Progress Monitoring is the Key to Successful Intervention

Progress Monitoring is the Key to Successful Intervention

If it is cold outside, we turn up the heat inside. If we run out of oil, we turn to gas; if we run out of gas, we turn to wood burning stoves. We adjust intensity and sometimes method to keep from freezing. The point is, freezing is never an acceptable option. This is an apt analogy for the manner in which special education services are intended to work. If the child is not learning when exposed to traditional methods of instruction, it is time to turn up the heat or change the fuel.

Consider an example where one child requires 7 exposures to learn a fact, the second child requires 15, and the third, 30. Assuming all three children share, in the broad sense, similar intellectual potential, would it be appropriate to adjust expectations downward for the second and third child; or should we increase the number of exposures offered to the second and third child? What if we remove the assumption that all three children share “similar intellectual potential”?  Is there any logical reason to reduce the expectations for a child instead of increasing the number of exposures required to learn? To do so would be to succumb to a form of prejudice that is self-fulfilling, that is, if we do not teach those we assume to have limited potential, we guarantee that their achievement will be limited regardless of potential, because they have not been taught.

The lower the bar is set, the more likely the success of instruction (goals based on resource-centered assessment); if the bar is set to reflect unbiased student-centered assessment, the more likely the success of the student. Self-serving bias predisposes the assessment of information in a light most favorable to personal interest. Parents are biased in favor of the individual student; administrators are biased in favor of the whole community of students. Teachers are somewhere in the middle while advocating for the individual child; they are pressured to conserve resources, denied staff development, and asked generally to “make do.” The good of the individual versus the good of the whole is the classical ethical conflict. In a recent article, Daniel P. Hallahan stated, “I’ll refrain here from elaborating on how seductive inclusion can be to fiscal administrators.”[1] Examples of self-serving bias influencing educational decision making can be seen throughout special education. It is this dynamic that often explains why the good intentions reflected in the law occasionally result in unintended consequences in practice (see Winter 2007 edition of Perspectives, page 5). For instance, to reduce the number of required in-class support (ICS) instructors, ICS is often provided only in the lowest functioning of the mainstream offerings for a particular subject. In other words, children requiring ICS, regardless of ability or talent, are all in one class instead of being placed in the class to which they may otherwise have been assigned if they did not require ICS.

Special education should not be a place where children with special needs are allowed to develop into adults with limited potential. Special education is designed to be a service that provides the unique methodology and intensity required for those who are not achieving their true potential when exposed to traditional instruction.

When Response to Intervention (RTI) and progress monitoring is implemented, it is essential that self-serving biases be recognized as variables that influence benchmarks and individual growth. Expectations should be challenging for both the child and the instructor. The quality of the instructor should be based on talent, expertise, dedication, and effort, not on success or failure. (An attorney who is 100% successful never accepted a difficult case. I admit to having lost my share of cases. However, lower court losses have occasionally resulted in higher court wins that have improved overall protections for children in special education and adults with developmental disabilities.)

 I see the RTI process as an opportunity to empower parents and teachers to work together to cure the crises of confidence that has developed in the relationship between parents and the decision makers in public schools. When progress is monitored and charted, the student is the focus. There is no blame or guilt; there is only acceptable progress or unacceptable progress. Parents and teachers, armed with irrefutable data, become the primary decision makers based on a student-centered assessment.  Appropriate progress monitoring makes the child the focus for decision making and diminishes the impact of self-serving bias motivated by limited resources.

With regard to the all-too-common problem of limited resources, only if we work together, in an atmosphere of full disclosure, can we collaborate on creative solutions. To paraphrase a case I lost four times in lower courts and won in a unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court decision, the adversary nature of the relationship should yield to the best interests of the child with a disability.

Source: Dickman, G.E., (2007). Progress Monitoring is the Key to Successful Intervention. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, 33, 2 at p. 5