Increasing the dialogue among stakeholders in New Jersey’s special education system

Teacher intervention spcialist working with male elementary school studentBy John Haney

Even when teachers are utilizing effective, differentiated instruction, there are times when a student may require extra support because they are experiencing difficulty in school. Some students will require more individualization of instruction or attention than others. Failure to provide timely support can fail to meet the needs of a child, and the teacher as well.

One collaborative resource to help both teachers and students is Intervention & Referral Services (I&RS). I&RS is a state-mandated program intended to assist teachers who work with a student who is underachieving or, who is experiencing learning, behavioral or health difficulties. Through this collaborative, team-based process, teachers can get the support they need to offer appropriate interventions for students in their class who are experiencing difficulty.

I&RS is not a special education initiative – it is intended for students who are not classified and who receive instruction in the general education classroom. It is also not a gateway or prerequisite for referral to the child study team to determine eligibility for special education services. It is a stand-alone process meant to address one or two areas of student performance. Some examples of student needs are:

  • Focus Issues
  • Misbehavior
  • Self-Control Issues
  • Reading Gaps
  • Math Gaps
  • Attendance
  • Executive Functions (i.e. organizational skills)

The I&RS process respects the importance of effective communication with parents in order to help students achieve. It is important for parents to know that a referring teacher is taking on an important responsibility when they refer a child to I&RS. The teacher is responsible to go above and beyond in providing extra help to an individual student while still managing a classroom full of students.

Referral Process: When a child is struggling, a teacher or a parent, can refer a student to the I&RS team. The referral is made in writing in order to document interventions provided thus far by the teacher. The request contains a description of the problem that the referring person would like to work on. The I&RS coordinator reviews the request to ensure that interventions are in place before the I&RS team meets so that the student receives uninterrupted consistent support.

A case manager is assigned to support the referring teacher once a case is formally opened. It is important to note that the I&RS team provides support to teachers who are asking for extra assistance for a given student. The student benefits from insights provided to the teacher from the case manager and/or I&RS team. The case manager works with the referring teacher to check on student progress toward meeting goals of the stated intervention. The makeup of the team is up to each school, and may vary, based on the identified needs of the teacher and student. The team might include:

  • Referring teacher(s)
  • Case manager
  • Parent(s)
  • Literacy Coach
  • Math Coach
  • I&RS Coordinator
  • Principal
  • School Nurse
  • Guidance Department
  • Others as necessary

Interventions and Goals

It is best practice to ask staff to provide written documentation of interventions that have been implemented. Interventions must be SMART- that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reliable, and Timely. Examples of appropriate goals and interventions are provided below:

Goal: Student will demonstrate composition and decomposition of numbers within 15 using “Part-Part-Whole” models and Number Bonds, 80% of the time (independently), by June 2017.

Intervention: Teacher will use “Part-Part-Whole” models and Number Bonds to compose and decompose numbers up to and including 15 (manipulative will be available as needed).

Goal: Student will increase her Reading level from L/M to M by June 2017.

Intervention: Teacher will show student to look for a part of a tricky word that is the same as a part in a word she already knows. She will then notice what is different, and try to read the word aloud.

Goal: Student will increase time on task behaviors.

Intervention: Teacher will use Task Management Discussion Card – Student will sit with teacher at the end of Math block and again at the end of Literacy block to problemsolve and rate himself using a “Did I Pay Attention TODAY” daily self-assessment (student will now be working to achieve 8 pts. per day rather than 10).

I&RS cases remain active until classroom behavior or academic performance is improved enough to warrant closing the case. The effectiveness of a given intervention/goal should measured by quantitative data – a percentage or a number. This is important because the I&RS team continues to monitor student growth throughout the school year unless the case is closed.

Best Practice

  1. Make sure all goals are measurable so that the success or failure of interventions is clear.
  2. It is important to ensure the interventions are being implemented with fidelity to understand what is working or not working.
  3. Make sure there is a clear focus to interventions. It may not be possible to solve every issue a given child may have.
  4. It is important to understand who is responsible for implementing interventions.

Model Meeting Format

  • Referring staff and case manager describe nature of issues being addressed.
  • Team analyzes effectiveness of existing interventions.
  • Current interventions are kept the same or changed as needed.
  • Proposed interventions are documented (meeting notes are very important).
  • Parent is invited in to share the information noted above and invited to provide input.
  • Plan is finalized and implemented until next I&RS meeting.

Most meetings take about 40 minutes. There are two types of meetings: an initial meeting, when a case is reviewed by the I&RS team for the first time, and follow-up meetings to check on ongoing student progress.

In an initial meeting the problem is briefly described for about five minutes. During the next five minutes the results of the interventions implemented so far are reviewed. During the next ten minutes the team brainstorms new interventions or “tweaks” existing ones. The parent is invited to the meeting for the last twenty minutes and all that was discussed is shared with the parent. The parent then is given the opportunity to endorse the plan.

The format for a follow-up meeting is similar to an initial meeting except more time is spent on reviewing progress and less time on the problem being addressed.

Summary

I&RS is a process designed to support teachers as they work to provide appropriate interventions for students requiring extra support. It includes school staff and parents. Parents and staff provide input to the I&RS team and interventions are continually monitored. I&RS is not meant to solve every challenge that a child might be experiencing, but rather is meant to focus on one or two items that may be impeding student progress. The I&RS process ensures that a child’s behavior and/or academic progress are monitored closely and is one way to support children who need assistance.


John Haney is the principal of The Elizabeth Avenue School in Somerset (Franklin) NJ. The economically and racially diverse school serves 600 students from pre-kindergarten through grade four. Using I&RS and other leadership practices, the school is proud of its success in improving student behavior/academic achievement of students experiencing difficulty in school.

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