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A step-by-step guide to building your intervention system

By January 20, 2016June 10th, 2016No Comments

6a010536aec25c970b01b8d1924a6e970cThe vast array of intervention programs is staggering, and sifting through the options to determine which will be most successful can be overwhelming. School and district leaders often feel paralyzed by the intricacies of selecting and implementing interventions in their settings as they contemplate myriad options. Considerations include delivery method (online, face-to-face, or hybrid);  group size; content; language of instruction; grade level; best setting (general education classroom or pullout); amount of professional development required to implement effectively; personnel required to teach the intervention; and cost.

In the face of all of this, I often hear, “Just tell me what works. I’ll do it!”

If only it were that easy. Because every district has its own context and needs, a one-size-fits all blueprint isn’t realistic. However, there are some common steps that every district can take to build (or strengthen) their intervention system.

A key component of effective Response to Intervention (RtI)/Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) models is having high-quality evidence-based interventions. From my experience, data is the best starting point when identifying the best intervention. First, gather a leadership team to conduct an audit of intervention needs. This can include reviewing:

Screening and diagnostic assessment data in the area of focus. What are the most common areas of need in literacy and math? Don’t just stop at “below grade level”—dig deeper. Are students not mastering vowel sounds? Are multi-syllabic words problematic? Do students struggle with number sense? Are students grappling with procedural concerns? Are there comprehensive concerns (e.g. all of the above)?

Office discipline referral data. Identify the most common reasons students are sent to the office.

Attendance data. Don’t stop at who is absent, find out why they are missing school. Are they responsible for getting younger siblings onto a bus and consequently missing their own? Are they being bullied? Are there cultural considerations? Do they think no one will notice or care if they miss school?

Teacher feedback. What are teachers struggling to address in their classrooms? Where do they want additional supports?

Problem-solving Team Data. If you have a problem-solving team that focuses on the needs of individual students (e.g. Student Intervention Team, Student Support Team, RtI Team) review the referrals you’ve received. Are there needs that arise year after year or in referral after referral?

Once you’ve determined your intervention needs, consider creating a chart of your data. This can help with the analysis of what the Tier 1 needs are versus Tier 2/3 needs.

Next, conduct an audit of intervention programs that already exist in your building or district. I’ve often found gems hidden behind a school’s closet doors. Create a resource map like this one. Document as much information as you can, including the name of the intervention/resource, the skills or concepts it addresses, the criteria for student access, the recommended group size, and the recommended frequency and duration. Publicize this among your staff and ask for any additions.

Next, conduct a gap analysis to determine your intervention needs:

  • What resources do you have that you don’t use (or have no students demonstrating a need)?
  • What needs do you have that you do not have resources for?

As a team, prioritize the interventions needed. You might find that there aren’t as many as you anticipated and that you have significantly narrowed the focus of your search (e.g. an intervention for vocabulary instruction, not for all areas of reading).

When your team has a clear focus and priority for selecting an intervention, you can use this great Hexagon Tool from the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN) to evaluate your interventions. This tool encourages teams to research, consider, and rate programs and practices on how well they address the needs of students; how they fit with other initiatives and priorities already in place; the resources available for training, staffing, and administration; evidence of the research base; the readiness of the school or district to implement the program; and the capacity to implement the programs or practices as intended.

The beauty of the Hexagon Tool and the scoring process is that it will initiate discussion and help teams build consensus regarding your next steps. Although the scores are helpful, there might also be extenuating circumstances or priorities that will influence decision-making.

Finally, when you have identified the interventions you will offer as a school, your last step is to communicate with your staff. Inform your teachers about what intervention tools are available, how to identify the students who will most benefit from each of them, and how to access them. Taking these small steps can help you achieve big gains with the students who need it the most.

Stay tuned: We’ll update this post with a link to a useful guide that is currently in development.

Miller_Adena_2015_2070Drawing on her experience as an MTSS/RtI manager at both the state and district level, Dr. Adena Miller helps McREL’s client schools and districts develop their vision and strategies for implementing, monitoring, and improving systems for student supports and interventions. You can reach Dr. Miller at or 800.858.6830.

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.

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