Implementing a Combined RTI/PBIS Model: Can a School Experience Data Overload?

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    At our last Tier 1 meeting, Deb Carter was demonstrating to the Tier 1 team at Silver Sage how to use School-Wide Information System (SWIS) to analyze the school’s implementation of PBIS. The school has seen tremendous success in this past year, and now the data reviews are getting much more detailed. Deb was showing the team how SWIS provides the opportunity to drill down to a very specific area of concern to problem solve. In this particular instance, the data revealed that there was a certain time (lunch recess) and location (playground) that tended to be problematic for students as evidenced by the high numbers of office discipline referrals (ODRs). The analysis was elegant. After the initial analysis by time, with a few changes to the settings, Deb had identified a few second graders who consistently engaged in problem behaviors during this time period. The next step (i.e. what to do about it) seemed evident. So Deb asked the question.

    And was met by silence. Finally, a teacher said, “I think we’re doing really well. I don’t think we need to do anything differently.” Deb prodded, “I wonder if a reminder of expectations prior to lunch recess might be a good idea?” More silence, followed by, “No, I think we’re okay.”

    After the meeting, Deb and I chatted. The school has been extremely positive in their implementation of tiered service delivery and responding to data, so their response (or lack of response?) surprised us. Why didn’t they want to do something about this? Maybe it was because we spent the first part of the meeting reviewing school-wide academic data that showed that the kindergarten classes’ reading data indicated that most of the students were identified as potentially at risk by one or more of the reading screens given in the fall. The team had made the decision to complete another round of screening before the winter benchmark to see how many of the students were now responding to core instruction, and also talking about ways that the school might organize its schedule should they need to set up small group reading instruction to better support these students. Maybe it was because at the Tier 2 meeting the week before, the team had reviewed data on four different interventions for about 20 students. Maybe it was because at the last Tier 1 meeting, data indicated that writing performance school wide was low, so a monthly progress monitoring check on writing had been implemented. Maybe we hadn’t celebrated enough successes along the way. Maybe the staff was experiencing data overload.

    Data overload in the digital age simply refers to the massive amounts of data produced because of advances in technology. According to a recent report in Tech News Daily, each year a total of one zettabyte of data is produced, and that total is expected to grow exponentially each year. A zettabyte is one trillion gigabytes. In other words, a lot of data. And although the amount of data collected at Silver Sage is substantially less than a zettabyte, it certainly was starting to feel like a lot.

    “I like using data to help inform our decisions, but it seems like every week we make decisions that require us to do a lot more work,” a teacher commented. “I’m starting to be afraid of what we’ll find next.”

    That comment led us to consider the following:

    It is good practice to identify priorities and to focus on those priorities, but priorities are generally established by data. So we need to look at everything right? At a school level, if numerous areas of concern are highlighted, how should priorities be identified? At what point is it okay to take on a new area for improvement (i.e. when has the school been responsive in addressing an issue)? At what point will staff hit “overload” if we ask them to attend to too many priorities at once? Should staff overload be a consideration in the decision making process? If so, how do we identify when it is a concern? If we shift priorities in an attempt to be responsive to our data, how will we know if sufficient time has been allocated to solving the first area of concern? Should a leadership team make decisions about where to focus first, and then only accept new challenges as current ones are tackled? Last year, the school didn’t meet AYP targets in language usage, so that was identified as a priority, but this year’s incoming Kindergarten class then presented the additional challenge of being extremely low in reading.

    These are difficult questions, and if you were hoping that this paragraph was going to provide a fail-safe solution, you will be disappointed. Sorry. However, we think that the general decision making process we use to move students through tiers might also work for school-wide issues. For example, because ODRs have decreased so dramatically in the last year, and because Kindergarten reading might now require the collective resources of the school, maybe it is okay not to implement a school-wide action plan for lunchtime recess. But that data will continue to be monitored to ensure that the problem doesn’t worsen. We also plan to develop a series of shorter term objectives so we can celebrate successes along the way, and so that our data reviews won’t always seem like they lead to more work. And we’ll keep you posted. If your school has experienced similar challenges and you’ve found a way to overcome them, please let us know!
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