You have been introduced to the essential elements of RTI and how it forms the foundation or framework for your school's literacy instructional plan. Now, you will learn what it takes to efficiently and systematically use assessment data to enhance learning for all students in your school.
Schools often “do a great job collecting data, but generally do not do a good job of actually using the data” (Burns & Gibbons, 2012, p. 43). Your campus’s assessment system is not simply test administration. The RTI framework should ensure that an explicit system for using data to inform instruction and set goals for all learners is in place. Research has found that these latter steps, beyond just assessment administration, are the most challenging.
The Implementation Indicators for Action Step E1 outline many of the key elements of a system for using data during RTI implementation. Here are some questions you and your team may consider:
- What assessments will you use?
- How will you manage data so that it can be analyzed and communicated effectively?
- What criteria will be used to determine whether students need to begin, continue, or discontinue Tier II and Tier III instruction?
- How will you use data to monitor the effectiveness of Tiers I, II, and III instruction and group students for instruction or intervention?
- How will you use data to set and monitor progress toward literacy goals?
Let’s explore what your team may need to do to establish and sustain each of these elements of the RTI framework.
Data management system
You may need to select a data management system to collect and report assessment data or evaluate the effectiveness of any system currently in place. Your school may choose to subscribe to a service or create your own management system. Ideally, the system will have the capacity to generate reports for students, teachers, administrators, and parents.
A valid and reliable assessment plan is the foundation of your instructional framework. The Assessment component of the TSLP focuses your team on the creation and implementation of this plan, so it may be helpful for you and your team to review that course in addition to the information provided in this section.
You will need to plan to conduct universal screening at the beginning, middle, and end of the year. In addition, you and your leadership team need to establish criteria for monitoring student progress (e.g., every two or three weeks) to inform instruction and evaluate progress toward targeted goals. How often you monitor student progress in each tier and at each grade level may also need to be determined.
Your team may need to inventory and evaluate all the current assessments at each grade level in your school. The goal is to determine how effectively they are being used, if their purposes match your screening and progress monitoring needs, and which assessments might need to be eliminated. (See Lesson A1—Literacy assessment plan for further guidance.)
Basic to your RTI plan is identifying and selecting valid and reliable K–5 early literacy universal screening and progress monitoring assessments at each grade level. One option is to select a screening assessment that includes additional progress monitoring forms for tracking specific indicators or skills during intervention. You may need to establish an assessment calendar or schedule. By identifying a standard timeframe or assessment window, you will be able to compare data from year to year. The TSLP also calls for each school to develop a process for screening students who enroll after assessments have been given.
If not already in place, your team may also need to identify logistics and resources needed for administration. For example, you may decide to designate a coordinator of the assessment process at each school or grade level to order materials and manage the assessment process. This coordinator would also ensure that administrators are trained in reliability and adhere to reliability standards. You may determine who will administer assessments, such as classroom teachers, interventionists, reading coaches, or an assessment team. Some schools use assessment teams to administer the BOY, MOY, and EOY assessments and give classroom teachers and interventionists the responsibility for conducting ongoing progress monitoring. It is also important to determine the location for assessment administrations (e.g., at stations set up in the hallway outside of classrooms or in a central location such as the library).
To use assessment data within the RTI framework, you need to determine criteria for identifying students who would benefit from Tier II and Tier III for each grade level. You may want to define preliminary criteria and then revisit and refine the criteria for each grade level as needed. These criteria, sometimes called “decision rules,” can help you make informed decisions about which students begin receiving and discontinue Tier II or Tier III instruction. They can also help you determine whether additional intervention is needed, adequate response has been demonstrated, an instructional change is needed, or more or less intensive tiers of instruction are required.
The following are some suggestions for determining decision rules or criteria for beginning or discontinuing Tier II and III instruction:
- You can use established cut points. Consideration for supplemental instruction (Tiers II and III) is often determined by a cut point, which is a score on the scale of the screening or progress monitoring tool. It may be a specific score (fewer than 30 words correct per minute) at or below the target for that norm period (e.g., fall, winter, spring), or it may be a pre-determined percentile (e.g., 25th percentile).
- You can develop the cut points or use guidelines from sources such as test publishers and researchers. Your current assessment or data management system (e.g., AIMSweb, DIBELS, TPRI) may provide some cut points or target scores that determine if students are above, at, or below grade level in specific skills for that norm period. These are typically based on national norms. For example, if the Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) target score for the fall of second grade is 51 or above, the entry criteria for Tier II might be set at or below 41.
- You can determine exit criteria as a certain number of consecutive (e.g., at least three) progress monitoring scores at or above a targeted, grade-level score (Hall, 2008). As a general guideline, students are ready to discontinue Tier II and Tier III instruction when they have consistently reached grade-level targets on previously identified skill deficits.
- Your campus-based leadership team should revisit the criteria for beginning or discontinuing Tier II and III instruction often to meet the changing needs of your school and to assess the impact of intervention on student literacy achievement
As you develop your RTI assessment plan, consider what professional development or training is needed on assessment administration, scoring, data-entry procedures, and understanding how the measures are linked to instruction and intervention. Initial training should include practice and feedback on administration and scoring. Training sessions may be conducted before each screening or progress monitoring assessment.
Your plan should also include how assessment results will be communicated to teachers and parents.
Data analysis meetings
To use the data within the RTI framework, campus leaders will need to establish a schedule and expectations for data analysis meetings and identify a process for reviewing and discussing data. These regular (i.e., weekly, monthly) grade-level data review meetings are designated times to use screening and progress monitoring data to identify and plan for students’ instructional needs. This includes identifying students at risk, grouping students with similar instructional needs, forming intervention groups, and planning targeted instruction. Administrators must ensure that all providers of Tier I, Tier II, and Tier III instruction regularly attend data analysis meetings to communicate about and collaborate on instructional decisions.
It will be important to provide professional development to all staff who need it on data analysis and using the data to make instructional decisions.
After screening measures are administered, you will first need to determine if there is a class- or grade-level problem with Tier I instruction before identifying students for additional intervention in Tier II or III.
Read an example of how data may be used to identify problems in Tier I.
Scenario: At XYZ Elementary School, BOY screening scores were generated for all third-grade students. The grade-level team met during their scheduled data analysis meeting and reviewed the data. They noticed that a large number of students in every classroom scored below the grade-level target score on the ORF (fluency) measure. To delve deeper, the teachers looked at their own class data and determined their median fluency score (rather than the average score). Then they compared their median scores to the assessment’s ORF target score for that norm period. The teachers’ median ORF scores ranged from 23 to 58. The BOY target score was 77. This analysis revealed a grade-level problem with Tier I fluency instruction. Because of the widespread distribution of students needing additional instruction and support, the teachers realized that they needed to improve their Tier I, or core fluency, instruction. The campus-based leadership team decided to utilize the coaching model for in-class modeling and follow up on evidence-based fluency instructional practices (Burns & Gibbons, 2012).
Barring gaps in Tier I instruction like the one illustrated in the scenario, data analysis teams use assessment data to identify students in need of Tier II and Tier III intervention instruction, or students performing below expected grade-level targets, based on criteria. Teachers and other instructional staff in the data analysis meetings identify students who score below the determined cut point and discuss the specific needs of these students. Some schools use “data walls” by teacher and grade level to make data visible and to facilitate the data-based decision-making process.
Although universal screening correctly identifies 80–85% of the students at risk for reading difficulties (Burns & Gibbons, 2012), sometimes students may be misidentified. For example, you may notice students who are obviously struggling in the classroom but do not meet the entry criteria. Other students’ scores may indicate that they’re at risk, but their current classroom performance and reading ability contradict the test results. In situations like these, more data need to be gathered and considered. Remember that using multiple data sources results in more accurate and effective decisions regarding responsive instruction and intervention.
Instructional skills-based grouping
During data analysis meetings, grade-level teams and other educators also collaborate to group students with similar instructional needs in small, skills-based groups for all tiers of instruction. Forming these small homogeneous groups allows teachers to provide students with deficit skills more intensive and targeted instruction, as well as additional opportunities to practice.
Here is an example of how one school analyzes data to group students.
Scenario: At LMN Elementary School, the first-grade team met to form initial groups. They wrote each student’s name and his or her lowest screening score for one of the assessed reading skills (e.g., phonemic awareness, word reading, fluency). They placed their sticky notes on a whiteboard under columns labeled with a range of scores for each assessed skill (e.g., 1–10 for letter naming fluency, 30–40 for phoneme segmentation).
The teachers could easily see how many students needed additional instruction in each skill, as well as the number of intervention groups needed. This data helped them determine the instructional focus for each intervention group.
Because this school uses a “walk-to-intervention model,” in which students are regrouped with different teachers for targeted instruction based on need, the teachers formed homogeneous small groups to distribute across classrooms. Teachers considered the number of staff available to teach intervention groups. Then, based on this information, they moved sticky notes around and balanced the group sizes. They ensured that smaller groups were formed for the students with the greatest need. By using sticky notes, the teachers were reminded about the fluidity in the three-tier model. After Tiers II and III students were grouped, individual teachers then used the data to form their own Tier I small reading groups (Hall, 2011).
At data analysis meetings, educators use screening and progress monitoring data to routinely and periodically regroup students. You may want to establish a scheduled cycle for regrouping during the initial stages of RTI implementation. For example, you may have initial intervention groups meet for three weeks and then monitor student progress and analyze and discuss the data at the next data analysis meeting. You might use sticky notes to regroup students—similar to the scenario—or complete a new grouping mat or form (Hall, 2011).
This resource guide on the three-tier model provides specific examples about how to analyze data to form skills-based, homogeneous intervention groups for phonemic awareness on pp. 27–30 and for fluency on pp. 43–45. Click on the “Get Resource” icon to download the guide.
Another important activity at data analysis meetings is setting literacy goals for all learners, including both individual and grade-level goals for students. You will need to use screening and progress monitoring data to routinely and periodically reevaluate these goals.
Here’s an example of how you can use data to set individual and grade-level literacy goals.
Scenario: At ABC Elementary School, the fourth-grade team met for their scheduled data analysis meeting after the BOY assessment. The ORF data indicated that 48% of all their students were at or above the grade-level target for this norm period. The team decided to set a MOY grade-level goal for fluency. Their goal was to increase the number of students at or above the grade-level target to 60% on the MOY assessment. Although the principal cautioned that this was quite an ambitious goal, all of the teachers made the commitment to accomplish it. They decided to collaboratively plan and work together to improve their Tier I fluency instruction. To keep their pulse on student learning, the teachers devised a monthly progress monitoring plan for all students. They also worked with their campus-based leadership team to plan and engage in professional development while focusing on effective fluency instruction. Instead of scheduling a staff development session, the campus-based leadership team planned for their reading coach to model new fluency-building strategies and provide follow-up co-teaching.
In addition to setting grade-level goals, the fourth-grade team also collaborated to set weekly individual goals for Tier II students. They began by analyzing students’ scores and then subtracting each student’s beginning score from the MOY fluency goal. They divided this number by the number of weeks remaining in the semester. That gave them the number of points each student needed to gain each week (weekly growth) to reach his or her goal. For example, one fourth-grader had a baseline score of 65 words correct per minute (wcpm), and the targeted score for MOY was 105. The difference of 40 words was divided by 8, the number of weeks remaining in the semester. The goal for this student was an increase of 5 wcpm per week (Burns & Gibbons, 2012).
Students’ literacy progress can be easily analyzed if you graph their progress and compare it to their goal(s). Graphs can help you quickly interpret results, evaluate the effectiveness of instruction, guide instructional decisions, and communicate progress to students, parents, administration, and staff. You may construct your own graphs or use those generated by data management systems (e.g., AIMSweb, DIBELS).
A progress monitoring data graph includes an individual’s progress monitoring data points (scores) with the corresponding dates of administration. It also provides an aim line that connects the baseline (or initial data point) to the final goal for that student. The trend line, or the student’s actual rate of progress, is also mapped. Data points are consecutively connected together to show the student’s trajectory in relation to the aim line (goal). For example, if the slope of the trend line is below the aim line, the data indicates that intervention instruction needs to be adjusted because the student is not learning at a sufficient rate to meet his or her goal (Burns & Gibbons, 2012; Hall, 2011).
Click here to view a set of progress monitoring graphs and to learn more about them.
TO LEARN MORE: You may find the following resources helpful as you work with your campus-based leadership team in evaluating your data use and level of RTI implementation:
“Sample TPRI Criteria for Placement in Tier 2,” a part of TPRI resources, was created to support districts and schools in making their own tiering criteria for K–3. To access the document, click on the plus sign to the left of “Analyzing Data” and scroll down to the heading that reads “Sample Tier 2 Criteria.”
“Sample K–3 Grouping Mats and Grouping Tools,” resources from TPRI can be used to help effectively group students for instruction. Each resource allows for grade-level selection and links to a PDF document.
The RTI Action Network article “Linking Progress Monitoring Results to Interventions” provides guidance in using data to make meaningful instructional decisions and examples of case studies that illustrate the selection of appropriate materials and instructional programs.
The RTI Action Network article “Create your Implementation Blueprint: Avoiding Implementation Pitfalls” presents the possible difficulties faced when implementing RTI and how to avoid them.
The RTI Action Network article “Create Your Implementation Blueprint Stage 4: Full Implementation” outlines the activities in schools where full RTI implementation is in place and provides links to a checklist that schools can use to evaluate their progress in implementing RTI.
NEXT STEPS: Depending upon your progress in implementing RTI, you may want to consider some of the following next steps:
- Peruse the resources listed in To Learn More for Parts 1 and 2.
- Examine your current assessment protocols, core reading instructional practices, and intervention services to determine which components of RTI have already been implemented at your campus.
- Determine how you will evaluate your current level of implementation and make data-based decisions to improve and enhance the process. (e.g., What does Tier I instruction include? Tier II? Tier III?)
- Identify (or reassess the need for) professional development (e.g., coaching, professional learning communities) to build capacity for assessment-driven instruction within the RTI model (e.g., screening and progress monitoring assessments, data analysis, data-based decision making, and small-group literacy instruction and intervention).
- Determine how you can most efficiently and effectively implement RTI (e.g., reduce duplication of effort, make information accessible within and across grade-levels and campuses, leverage human and material resources, promote collaboration).