The Power of Using Research to Promote RtI Implementation

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    Before my involvement in the Response to Intervention (RtI) process, I never really realized the importance of implementing a research-based program or curriculum to replication fidelity. As a principal in a school, I felt that as long as our school held to the general premise of a particular research-based practice, we would probably get the desired outcomes we were looking for as we used the research in our school. As I reflect back on my 20+ years as a principal, I think of all of the research-based programs that came and went. Teachers in schools would call these programs “jumping on the bandwagon” or the next district “flash in the pan.” Initiatives came and went over my career, with very few having any staying power because we weren’t able to achieve our desired results.

    The importance of research in the implementation of RtI, or any other program for that matter, has really hit home with me during my years of involvement in the RtI implementation process. As we know, change in schools has its ups and downs, and unless the change process is done with careful planning, support, and training, it probably won’t stand the test of time. RtI is different. RtI does have staying power and it is not a flash in the pan. The academic results in my district tell the story. When promoting change through RtI implementation, it was the research about RtI implementation that provided the guidance we needed as we worked together to create lasting change in our school. RtI works—but only if the research on RtI implementation is applied carefully. I have learned a lot about applying the research in schools. Here are a few tidbits that I have learned about applying the research to RtI implementation.

    Know and understand the research on the change process. The more we know about change and the change process, the better we are able to make decisions and address the personal needs of those affected by the change in a proactive manner. Any organization facing a change initiative goes through a fairly predictable pattern of behavior, both systemically and among staff. A leader in a school implementing the RtI process needs to understand the personal and organizational levers to push and pull to create momentum for the initiative. For my school, for example, creating a sense of urgency for change was the first step. Using student data, it became clear that a change was in order as half of our students were at or below grade level in reading. In any change process there is what is called “an implementation dip.” This occurs during the initial start-up of an initiative. When implementing change in a school, student achievement scores will decline slightly as the school moves from initial to full implementation. Knowing the implementation dip was a natural occurrence in a change process allowed us to keep our school moving forward when the scores initially dipped.

    Use the best research on RtI implementation to make sure you get it right. As a school, we found out very quickly that the quality of research about RtI implementation was imperative for successful implementation in our school. You can find many resources in print about RtI, and many of these resources claim that they are supported by research. In many cases, they are not, or they are more qualitative rather than quantitative in scope. We found the best research information at state department of education websites, universities, and national organizations. Not being motivated by monetary gain, these entities provide an accurate, objective representation of the research that you may not find at a for-profit organization. We initially spent much of our time focusing on the quantitative research. To provide for replication of the RtI process in our school, we felt that we needed to use the specific, quantitative research to begin our implementation before moving to the qualitative experiences of other schools. We wanted to get it right the first time around by making sure all of the identified components required for successful RtI implementation were in place. Qualitative research did become helpful as we progressed through the process and looked for ideas for tweaking our program. At that point we looked at other schools and how they overcame obstacles or addressed particular issues in their schools. As we learned about other schools’ trials and successes in the qualitative data, we were able to address our own implementation efforts, but it was the quantitative research that established the bedrock for implementation.

    It’s about replication. In RtI circles, we talk about fidelity of implementation rather than use the term replication, but in my view we are really talking about the same thing. Wikipedia defines the word fidelity as it applies to research replication as follows:

    In the fields of scientific modeling and simulation, fidelity refers to the degree to which a model or simulation reproduces the state and behavior of a real world object, feature or condition. Fidelity is therefore a measure of the realism of a model or simulation. Simulation fidelity has also been described in the past as "degree of similarity."

    For the RtI model to be replicated well in a school, it has to be grounded in the research of the essential elements of the process found in the literature. You can’t cut corners or leave essential elements out as you begin implementation of RtI in a school. If you do, you will not provide the academic achievement that comes from a well-implemented program.

    As I conclude this blog post, I feel that you may be wondering what the essential components are that must be included and replicated in the RtI process to have the best chance for a successful program. In my next post, I will provide you with the researched-based components needed for successful replication of an RtI model.
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