I am often asked about how to appropriately monitor student progress in relation to interventions. Progress monitoring is a key feature of Response to Intervention (RTI), and in fact, there can be no RTI unless we are monitoring the extent to which students are responding to our intervention.
How do we monitor the progress of school’s overall RTI efforts? How can we be sure that our coordinated, systematic supports on behalf of students are resulting in positive outcomes? What would the indicators be? Many schools express confusion about the best measure to use. I feel that the confusion relates not to progress monitoring but to how targeted the intervention is.
The Right Intervention
The best intervention is a targeted intervention. Yet we find that interventions are too frequently broad in nature and that they often address symptoms instead of causes. When the specific cause of reading difficulties is a challenge with multi-syllabic phonics, for example, providing general reading support is too broad an intervention. Similarly, providing support for adding fractions with unlike denominators is not an appropriately targeted intervention when the cause is difficulty related to finding equivalent fractions. I encourage teams to target interventions as specifically as possible on the causes of difficulties.
When interventions are appropriately targeted, the type of progress monitoring process to employ will be clear. If multi-syllabic phonics interventions are provided, monitor student improvement in decoding multi-syllabic words. When interventions are provided for multiplication or finding equivalent fractions, monitor student improvement in these areas.
Creating a Plan
When monitoring the progress of RTI efforts, start by revisiting the specific areas of student need that were targeted.
Was the school focused on improving student mastery at Tier 1?
Monitor student improvement on common assessments, year-to-year and month-to-month.
Was the school focused in improving staff success at targeting Tier 2 supports—that is, more time and alternative approaches to master the prioritized content of the grade or course?
Monitor the percentage of students demonstrating mastery on common assessments after receiving Tier 1 instruction as compared to the percentage of students demonstrating mastery on these common assessments after receiving Tier 2 interventions.
Was the school focused on improving student engagement?
Collaboratively develop efficient classroom-visit surveys that note the percentages of students richly engaged in learning. Visit classrooms at agreed-upon frequencies and share results over time.
Was the school focused on longer-term goals, such as decreasing the number of students referred for formal evaluations to determine eligibility for special education services (because these students are adequately responding to instruction and intervention)?
Monitor the change in these numbers.
Was the school focused on increasing the percentage of students who are exited from special education into less restrictive general education environments (because gaps have been ameliorated and sustainable alternative strategies have been developed)?
Monitor the change in these percentages.
We know that RTI and the practices associated with it are among the most research-proven strategies a school can engage (Hattie, 2011). But just implementing RTI-based practices is not enough. We must ensure that RTI is resulting in improved student outcomes.
Just as with any school initiative, monitoring the progress and success of RTI is essential. Schools should identify what will be measured, how it will be measured, and when it will be measured before getting started. Once these measures are defined, questions about progress monitoring can be more easily resolved, and the real work of RTI can begin with confidence for success.