The Ongoing Journey: Problem Solving in Special Education with iReady Insights

The need for continuous improvement is not just something providers need to pay attention to. It also applies to our students as well. It doesn't matter if they are just starting their journey in RTI/MTSS or have been receiving special education services for some time.  

The point of Response to Intervention is to prevent students from becoming special education students. And if they are on an IEP, the point is to get them off it. It was never meant to be a life sentence. 

But what do you do once you have them. How do you know what you have created is working? How do you prove it to parents or administrators or yourself?  

This goes beyond progress monitoring. What if the student is just spinning? Or you're tapped out and need help?? What if you don't know what questions to ask because it's not your job or your thing or just don't know where to start????

Let me walk you through a problem-solving method that puts (in many different ways) problem-solving on its head.

But first some background--
In my building, iReady is a pretty good predictor of how our 3-6 students will do on the state assessment. (And if you want all my objections and the things I like, you can read them here.)

I'm fortunate enough to have most of my students for more than a year, so I can use iReady as my big assessment to see if what has been taught is rolling over on a larger scale. 

The data above is the averages for my group as 2nd graders and 3rd graders and school-wide for the just concluded school year.  And the last 4 slides that about how my student did over the two years.
Data | Vocabulary Project Blogpost by Alison Whiteley

My state and building use iReady diagnostics three times a year for READ Plans and intervention data. (more on come on iReady-both loves and dislikes)

As a special education teacher, I only use this data to compare students to their peer group and see their gains over the year. 

I look at the overall gains my students make on the five categories assessed each time. This year, I made a huge shift to building and creating a solid foundation in phonemic awareness and phonics.  

How am I going to track these changes to know the outcome to make meaningful changes in my instruction? 

Out of all the ways I could track this decision, I went with a RIOT/ICEL.

What is RIOT/ICEL and what does it have to do with my vocabulary project??

It is a problem-solving matrix.  It's a different way to look at students. It can be used for RTI/MTSS. My state suggests this method of problem-solving for SLD.

When I get stuck working out why students' down move, I turn the equation on its head to look at the problem differently. RIOT/ICEL does that in a framework that doesn't let me stray from the heart of the matter.  Need a copy grab it here. 

How it all works?

It is one tool that can help school teams sample information from abroad range of sources and investigate all likely explanations for academic or behavioral problems. This matrix helps schools to work efficiently and quickly to decide what relevant information to collect on academic performance and behavior—and also how to organize that information to identify probable reasons why the student groups are not experiencing academic or behavioral success.

The ICEL/RIOT matrix is not itself a data collection instrument. Instead, it is an organizing framework that increases schools’ confidence both in the quality of the data that they collect and the findings that emerge from the data. The leftmost vertical column of the ICEL/RIOT table includes four key domains of learning to be assessed: Instruction, Curriculum, Environment, and Learner (ICEL). 

A common mistake that schools often make is to assume that student learning problems exist primarily in the learner and to underestimate the degree to which teacher instructional strategies,  curriculum demands, and environmental influences impact the learner’s academic performance. The ICEL helps ensure the whole child is looked at holistically.

The top horizontal row of the ICEL/RIOT table includes four potential sources of student information: Review, Interview, Observation, and Test (RIOT). Teams should attempt to collect information from a range of sources to control for potential bias from any one source.

The power of the ICEL/RIOT matrix lies in its use as a cognitive strategy, one that helps educators to verify that they have asked the right questions and sampled from a sufficiently broad range of data sources to increase the probability that they will correctly understand the student’s presenting concern(s). Viewed in this way, the matrix is not a rigid approach but rather serves as a flexible framework for exploratory problem-solving.

RIOT: (Review, Interview, Observation, Test)

Review--This category consists of past or present records collected on the student. Obvious examples include report cards, office disciplinary referral data, state test results, and attendance records. Less obvious examples include student work samples, physical products of teacher interventions (e.g., a sticker chart used to reward positive student behaviors), and emails sent by a teacher to a parent detailing concerns about a student’s study and organizational skills.

Interview--Interviews can be conducted face-to-face, via telephone, or even through email correspondence. Interviews can also be structured (that is, using a pre-determined series of questions) or follow an open-ended format, with questions guided by information supplied by the respondent. Interview targets can include teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, and support staff in the school setting who have worked with or had interactions with the student in the present or past. Prospective interview candidates can also consist of parents and other relatives of the student as well as the student himself or herself. 

Observation--Direct observation of the student’s academic skills, study and organizational strategies, degree of attentional focus, and general conduct can be a useful channel of information. Observations can be more structured (e.g., tallying the frequency of call-outs or calculating the percentage of on-task intervals during a class period) or less structured (e.g., observing a student and writing a running narrative of the observed events). Obvious examples of observation include a teacher keeping a frequency count of the times that she redirects an inattentive student to task during a class period and a school psychologist observing the number of intervals that a student talks with peers during independent seatwork Less obvious examples of observation include having a student periodically rate her own academic engagement on a 3-point scale (self-evaluation) and encouraging a parent to send to school narrative observations of her son’s typical routine for completing homework.

Test--Testing can be thought of as a structured and standardized observation of the student that is intended to test certain hypotheses about why the student might be struggling and what school supports would logically benefit the student (Christ, 2008). Obvious examples of testing include a curriculum-based measurement Oral Reading Fluency probe administered to determine a student’s accuracy and fluency when reading grade-level texts and a state English Language Arts test that evaluates students’ mastery of state literacy standards. A less obvious example of testing might be a teacher who teases out information about the student’s skills and motivation on an academic task by having that student complete two equivalent timed worksheets under identical conditions—except that the student is offered an incentive for improved performance on the second worksheet but not on the first (‘Can’t Do/Won’t Do Assessment’). Another less obvious example of testing might be a student who has developed the capacity to take chapter pre-tests in her math book, to self-grade the test, and to write down questions and areas of confusion revealed by that test for later review with the math Instructor.

ICEL–Instruction, Curriculum, Environment, and Learner

Instruction--The purpose of investigating the ‘instruction’ domain is to uncover any instructional practices that either help the student to learn more effectively or interfere with that student’s learning. More obvious instructional questions to investigate would be whether specific teaching strategies for activating prior knowledge better prepare the student to master new information or whether a student benefits optimally from the large-group lecture format that is often used in a classroom. A less obvious example of an instructional question would be whether a particular student learns better through teacher-delivered or self-directed, computer-administered instruction.

Curriculum--‘Curriculum’ represents the full set of academic skills that a student is expected to have mastered in a specific academic area at a given point in time. To adequately evaluate a student’s acquisition of academic skills, of course, the educator must (1) know the school’s curriculum (and related state academic performance standards), (2) be able to inventory the specific academic skills that the student currently possesses, and then (3) identify gaps between curriculum expectations and actual student skills. (This process of uncovering student academic skill gaps is sometimes referred to as an ‘instructional’ or ‘analytic’ assessment.) More obvious examples of curriculum questions include checking whether a student knows how to computer a multiplication problem with double-digit terms and regrouping or whether that student knows key facts about the Civil War. A less obvious curriculum-related question might be whether a student possesses the full range of essential academic vocabulary (e.g., terms such as ‘hypothesis’) required for success in the grade 10 curriculum.

Environment--The ‘environment’ includes any factors in students’ school, community, or home surroundings that can directly enable their academic success or hinder that success. Obvious questions about environmental factors that impact learning include whether a student’s educational performance is better or worse in the presence of certain peers and whether having additional adult supervision during a study hall results in higher student work productivity. Less obvious questions about the learning environment include whether a student has a setting at home that is conducive to completing homework or whether chaotic hallway conditions are delaying that student’s transitioning between classes and therefore reducing available learning time.

Learner--While the student is at the center of any questions of instruction, curriculum, and [learning] environment, the ‘learner’ domain includes those qualities of the student that represent their unique capacities and traits. More obvious examples of questions that relate to the learner include investigating whether a student has stable and high rates of inattention across different classrooms or evaluating the efficiency of a student’s study habits and test-taking skills. A less obvious example of a question that relates to the learner is whether a student harbors a low sense of self-efficacy in mathematics that is interfering with that learner’s willingness to put appropriate effort into math courses.

Integrating the RIOT/ICEL Matrix into a Building’s Problem-Solving. The power of the RIOT/ICEL matrix lies in its use as a cognitive strategy, one that helps educators verify that they have asked the right questions and sampled from a sufficiently broad range of data sources to increase the probability that they will correctly understand the student’s presenting concern(s). Viewed in this way, the matrix is not a rigid approach but rather serves as a flexible heuristic for exploratory problem-solving. 

Yes, it is time-consuming but asking all the right questions is what needs to happen to plan the right interventions for students and to make sure IEP teams know what assessments need to be given if the student has been referred for formal testing. 

I like this method when I'm stuck and feel a student's IEP team is missing something to move the needle for a student.  It's great for collaboration and looking at the whole student. And with students whose primary language is not English, you are not always seeing everything because of the language barrier. 

Stay tuned to learn how my team comes together to support ESL students using this method. Make sure to grab your freebie to help support your learners. 

Chat Soon-

PS: Here's a handout to help you complete a RIOT/ICEL.

About Me

Welcome to my all thing special education blog. I empower busy elementary special education teachers to use best practice strategies to achieve a data and evidence driven classroom community by sharing easy to use, engaging, unique approaches to small group reading and math. Thanks for Hopping By.
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