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Implementing a Combined RTI/PBIS Model: When is an Academic Intervention also a Behavioral One?

By: Evelyn S. Johnson, Ed.D., Deborah R. Carter, Ph.D., and Juli Pool, Ph.D.Published: February 27, 2011
Topics: Behavior Supports, Data-based Decision Making, K-5, Tiered Instruction


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One of the Tier 2 interventions in place this year at Silver Sage is the use of the Vmath intervention for a group of third grade students who were identified by screening data as at-risk for poor math outcomes. Four times per week, for 30 minutes, 10 students receive direct instruction using the Vmath intervention to support their learning. The intervention is provided by Gabe, a graduate student from BSU, working on this implementation project. (This is an area of sustainability that the school will need to address next year – how to arrange the logistics of the school to allow for small group intervention provided by school staff – but that’s another blog entry; this entry focuses on the students who have been identified as in need of both academic and behavioral supports and how those supports are provided.)

Within this group of 10 students, there is one student, Roland*, who receives both academic (Vmath) and behavioral (Check-in Check Out (CICO))   interventions. Within the math intervention, student progress is monitored weekly using the MBSP Concepts and Applications (Fuchs, Hamlett, Fuchs, 1998). Roland’s progress monitoring chart is well, off the charts. His growth on these measures and his performance on the assessments included within the Vmath program made him a prime candidate for exiting the intervention and moving back to the general education classroom. This was the decision that the team made at a recent Tier 2 meeting. Roland’s CICO intervention was maintained because his progress indicated he still required support to be successful.

The next day, Roland was informed by both his classroom teacher and Gabe that because his progress in math was so strong, he would stop coming for V-math at the end of that week. He was really proud of himself, but protested, “But Vmath is my favorite part of the school day, besides recess.”

The following week, Roland received math instruction in the general classroom. Or at least, that was the plan. He had a really difficult week and was sent to the principal’s office several times. So, Gabe and Roland’s teacher discussed what to do and decided to try putting him back into Vmath. Sure enough, Roland’s behavior returned to its previous levels and he continued to excel in the math program.

At the next Tier 2 meeting, the team discussed Roland. Was it appropriate to let him remain in the academic intervention when his progress monitoring chart clearly showed his performance was beyond grade level? Was it fair to keep Roland in at the exclusion of other students with low math achievement who would also benefit from a math intervention? Was it fair to Roland to remove an intervention that clearly supported his positive behavior and, ultimately, his academic performance? For now, because Roland is such a strong student within math intervention time, the team decided to increase the intervention group size by 1, to leave Roland in intervention, and to place another struggling student in that group. Roland will likely be promoted to peer tutor in an effort to increase his positive academic experiences and to support the other students. A longer-term solution that the team is working on is observing within the general class to determine if there are ways to restructure the environment to help better support Roland’s needs within the Tier 1 setting.

This experience led us to wonder, “What if there were several Roland’s in this school?” In a world with unlimited resources it would be an easy decision to use small group academic intervention as a behavioral support for some students, even if their progress monitoring indicated that they were ready to go back to the general classroom. But Idaho, like most states, is living in a world with increasingly dwindling resources, so decisions about access to supports and the nature of those supports can unfortunately be driven by logistics rather than by student need.

Roland’s case raises the question about the nature of Tier 2 and the role that the supports play in helping at-risk students benefit from instruction. For us, it also raises larger questions about Tier 1 systems – and the role that class size might play within an RTI/PBIS model. Finally, it raises concerns about equity in the provision of instruction and intervention to at-risk students.

*Note: Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.
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