, like Tier II, Tier III, and Special Education. If supporting all students is truly the goal, taking steps to ensure that students with unique learning needs have not fallen by the wayside should be a top priority.

What are these steps, and how can you get started? Glad you asked!

In our research, we’ve come across seven key factors that schools should consider when planning for Tiers II, III, and Special Education and how they fit together:

  1. Screening all students
  2. Progress monitoring
  3. Meaningful interventions
  4. SEL & Goal-setting
  5. Tier-one instruction
  6. IEP Goals
  7. Data meetings

Screening all students

Trying to address learning gaps without knowing where they are is like driving through a blizzard, hoping you’re on the right path. Teachers need a reliable tool to not only show them where students’ starting points are, but also help guide them in the right direction. 

Screening is the mechanism that outlines exactly where students’ learning gaps are and where they are ready to begin learning. Ideally, this is a vertically-scaled assessment that students can log-in and complete in roughly thirty minutes from any location. Adaptive assessments provide robust data. However, this year with remote and hybrid learning, taking long assessments over multiple hours or days may be a challenge. 

In terms of the data output, screeners that provide nationally-normed scaled scores and domain-level insights are best for effective decision making. This allows you to see not only where your students are performing, but where they fall relative to all students who have taken the same assessment.

Perhaps the most important function you should look for in a screener is that the data actively informs students’ intervention. In Classworks, as new screener data becomes available, activities are automatically added and removed from the student’s learning progression to fix learning gaps in and build foundational knowledge.

Your screener should ultimately be lifting a burden from the teacher, not adding one. Having a screener that can automatically find skill deficits and match them with activities that target these areas of improvement as well as group students based on percentile rank is a huge benefit.

The National Center on Intensive Intervention is the leading authority on which assessments are considered reliable and valid. Classworks’ assessments are validated by NCII and follow their guidelines for accurate tier placements. 

Progress Monitoring

One of the key pieces of data we receive from screening, beyond tier placement or skill gaps, is which progress monitoring level is identified for students. While individualized instruction is the perfect way to navigate these students back towards grade-level proficiency, progress monitoring shows us what that catch-up process looks like through data. 

By definition, progress monitoring is a repeated measurement of performance, using equated probes, to determine if students are responding to the interventions they are being given. They are also critical in determining if students should be given referral for any additional testing. For students already in Special Education, progress monitoring can be used as a reliable data point to ensure IEP goals are being met.

Under usual circumstances, progress monitoring is most effective for students in Tiers II, III and Special Ed. However, students affected by the pandemic who normally would be on grade-level might find themselves in Tier II this year -- and that’s totally okay! 

After determining which students will be participating in progress monitoring, you’ll want a tool that provides a consistent process for all students regardless of where learning takes place. Like screening, having a program that allows you to administer progress monitoring asynchronously will be much less of a headache for teachers. 

Effective progress monitoring will show results for every test instance during the intervention period and also use trend lines to establish the student’s projected rate of improvement and any target goals. Programs like Classworks have automated this process so that teachers and school psychologists can track a student’s overall rate of improvement and determine at-a-glance if the student is responding to the intervention or not. 

Additionally, progress monitoring should be measured in the same vertical scale as the screener you are using. This will help prevent any data inconsistencies and give you a better idea of where your students stand in relation to their grade level. 

Be sure that you can identify and track progress for skill areas each week. This is beneficial for students who are referred to track progress for one domain.

Finally, just like the academic screener, an effective progress monitoring tool will use the probe data to automatically inform the student’s intervention. It’s important to see how students are progressing. It’s equally, if not more important, to ensure they are working on relevant instruction that will lead to the growth you are tracking. 

Meaningful Interventions

Arguably the most important part of any RTI process is the intervention itself. While screening and progress monitoring provide the necessary documentation of where students are and where they’re headed, we can’t forget that the true goal of RTI is to close gaps and support success as students learn grade-level standards.

But what makes an intervention effective? Too often we encounter districts making the mistake of repeating the core curriculum at a slower pace. However, truly effective interventions should target weak areas to build foundational knowledge before attempting to learn on grade-level.

Intervention should be driven by data; the best results come from instruction that has been individualized for students based on their screening and progress monitoring results. Activities should be skill-specific with data that can be documented and tracked. This ensures that the instruction being received is perfect for the student’s performance level -- challenging, but not too hard. Not only does this ensure that students are growing, but being able to accomplish the activities keeps them from throwing in the towel. 

School schedules should include designated blocks of time for students to work on their individual skills in order to close learning gaps. This should be separate from the usual instructional time and should be worked in for remote and in-person learning.

As far as the activities themselves, programs that provide direct instruction before skill practice help reinforce new concepts to students. This is much more effective than just throwing students into another type of assessment.

But the student experience isn’t the only one that should be top of mind. Teachers should be able to easily monitor every aspect of a student’s work, no matter where learning is taking place. In programs like Classworks, teachers can view all activities assigned to their students and make any adjustments they deem necessary. Remember, a good RTI tool will lift the burden from the teacher -- not add to it!

In an intervention platform like Classworks, intervention instruction is automatically assigned to each student based on screener and progress monitoring data. 

This shifts the teacher’s role. Now, they don’t have to spend valuable time finding instruction to meet each individual student’s needs. Instead, the teacher can focus on monitoring how students are progressing on the instruction, conferencing with them about areas for improvement, and motivating them by providing incentives and celebrating wins. 

Goal Setting and SEL

One thing everyone is currently grappling with is the best way to help students who need behavioral interventions. It can be challenging to effectively document daily behavior plans if students are only physically in the building a few times each week, or, in some cases, not at all. Then, once students are all back in the classroom, the focus becomes helping students relearn not just key skills they lost, but also the basic expectations around how to ‘do school’.

Authorities on behavioral interventions, like The Center on PBIS, have supplied helpful resources to help guide teachers towards best practices with documentation. But, even with these resources, teachers may still find difficulty in keeping tabs on students they don’t see every day.

To help address this, we recommend using digital student observation daily report cards, like the one in Classworks. By keeping this documentation in a digital format, all teachers can keep track of behavior and engagement goals in a central location. This keeps all parties aware of a student’s performance. 

Similar, but slightly different from PBIS is student goal setting and reflection on their progress toward specific goals. These can be weekly or even daily goals that the student sets. They may be academic or they may be personal. Classworks uses a SMART goals model for its new Student Goal Tracker feature. Moving to a hybrid or 100% virtual model does not mean we need to abandon these initiatives. In fact, they are likely even more important than ever. 

Tier One instruction

It is no secret that a strong Tier One curriculum is key to unlocking success in your RTI program. But, teachers will want to ensure that the lessons students receive are viable in a virtual environment and empower them to tackle new concepts independently. This means providing lessons in a digital format with explicit instruction and ample time to practice with and without teacher support.

With many students learning asynchronously, lessons should be made accessible for students around the clock. Learning management systems like Google Classroom, Schoology, or Campus Learning can serve as a home-base for teachers to link all lessons, activities, and resources for students to use.

Watch our video on creating HQ lessons using Google Classroom

Although Tier One content is different from students’ individualized instruction, activities should be differentiated. Teachers shouldn’t approach Tier One learning as one-size-fits-all, but instead adapt instruction for both content and method. Then, check routinely for understanding, reteach when necessary, and monitor overall progress.

IEP Goals

Effective IEP goals will identify an expectation for a student and outline a specific way in which to measure it. Data is especially powerful when we talk about IEP goal-setting and discussions. Always ensure that goals are based on data that is interwoven into content.

A good practice would be to use rigorous, off grade-level content to first set and measure goals and then to track progress. Big picture goals are important, too. Don’t forget that your assessments can provide the growth data to ensure that your IEP goals stay meaningful and relevant.

Data Meetings

Data meetings are the perfect forum for all stakeholders to meet regularly and discuss changes to interventions, move students between tiers, and decide on next steps for students (like referrals for special education).

These types of meetings should occur every four to six weeks to ensure the data being reviewed is current and the most relevant. With many working remotely this year, parents that typically wouldn’t be able to join in may have more flexibility. Parents are much more likely to participate when they don’t have to take time off work and can instead hop on a quick Zoom call.

Likewise, members of the team who may work with multiple schools will not have to travel between locations. A digital meeting format can really help level the playing field by allowing all members to contribute equally.

Typically, your district’s RTI plan will dictate who should be present at meetings and might differ depending on which tier group is being discussed. But in general, classroom teachers, counselors, school psychologists, instructional coaches, interventionists, and administrators should all be present. 

Each role offers a different perspective that can provide valuable insight from a unique vantage point. By having all parties present, you can paint a complete picture for each student and take the most appropriate next steps.

Putting it all together

While each aspect of your RTI or Special Education plan is important on its own; the key to unlocking success depends on them working harmoniously together. Oftentimes we see districts using a separate tool for screening, intervention, and progress monitoring.

Ultimately, reducing the number of platforms teachers and students are using helps create a streamlined process and reduces any data inconsistencies that might arise from competing softwares. It’s much easier to interpret progress monitoring results when they’re measured on the same scale as your screener. Likewise, it’s much more effective to have interventions automatically tied to assessment data than to have teachers try to interpret the data and become hunter-gatherers for resources. 

Whichever systems you choose to put in place for your schools, consider whether you are already using a platform that can perform multiple roles. For example, many districts who initially brought in Classworks for individualized learning were happy to learn that they could easily screen, progress monitor, and goal track under the same roof. Plus, by trimming down on extraneous tools, you’re freeing up more funds for other initiatives.

Need help planning for RTI/SPED? Use the blue chat icon to get in touch with an Education Specialist today.

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