Use of Data to Improve Outcomes in Response to Intervention (RtI)

WSPA Position Paper on the Use of Data to Improve Outcomes in Response to Intervention (RtI)

Winter 2011

The primary purpose of the Wisconsin School Psychologists Association (WSPA) is to serve the mental health and educational needs of all children and youth and to facilitate the effective practice of school psychology. As advocates for children, school psychologists support and promote practices that improve the quality of education for all children, including children with disabilities and those at risk for school failure. WSPA has consistently supported the implementation of high quality Response to Intervention (RtI) models in all of Wisconsin’s schools, as the effective implementation of RtI practices has been repeatedly shown to improve outcomes such as student achievement and the reduction of special education placement rates in districts across the nation (Bianco, 2010; Dexter, Hughes, & Farmer, 2008; Gibbons, 2008; Torgesen, 2009). Given that Wisconsin’s rule now calls for the implementation of RtI, for the purpose of identifying students with learning disabilities, by December of 2013, it has become imperative that educators implement high quality RtI practices with fidelity. RtI is a systematic, data-based, decision-making process for identifying, defining, and resolving any academic and/or behavioral challenges that a student may face, with an emphasis on providing high-quality instruction and interventions matched to student needs (Batsche et al., 2005; Brown-Chidsey & Steege, 2005).

The Problem
Many educators have been implementing practices that are not based on psychometrically reliable and valid assessment data when making ongoing instructional decisions or tracking insufficient progress of students who may later be identified with a learning disability.

As stated previously, RtI is a data-based decision-making process. Data plays a central role in RtI systems, and the endorsement and selection of appropriate assessment tools has been the subject of a great deal of debate in Wisconsin. Too many leaders, policymakers, and other educators do not have the background knowledge and expertise necessary to help schools make these decisions, and are thereby unknowingly leading some school board members, administrators, staff members, and parents in the wrong direction (Popham, 2006). Given these circumstances, school psychologists, as well as other educational leaders knowledgeable in assessment data, must take a leadership role and work with other stakeholders in the selection and implementation of technically adequate assessment tools.

Fortunately, much of the nation has already moved forward in implementing high quality RtI systems with technically adequate assessments, including curriculum-based measures. Therefore, such systems can and should be used as models to help Wisconsin implement best practices.

The positive outcomes associated with the effective implementation of RtI will not be possible in Wisconsin if leaders advocate for and endorse technically inadequate assessment tools.

Our Proposal
WSPA strongly encourages educational groups in Wisconsin to endorse and implement strategies with the strongest research foundation and the greatest empirical evidence. Effective RtI systems require reliable and valid screening and progress monitoring tools. Although Wisconsin educators should always use multiple sources of data to make decisions for a variety of purposes (e.g., grading, determining whether schools are making adequate yearly progress, identifying areas for remediation, grant writing, etc.), WSPA advocates for the selection of screening and progress monitoring practices based on reviews by the National Center on Response to Intervention and other sources of empirical research. As such, WSPA encourages policymakers, leaders, and the Wisconsin RtI Center to promote screening and progress monitoring practices that have been reviewed and vetted by the National Center on RtI or have been supported through other sources of solid empirical evidence.

In a RtI system, WSPA advocates for the use of assessment tools that meet the highest standards of technical adequacy for screening and progress monitoring purposes. Given the new state rule calling for the use of RtI for the identification of learning disabilities, the implementation of RtI has now become an extremely important decision-making process. As such, the screening and progress monitoring tools used in Wisconsin schools should meet the “Convincing Evidence” standard according to the National Center on RtI’s review or be strongly supported by other sources of empirical evidence. Through the use of such standards, school personnel while be able to make the most accurate and informed high stakes decisions.

Simply stated, it is critical that we use assessments for their intended purposes. Assessment data have a high potential for misuse and abuse if guidelines are not clearly outlined. For example, in the Department of Public Instruction’s Fair Funding for Our Future School Finance Reform 2011-2013, pg 47, the State Superintendent requests monies to be reimbursed to districts for the purchase of particular assessments. However, it does not clearly outline the limited intended purpose, feasibility, technical reliability, or validity of these assessments. WSPA cautions against using or endorsing assessments on such a grand scale without considering these factors.  

At this time, curriculum-based measures (CBMs) have the most empirical support for progress monitoring purposes. In addition, CBMs are efficient and generally easy to administer. Although running records, teacher-made tests, and other published assessments play a role in helping educators in making decisions for other purposes, these tools do not have adequate evidence to support their use for screening or progress monitoring purposes in an RtI system.

This recommendation is further supported by Federal Regulation 300.304 requiring the use of assessment instruments for purposes for which they have adequate reliability and validity, as well as the state rule that defines progress monitoring and the use of probes.

In RtI systems, WSPA advocates for the use of assessments that are efficient, thereby providing useful data in the least amount of time necessary to attain adequate accuracy. Using CBMs allows teaching staff more time to provide instruction that facilitates student learning, rather than administering time consuming and cumbersome assessments that put an undue burden on teachers while providing them with marginally useful data.

Therefore, WSPA endorses the following recommendations:

1. Educational stakeholders should contact appropriate state level leaders, such as the Department of Public Instruction, Wisconsin RtI Center and the State Superintendent’s office to discuss the need for solid leadership in a well run RtI system in Wisconsin.  

2. Statewide leaders and policymakers should rely on the National Center on Response to Intervention and other sources of empirical evidence when recommending screening instruments and progress monitoring tools for RtI.

3. Educators should utilize efficient screening and progress monitoring tools with the technical adequacy needed for RtI purposes. At this point in time, curriculum-based measures (CBMs) are the most efficient and have the most empirical support for RtI.

4.  Staff with graduate level training in measurement, statistics, and research should have an active role in collecting and analyzing appropriate data. Such data will be necessary when objectively determining an intervention’s effectiveness.

5. With training and experience in consultation and interventions, appropriately trained staff, including school psychologistis, should be utilized for consulting with parents who are concerned about their child’s educational progress, teachers who implement RtI interventions, and administrators who will be implementing system-wide changes.

6. Staff involved in leading RtI in a district should stay current with regard to empirical research in order to promote evidenced-based instructional, intervention, and assessment practices on an ongoing basis. The research on technically adequate assessment tools and evidence-based intervention practices is constantly evolving. Thus, school psychologists should be relied on to utilize their research skills to provide needed and timely information on cutting edge practices of RtI.

WSPA calls on other stakeholder groups to join us in advocating for RtI practices that are most likely to work. Our students deserve better than a “we think this is a good idea” approach to RtI. WSPA proposes that DPI and the Wisconsin RtI Center provide schools with resources focusing on the strongest RtI models and methods.

In summary, this is a time for strong leadership and the endorsement of strong RtI practices. WSPA encourages all school districts to use school psychologists and other staff who have expertise in the problem-solving process, data collection and analysis, curriculum-based measurement, designing, implementing, and monitoring of effective academic and behavioral interventions.



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