By: Rachel Brown, Ph.D., NCSP
As the school year moves forward and we approach the middle of the academic year, there will be some students who have made enough progress from intervention that they are ready to be “released” and not participate in the provided supports any longer. When this happens, it is a cause for celebration because it means the student has made important progress and is now performing at grade level expectations. Still, there are some details about the student’s progress data that should be considered as part of a plan to gradually fade the intervention supports and prepare the student to succeed in the general education classroom. This blog will review important aspects of student progress data to consider in order to determine when a student is ready for either less or no intervention. In particular, teams are advised to think about the number of data points that indicate a student has met a benchmark goal, how much intervention support is being provided, and the student’s performance across all settings, including the general classroom.
Number of Data Points
The first thing to consider about a student’s readiness for less or no intervention is how many times the student earned a score above the goal. It is exciting when a student scores above a goal, but just one score by itself is not enough to confirm that the student is ready for less support. Reaching or exceeding the goal one time is a good indicator that the intervention is working, but more data are needed in order to verify that the student has truly mastered the target skills. Just like there needs to be many data points to show if any intervention is working, there must be consistent data indicating that the student not only met, but also maintained, scores above the goal.
Although there is much less research about how many data points are needed to document student readiness for less intervention, it is recommended that there be at least six consecutive data points at or above the goal line before intervention is reduced or removed. Usually, six data points are indicative of the stability and trend of the data over time. Importantly, these data points need to be consecutive in order to show that the scores were a reflection of student mastery and not due to other factors such as measurement error. In some cases, a student might have a few data points above the goal, but they are not consecutive. When a student’s data indicate performance that varies and includes scores below and above the goal, the student is probably not ready for less intervention support.
Amount of Support in Place
The next consideration is how much intervention support is currently in place. If the student currently participates in intensive intervention five days a week, then it is best to gradually reduce the amount of intervention rather than remove it completely. This is because the student’s current success is the result of the intervention and if it is removed completely, the student might not yet be ready to achieve the same level of performance independently. When reducing the amount of student support, three variables that can be adjusted are intervention frequency, duration, and intensity. Intervention frequency is how often it happens. If a student is participating in daily lessons five days a week, then it could make sense to reduce that to two or three days a week for a period of time. Similarly, if a student is participating in 40 minute intervention sessions, perhaps shorter sessions might be used. Intensity refers to the number of students in the intervention group. Consider increasing group size to reduce intensity. These steps to reduce the amount of support before removing it completely are important ways to help the student prepare for independent success.
Even after a student’s intervention program is adjusted to include less frequency, duration, or intensity, progress monitoring data must be collected on a regular basis. Weekly monitoring is recommended because this schedule will lead to the fastest opportunities to review the data. If the student’s progress data indicate that s/he continues to meet and exceed the goal with a reduced intervention program, then releasing the student from intervention should be considered. However, if the student’s progress data indicate diminished performance as a result of less intervention, then a return to the prior intervention strength is indicated. Prior to deciding to release a student from an intervention entirely, it is important to examine the student’s data from performance in other settings, including scores on classroom tests and other indicators.
Performance in Other Settings
A final, but essential, source of information about a student’s readiness for less or no intervention is how well the student is functioning in settings where no supports are provided. For example, if the student is participating in daily supplemental reading lessons that teach decoding skills, how well does the student use these skills during the core instruction lessons? Or, if a student appears to have made significant progress from math fact fluency intervention lessons, how well does the student apply improved math fact skills when completing applied problems during core math instruction? The student’s use of the target intervention skills is an important indicator of how well s/he has generalized these skills to other settings. When a student demonstrates accurate use of the skills outside of the intervention sessions, there is evidence that the intervention led to generalization. Generalization is the best evidence that a student is ready for less or no intervention.
The purpose of all interventions and progress monitoring is to help students learn essential skills so they can catch up to grade level goals. Nonetheless, in order for a student to demonstrate true mastery of learning goals and readiness for less support, more than one data point is needed. Teams should consider the number of data points above the goal, amount of support in place, and student performance in other settings before reducing or removing intervention supports. The key to student release from intervention is skill generalization. When a student can apply the target skills in multiple settings on a regular basis and at grade level performance then s/he no longer requires intervention. It is important for teams to understand that some students will require successive gradual reductions of intervention supports in order to be ready for independent success. The good news is that when interventions are faded gradually on the basis of data, students are able to maintain school success over time without additional support.