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RTI Implementation in the Poudre School District (PSD), Colorado

By: Alicia Macica, Kelli McPhee-Nugent, Melanie Patterson, Heather Sanchez, Beth Shefcyk, Tom Tonoli and Kim WatchornPublished: June 18, 2012
Topics: Data-based Decision Making, District-wide Implementation, Implementation Planning and Evaluation, Professional Development


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The Poudre School District (PSD), located in Fort Collins, Colorado, serves approximately 25,000 students and includes 50 schools. As the ninth largest school district in Colorado, PSD covers 1,856 square miles in northern Colorado. Our district’s journey implementing a district-wide Response to Intervention Model (RtI) took shape during the 2008-2009 school year. After extensive research, our district decided to begin implementing RtI via a Professional Learning Community (PLC) framework. To support each site, PSD hosted a large-scale professional learning event that focused on how schools could use PLCs to structure staff development and embed the problem-solving process in work at the site-level. This initial, district-wide learning provided leadership teams with a foundation for working with their staffs.

During this time period, our district decided to fund several district-based Student Success Coaches. These individuals participated in extensive training to build personal skills so that they could serve as effective coaches. Each coach was assigned a specific number of school sites to support based on the coach’s instructional background and area of expertise. Student Success Coaches supported sites in a variety of capacities, such as training, consultation, and resource-providing. Since 2008, we have continued to fund these positions via grants, but we have shifted to a more consultant-based model. With this systems’ approach, differentiated support is offered via: (a) structured, district-based learning opportunities, (b) monthly RtI Site Coordinator meetings, and (c) individual building consultations. Current-year grant funds have allowed for pay for the Site Coordinators to attend after school leveled monthly meetings that are facilitated by our district consultants. Schools select who among the staff will serve as the representative at the leveled meetings. These sessions serve as train-the-trainer sessions, collaborative networking opportunities, and avenues for communicating about site and district-level expectations.

As we continue to grow and evolve as a district, perhaps the biggest challenge we face is balancing the established principles of site-based management with the need for consistent implementation of RtI processes across sites. Sometimes referred to as a “tight/loose” coupling, we continue to determine what procedures are “district-based” and what procedures are left to the interpretation of individual sites. Although many similarities exist between sites, variances may be found in problem-solving processes, data tracking systems, master calendar scheduling for intervention times, and intervention processes. What we consistently emphasize is that an effective problem-solving process is critical, even if the logistics of that process look a little different from school to school. Effective RtI Implementation is not a checklist; it is a way of going about meeting the needs of learners.

As a district-level RtI Team, we utilize a variety of data sources when working with sites. For example, all PSD sites complete the school-level fidelity of implementation rubric. This instrument, developed by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), defines a continuum of implementation that ranges from Emerging to Optimizing. School teams self-identify their implementation according to each of the CDE’s Six Components of the RtI framework. We have found that a combination of local data sources, summative data sources, and the implementation rubric itself compose a body of evidence that allows for careful reflection and planning for next action steps for site and district-level implementation.

Of particular note is our focus on integration of RtI for both academics and behavior. Effective implementation of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) depends on recognition, respect, and response to students’ affective and cognitive needs. For all sites, we gather feedback and provide support in the areas of academics and behavior. Our district RtI Team advocates setting up strong universal-level, school-wide best practice. In addition to providing high-quality core instruction, we know that many of our sites who are fully implementing Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS) have attended to school climate and culture.

Perhaps the biggest lessons we have learned would be with regard to understanding fluid problem-solving processes and the need to have a constant emphasis on excellent core (Tier I) instruction. Response to Intervention is not a series of steps but rather a process to problem-solve. The integrity of this process relies on having a solid Tier I in place. Individuals who are unclear that RtI is really a way of thinking about meeting student needs can easily become fixated on the “forms” and on the “programs” related to the process. These elements may contribute to the efficiency and clarity of a system’s implementation, but forms and programs do not define an effective RtI Model.

As a specific lesson learned, we found value in merging professional development for RtI processes (structuring interventions, selecting quantitative measures, making progress monitoring plans, data collection, data dialogues, communication with current and future teachers) with training for the software in which one documents and shares interventions and progress monitoring data. The software education was more meaningful, and thus better acquired, and RtI best practices were reinforced.

Creative use of time is also a necessary focus for this important work. Staff must have structured time to collaborate in order for RtI to be effective. This is best done during the school day; through the strategic use of PLCs, Intervention/Enrichment (I/E) blocks, Department meetings, and other structures, schools “make time” for collegiality without “taking time” from important classroom learning. Taking the time to carefully educate staff about the problem-solving process is critical to future success. This includes how to engage in meaningful data dialogues, how to conduct a gap analysis, and how to progress monitor with accuracy and intention.

In order to assess effectiveness of implementation, PSD has gathered and analyzed school implementation rubrics (published by the Colorado Department of Education) for all schools and has also begun to utilize the district implementation rubric. A general strength area lies in the continued development of effective problem solving strategies. A general area of growth includes continued efforts to improve family & community involvement in the RtI process. Next steps include efforts to directly link the RtI process to school improvement planning efforts and in digging deeper into a variety of data sources (student achievement, demographic, etc.) to target increased support to specific schools.

As we continue to adapt to changing times and as we reflect on RtI implementation efforts, we would suggest putting the bulk of the initial focus on strong Tier I instruction that includes formative assessment, standards-based instructional design, and effective differentiation. In this way, schools will avoid the supposed phenomenon of the “inverted pyramid.” Secondly, we believe that it is absolutely essential to create time during the day for staff to collaborate and for intervention to happen. Once the structured time is in place and staffs are delivering high-quality core instruction, schools will have a more accurate way to determine which learners actually require intervention, and the stage is set for effective problem-solving.

DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many (2006). Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work™, pp. 2–4.

Colorado Department of Education, RtI homepage.
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