In honor of American Education Week, IES recognizes the many school-based educators and staff who work together to support student learning and growth. This is particularly true for teams working to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. Providing special education requires a team approach with collaboration among a variety of professionals. To this end, school-based teams—teachers, administrators, special education and behavior specialists, and other support professionals—at the elementary level are in a constant process of problem solving. Student needs, ever evolving, are best met using targeted data and evidence-based practices. But how do school teams ensure that they are defining student needs accurately and applying the most effective interventions? In the busy school environment, how can team members best use their meeting time to serve students?
NCSER-funded researchers have been working to measure and support school team efforts through the development of decision-making models and observation tools refined and expanded over the course of more than 15 years. One approach dedicated to training team members and facilitating successful problem-solving meetings has been demonstrated to improve the decisions made by school teams and is now being integrated with student data systems and supported by online tools for staff.
Dr. Rob Horner (University of Oregon) and his team recognized the need for school problem-solving teams to access to student academic and behavioral data and to have a protocol for the effective use of these data. Based on an observational tool, Decision Observation Recording and Analysis (DORA), and a decision-making process developed with a previous NCSER grant, they evaluated the efficacy of Team-Initiated Problem Solving (TIPS). Focused on the school-based team meeting procedures, TIPS helps train school staff to use data to define student problems and develop targeted solutions that draw from existing research but are specific to each student’s unique circumstances and needs. This randomized controlled trial tested the TIPS model with school teams trained in schoolwide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), a systems-level framework that involves implementing multi-tiered, evidence-based practices to improve student social/behavioral and academic outcomes. Results indicated that the teams already had fairly strong foundational meeting procedures (such as use of agenda, minutes, and assigned roles) following the general PBIS training, but after exposure to TIPS training and coaching, school teams were better able to identify precise academic and behavioral problems in the students they observed. The solutions they generated were more targeted and, notably, researchers saw a shift from solutions that focused on changing the student to those that aimed to alter the student’s environment. In addition, teams that participated in TIPS were more likely to implement solutions they developed and their schools had fewer out-of-school suspensions than the schools that had teams in the control group.
Although there were positive effects of the TIPS model, it is important to note that drawing together a team of school staff with diverse specialties and relationships with the student remains a challenge. Together with Dr. Horner, Dr. Erin Chaparro (University of Oregon) is leading an IES-funded project to develop a set of technology tools to facilitate the use of TIPS with problem-solving teams. The project includes both online professional development modules tailored to team members’ needs and an app to assist with meeting protocols and easy access to meeting history and student data. These programs, collectively called the TIPS EdTech tools, are intended to improve team functioning and, by extension, student outcomes. The researchers are currently completing a pilot study to help determine the fidelity of implementing these tools and the promise for positive impacts on team functioning and student outcomes.
TIPS is now being used in additional research. Dr. Wayne Sailor (University of Kansas) and his research team are focused on school teams’ ability to effectively leverage data to integrate student behavioral and academic supports. This NCSER-funded grant aims to improve school teams’ use of an integrated multi-tiered systems of support, which works to combine behavior and academic services, through the development of a decision support system (DSS). The DSS consists of two parts, one of which is an adaptation of the TIPS model for problem-solving team meetings termed “the meeting engine.” The second component consists of an existing digital system called DataWall, an integrated data system to link education databases, chart data, and build summary reports at various levels (such as school, grade, or student). This research team is currently enhancing DataWall while integrating with TIPS procedures.
Serving students with disabilities requires the skills and collaboration of many different education professionals, such as teachers and special education teachers, administrators, service providers, and paraeducators. The challenge of coordinating the efforts of school-based teams calls for ongoing innovation by both researchers and practitioners. TIPS and its iterations are one evidence-based way of helping to facilitate school staff supports for diverse student needs.
Written by Julianne Kasper, Virtual Student Federal Service Intern at IES and graduate student in Education Policy & Leadership at American University.