Defining "Fidelity of Implementation" in the Context of RTI Implementation

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    This blog post focuses on the role of fidelity of implementation in RtI and using position statements to stimulate reflection and dialogue. One of my earlier posts highlighted RtI-Communities of Practice (CoP) that have been created in Kansas to assist with RtI sustainability issues. The Kansas Innovations Consortium is one such CoP that has been in existence for several years. This consortium includes a cross-representation of districts, roles represented in education, and experience with RtI. One task this CoP initiated this year is the creation of a white paper about RtI based on the beliefs, experiences, and perspectives of consortium members. The purpose of developing the white paper is to uncover the misunderstandings that naturally occur as implementation of RtI evolves within a school or district.. The Consortium writing group graciously allowed me to share some of what has been written to date in hopes it will further your own thinking and conversations.

    Common Misunderstandings

    It is not uncommon to hear the following statements from different individuals who are just learning about fidelity of implementation:

    "Fidelity of implementation is taking the art out of teaching because it means everyone has to teach in exactly the same manner"

    "Fidelity of implementation means that the state/school/district is telling me what I should do in my classroom"

    "We made AYP so if it ain’t broke don't fix it"

    "We've always done it this way, why should we change?"

    Position Statements

    The following position statements are intended to provide a definition of fidelity of implementation in the context of RtI implementation:

    1) Districts and buildings must clearly define the essential features of RtI using the most current research and practice literature in order for fidelity of implementation to be meaningful.

    • Clearly-articulated essential features provide the avenue for a common understanding and consistency in practices across all stakeholders.
    • Fidelity is meaningful when the focus is on the decision-making process and implementation versus merely "adherence to the rules."
    • District and building implementation efforts will create a dynamic change process when fidelity has been monitored effectively and used to guide reflection and subsequent actions.

    2) Fidelity of implementation must be measured at multiple levels within a school and/or district.


    • Measurement systems must be created and used to monitor the degree to which RtI practices are in place at the district, building, classroom, and individual student level.
    • A culture of improvement is achieved when educators embrace and use data to engage in dialogue and decision making. Self-assessment data are necessary, but insufficient, to understand level of fidelity.
    • Fiscal and time-related investment in fidelity of implementation is essential. When these processes are ignored, it is unlikely that significant change will occur.

    3) Fidelity needs to be approached from a supporting vs. a policing standpoint.

    • Fidelity of implementation should be used by schools, districts, and state levels in a supportive manner, not in way that is meant to exert negative pressure or to force change in some way.
    • Creating a culture of honest evaluation and reflection promotes dialogue to identify necessary or desirable supports for improvement efforts.
    • Evaluation of fidelity allows for the celebration of successes and continual growth as opposed to a way to magnify shortcomings.

    4) Fidelity of implementation demonstrates the degree to which our articulated agreements and our values are visible in our daily practice.


    • Articulated agreements are reviewed regularly at each level in the system along with outcome measures evaluating the impact of implementation efforts.
    • Fidelity of implementation and outcome data are used to establish a sense of ownership and to provide a level of transparency for all stakeholders (e.g. families, community members, politicians, etc.).
    • Fidelity is being personally and collectively accountable to the systems and practices we have agreed upon as a staff and/or district.

    5) The importance of fidelity of implementation increases as high stakes decisions are being made about students, and within and across schools, and/or districts.


    • When making high stakes decisions, fidelity of implementation data need to be part of the problem-solving process and decision-making process.
    • In order to prevent a misinterpretation of outcome data, fidelity of implementation provides necessary evidence of what was, or wasn't done, to impact the outcome.

    The process of developing these position statements around fidelity has been a very rewarding experience. The conversations that have naturally occurred when sharing our own personal interpretations of the words have proven to be rich. I encourage you to create your own discussion with colleagues using these position statements. Whether in agreement or not, I think the process will elevate the issue of fidelity and create necessary and meaningful dialogue.

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