Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Interventions aren't just when something has gone wrong.

The last post that I put up discussed some of the purposes of assessment. It was written in response to a comment that we received relating to the ways that one might use assessment data and the wisdom of using an assessment for something that it was not designed to accomplish. As we discussed, this is something that must be approached with caution as an assessment that is valid for one purpose might not be valid for another.

With this post I am going to use that question as a springboard for a broader discussion which will hopefully address an issue that has been raised to us by our clients. The sort of dynamic intervention system that we have been discussing in this blog and in other papers position assessment as serving the purpose of informing instructional decision making. It is for the purpose of answering questions like the following: Who are the students whose test scores indicate that they still need more help on key skills? What are the specific areas on which the additional work should focus?

The topic that I would like to focus on here is the picture into which these questions fit. How might the instructional questions of which children need assistance, and what should the assistance be, fit into the type of intervention system that we are trying to introduce through this blog and other writings that we have posted?

It is rather interesting that in many discussions about curriculum implementation, intervention is an additional thing applied on top of normally planned instruction. It is something that is intended to fix problems, not something that is an integrated part of how things are done for everyone. We would like to discuss the possibility that it could be something different. Rather than a way to fix problems, intervention can be a different way to handle the implementation of a curriculum such that districts are in a position to be extremely agile and responsive to what the data is saying about the success of what has been planned. Rather than being separate and apart from the plan, intervening is part of the plan. A plan is developed and then implemented. Right from the start data is collected that speaks to whether things are working. Decisions are made and plans revised and then the cycle starts a-new. The US Department of Education has defined educational intervention in this way in documents generated to assist schools in conducting evidence based practice.

What does such an approach require? The first thing is a system in which assessment data is immediately available. Ideally the system should include an indication of whether an individual lesson is working. This data should be made immediately available and it should be tracked to determine if what has been planned is working. Similarly, the means of providing the content should be sufficiently flexible that plans may be readily changed. If one group of 4th grade students are part way through a set of lessons and they are still struggling with the skills that are the focus of those lessons then the teacher should be in a position of easily modifying the plan without having to wait for weeks or months until a planned course of instruction has been completed. In order to make this kind of decision making possible it is critical that the assessment data collected not only be timely, but also valid. Questions must be written so that they cover the intended skills and minimize measurement error.

It is our hope that the discussion in this blog and in the forum that surrounds it will include many innovative possibilities about how intervention might look. How have interventions been applied in your district? What obstacles have come up in making them work?

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