School Psychologists and RTI
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Response to intervention (RTI) and other problem-solving systems have made the role of the school psychologist even more central. School psychologists can play a number of important roles within an RTI framework, including helping to identify who should be on the intervention team, working with the team to conduct needs and screening assessments, designing the program structure, selecting and implementing evidenced-based strategies, planning and conduct staff training, engaging parents, and planning and implementing student progress monitoring processes.
Join Katie Eklund and Montina Romero during our next RTI Talk as they answer your questions about the various roles of school psychologists within RTI. They will also offer tips and examples of strategies to support the effective implementation of RTI based on lessons learned working in local schools.
The greatest challenge for school psychologists is likely time; therefore, the extent of the role will be dependent on the time the school psychologist has to do some of the other aspects, such as progress monitoring, intervention implementation, direct consultation, etc. In our system, because school psychologists support only one building, the expectation is that they are involved in every aspect of problem-solving: intervention development and implementation, progress monitoring, consultation, etc. For school psychologists that serve multiple buildings, this may not be feasible. In this case, guiding the implementation of a problem-solving process may be most effective.
It has taken strong commitment from our building RTI team to provide ongoing training and consultation to help teachers understand this paradigm shift and that it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure student growth. It has been a long-term commitment and process that has taken multiple years to get staff on board, however the outcomes for students have been extremely positive. In our district, school psychologists are actively involved in all aspects of the RTI model and have a very broadly defined role to help meet student’s academic and behavioral needs.
In RTI, eligibility determination for special education services occurs when a student’s response to both core instructional AND supplemental interventions does not result in movement towards achieving benchmarks and the performance levels of his/her peers. In terms of assessment for determination of a disability, as the law has always advocated, decisions on assessment tools should be guided by the questions that multidisciplinary teams (including parents) have about the student. Although practice often became more of a cookie cutter approach to assessment, effective practitioners selected assessment tools that would best answer questions about a student. The major shift with the implementation of RtI is recognizing that teams need to do more than give assessments to label a child; teams need to be able to determine appropriate interventions that will improve the student’s ability to be successful in an academic setting.
This shift in focus forces practitioners to broaden their assessment tools and techniques and develop assessment plans that are more individually focused.
This means that school psychologists may need to expand their role to not only include cognitive, social/emotional, and behavioral assessment intervention, and consultation, but to also be well-versed in academic assessment, intervention, and consultation. This has not traditionally been the role for many psychologists. RTI implementation offers the opportunity for school psychologists to greatly expand their role. Readers are encouraged to check-out the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) Practice Model, which delineates 10 domains of practice that actually align nicely with RTI implementation and best practice.
When talking about an RtI framework, we are really talking about system reform, opening the door to collaboration across a system, supporting family and community engagement, implementing a viable curriculum, building a climate and culture that values and respects multiple individuals, and most importantly believing that all children can and will be successful through effective school practices. This directly impacts students who are in poverty and have IEPs. The level of rigor, expectations, and instructional delivery is increased.
School psychologists guide this process in many ways. School psychologists understanding of system change, consultation and collaboration, assessment, positive behavior support strategies are invaluable in this reform effort. I find systems that have a school psychologist who is well trained and effective in practice are much more proficient in making the systems changes that are most impactful to our neediest population.
New tools have been released since that time, which your district may also want to consider. Pearson has released the Behavioral and Emotional Screening System (BESS), which is a shorter version of the Behavioral Assessment Scale for Children-2 (BASC-2). More information can be accessed online. The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) is also a free tool that can be accessed online. There are many other measures available but these are two newer tools that come to mind.
Personally, our team has found it difficult to separate behavioral and academic concerns as children often present with both types of concerns. We would recommend teams be able to address both areas of concern as behaviors often negatively impact academics, and vice versa.
The most important aspect of identifying a student's response is to know where the student is expected to be performing and what the expected rate of improvement should be. A team must know these two things before determining whether the response is adequate or sufficient. Teams must not only determine how much response is necessary, but the amount of time it will take to get an adequate response to an intervention.
Furthermore, identifying the expected length of intervention is important before determining an appropriate response. If the intervention is program based and is intended for 36 weeks, determining a response after 6 - 8 weeks in not appropriate. In this case a team would need to identify an individually based intervention to focus on a specific skill deficit and monitor the response to that intervention. In many cases, a program based intervention is not sufficient in meeting the needs of students who are significantly impacted by an academic skill deficit; therefore, teams must move promptly to implement individualized interventions to understand what a student’s response will be to the identified academic need.
Further, we head up universal social emotional programming in many classrooms, so we have the opportunity to positively interact with many children both in general and special education. I currently co-lead groups with our school counselor for students identified as gifted and talented, as well as co-lead deployment groups with a family consultant in our district.
Other outreach activities to broaden school psychologist's visibility with families may include creating a short article for the monthly school newsletter, offering parent trainings on a variety of topics, attending back to school night and other school activities, as well as covering recess duty as a way to positively interact with children in other environments.
Because of the training school psychologists have in data collection, being a support to teachers is a valuable role. In terms of data meetings, a school psychologist's participation is likely dependent on the time a school psychologist is available.
If a school psychologist is unable to physically attend the data meeting, he/she can be instrumental in developing efficient and effective practices to discuss data, help develop tracking forms, consult with teachers before and after data meetings, etc.
There are many diagnostic tests that relate to specific academic areas that are effective in identifying student needs. Some of the assessments continue to be one-on-one. Based on the needs of our district, our team of school psychologists has identified several assessments to utilize for skill deficit identification.
For example, to identify specific skill deficits for reading our team utilizes the Test of Early Reading Ability, Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing, Test of Reading Comprehension, etc. There are a multitude of diagnostic assessments that are available and we have found that collaborating as a team to determine which ones we will utilize in our district has been most effective.
We have found in our own district that if parents are provided ongoing feedback about their child's progress utilizing a variety of interventions, then they are typically supportive of the process. However, some parents may still choose to request formalized testing and this request must be honored or refused in writing through a formal special education action.
For example at the assessment level, when students present with symptoms of inattention/hyperactivity, paired with academic difficulties, our SLP's have been effective in assessing expressive and/or receptive language difficulties as well as considering any type of auditory processing disorders. Our SLP serves on our building problem-solving team as we have found the SLPs’ expertise to be extremely valuable. In our district many SLP's and school psychologists also co-lead social skills groups as these types of groups can concurrently address the development of social language deficits and the social skills needed by many children.
Training is one of the best ways to develop a cohesive problem-solving process. The Colorado Department of Education provides several resources for training on the problem-solving process.
The videos within the site demonstrate the problem-solving process in action and the class handouts can be used to train school teams. In our system, school psychologists train their individual building teams on the problem-solving process and model consultation so problem-solving can be effective.
We also recognize the issue of maintaining skills and the level of intervention should be considered. Therefore, many factors should be included in the body of evidence when considering whether a student has a disability.
School psychologists can help initiate, develop, and lead building-wide Response to Intervention teams and procedures in order to expand their role. This includes not only providing behavioral interventions, but also better understanding academic assessments and interventions and how these results can impact student achievement.
As referred to in a previous question, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) recently created a new Practice Model which clearly delineates the broad role school psychologists can play within their own school(s) and district. (See the NASP website for more information) Practitioners are encouraged not only to share this model with their administrators, staff, parents, and district, but to adopt this job description at the district and state level to help increase awareness about the breadth of our practice and competencies. At the school level, school psychologists should advocate for their role by offering to provide services beyond testing and counseling for special education students. While these services are valuable, they are only a tip of the iceberg in providing comprehensive school mental health services.
It takes a multiple year commitment for the paradigm shift to happen in many buildings, so don't give up! There are many resources available to help support your efforts and I would encourage you to collaborate with other school psychologists in your district and/or area to make this shift a reality.
Also, all systems have to recognize that universal instruction and intervention is where the biggest impact is made. If 70% of a system requires intense intervention, then the universal instruction needs to become more intense. Many systems in this situation try to refer all of those students to a more intense tier. The greatest learning experience in this situation is to recognize the universal level must change.
School psychologists often times can be utilized to ensure that evidence-based interventions are being carried out with fidelity, progress monitoring tools are accurately assessing the area of concern, and to work with school staff to deliver appropriate interventions.
We have found that collaboration between school psychologists and principals is essential to RTI's success in a building as teams need to develop a common framework and understanding of building priorities from year to year. It takes a multiple year commitment from administration and teachers to fully implement and streamline RTI processes within a building and district.
That concludes our RTI Talk for today. Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful questions and thanks to our experts, Ms. Katie Eklund and Dr. Montina Romero, for their time today.
Please also take a few moments at the completion of this event to give us your feedback by taking our survey!
Related Reading from RTINetwork.org:
- National Association of School Psychologists
- National Center on Response to Intervention
- "A More Valuable Resource," by Deitra Reiser, Katherine Cowan, Stacy Skalski, and Mary Beth Klotz, in Principal Leadership, November 2010
- "Data-Based Decision Making," by Anastasia Kalamaros Skalski and Montina Romero, in Principal Leadership, January 2011