Implementing a Combined RTI/PBIS Model: Moving From Implementation to Sustainability, Part 2

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    Part 2 of a 2 part series.

    As noted in Part 1 of our blog entry dedicated to sustainability, the Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education’s website Researchers Without Borders outlines 28 factors organized into six categories that have an impact on the sustainability of innovations:

    1. Characteristics of the innovation,
    2. Elements of the environment,
    3. Characteristics of people in the organization,
    4. Strategies,
    5. Fit,
    6. Emotional mediators.

    In our last blog entry, we focused on the first three categories and discussed how some of these were in place in Silver Sage and how that might ensure that the tiered model of service delivery would be sustained once our project had come to an end. In this entry, we continue where we left off, addressing the last three categories: strategies, fit, and emotional mediators.

    This category includes three factors: planning, ongoing evaluations, and collaborative change processes. Planning is intentional—engaging in a set of activities that integrates the innovation as a routine part of daily operations. At Silver Sage, the school had adopted several activities (systems) that supported their efforts to implement tiered models. First, the principal created the infrastructure to support routine meetings of Tier 1 and Tier 2 teams with established agendas. At the end of our second year of implementation, these teams reviewed Year 2 outcome data and created an action plan for this coming school year on areas in need of attention.

    While those activities will likely help the school continue its tiered service delivery implementation, what is less certain is the staff’s ability to engage in ongoing evaluations and collaborative change processes. First, ongoing evaluations of data at a systems level have proven difficult for the school staff, even with the external support of university researchers to help facilitate the discussion. The use of data beyond the individual student level was not an easily adopted process for the school staff. Second, the ability to collaborate to effect change was also difficult for the school staff. While teachers worked together well, the staff had difficulty accepting collective responsibility for students who were being served within the Tier 2 system. This mindset will be especially important in the upcoming year, because as we noted in our last blog post, budget cuts have hit this school hard, severely limiting their ability to continue their intervention system (Tier 2) as currently designed.

    Related to this last point is the category of factors called fit. The factors under this category are fit with values and beliefs, fit with needs, and fit with current practice. Throughout our blog series on this project, we have discussed some of the challenges to implementation, and a recurring theme in these discussions has been the need to ensure that teacher beliefs about the use of data and shared responsibility for student outcomes were consistent and supportive of a tiered service model. While the school certainly has students with needs that could be addressed by a tiered service delivery model, the district is also undergoing numerous budget cuts and restructuring changes that seem to make the sustainability of the model untenable without some changes. Additionally, the state legislature recently passed a Students Come First plan, which will have an enormous impact on schools and districts. It is quite possible that in the eyes of the staff, the budget cuts, staff reduction, and impending changes mean that tiered service delivery no longer “fits” with the school’s needs.

    This category of factors, which includes incentives and trust, may be the most critical component for sustainability but the one to which the least amount of attention is paid. Like so many practitioners, teachers at Silver Sage have seen numerous initiatives come and go in the district, and to many, RTI is just another in a long list of initiatives that will come and go. Additionally, the school leadership has had high turnover—in fact, in Idaho, the average longevity of superintendents and principals hovers at 3 years—just enough time to implement significant changes, but not enough time to see things through the sustainability phase. This high turnover of key personnel leads to low levels of trust, which compromises implementation and sustainability. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this blog entry, the district decided to transfer the principal to another school within the district to help support implementation of the tiered model.

    In light of these significant issues, it remains to be seen the extent to which the systems and practices implemented as a part of our project will be routinized and internalized to the point that they will be sustained. However, we are hopeful that even if the “full model” is not sustained, there are critical components firmly established that should help the school continue to realize positive student outcomes. These critical components include the following:

    1. A focus on using data to inform practices,
    2. A strong Tier 1 behavioral program,
    3. A history (albeit short) of results supporting their efforts,
    4. An infrastructure and schedule that supports the systems needed for successful implementation.

    Implementation of new practices is challenging, but sustainability is even more so. Our hope is that the progress made at Silver Sage will help them continue with their RTI/PBIS implementation and continue to experience success.
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