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Problem Solving/RtI/PST

​​​​Volusia County Schools Problem Solving process is a data driven process that assists students, families and teachers in seeking positive solutions for all students. The primary goal of the PST is to support teachers and parents by generating effective research-based academic and behavioral strategies for individual targeted students. In addition, Problem Solving Teams can use school-wide and class-wide data to monitor the success and difficulties of groups of students and can offer academic and behavioral interventions to be applied to class or school- wide issues.

Within this problem-solving model, teams follow the PAIR format.  PAIR stands for: problem identification, analysis of the problem, intervention implementation, and response to intervention.

Problem Identification- occurs when the team identifies in objective and measurable terms what is expected and what the student can do (e.g., Expected – Observation = Problem).  For example, a third-grade student whose oral reading rate near the end of the school year is 58 words correct per minute (wcpm) with the end of the year expectation being 100 wcpm. Thus, the expectation (100wcpm) – observation (58wcpm) equals the problem (42wcpm). Therefore, the problem is that the student is reading 42 words fewer per minute than what is expected.

Analysis of the Problem- is intended to determine why the problem is occurring.  Thus, using the above example, why is the student reading 42 words fewer per minute than what is expected.  During this step, the relevant information known about the problem is considered, potential hypotheses about the possible causes of the problem are generated, and information is gathered to confirm or disconfirm the hypotheses.

The domains assessed for information to analyze the problem are instruction, curriculum, environment, and learner (ICEL). Some of the questions asked are – "Has the child received instruction in the target skill?" (Instruction), "Does the curriculum contain the target skill?" (Curriculum), and "Does the environment support the acquisition of the skill?" (Environment). Specifically, the analysis of the problem phase includes:

  • Gaining a clear understanding of the causes (functions) of the problem.
  • Determining if the problem is a skill deficit or performance deficit.
  • Development of hypotheses as to why the problem is occurring.
  • Identifying if the problem is Instructional, Curriculum, Environmental, or Learner (ICEL) related?
  • Identifying relevant obstacles.
  • Developing a goal to address the problem (observable and measurable).

Often, this is not a linear process. Consideration of known information/data, possible causes, and unknown information happens nearly simultaneously. Hypothesis generation involves the balancing of known information, possible causes, and gathering of unknown information in an ongoing process until a hypothesis with a high likelihood of correctness is derived.

Intervention Implementation- occurs once the problem has been defined and analyzed.  The goal is to take the information gathered through problem analysis and utilize it to develop an instructional plan that matches the identified student need. This is accomplished through intervention design and establishing a goal so the team can identify when the child has learned the desired skill/concept. A goal should be attainable and specific. An example is as follows:

In 10 weeks, Student will read aloud a 2nd grade level passage from DIBELS Next ORF OPM at 75 words read correctly in 1 minute with at least 97% accuracy.

This goal is very specific in terms of time, skill, and level of accuracy. The identified missing skills are targeted for explicit instruction within a supported learning environment.

An intervention should be purposeful, planned and grounded in data.  It is about making decisions about alterable variables within instruction, curriculum and the environment.  Problem Solving teams focus on those modifications in these areas that will directly impact or alter the targeted behavior.  Instructional strategies that are based on the nature of the defined problem and yield the most likelihood for success are selected.

Response to Intervention- requires ongoing progress monitoring, which is a methodology for measuring the effectiveness of an intervention. In order to design an intervention, the problem must have been analyzed adequately. For problem analysis to have occurred, the problem must have been accurately defined. So, intervention progress monitoring should not occur unless the first three steps of problem solving have been conducted.

Since we need to make decisions quickly if our interventions are not delivering the desired results, it is necessary we gather this information frequently. Thus, key features of the instrumentation used to collect these data are that they can be administered frequently and are sensitive to small changes in behavior.

Also important, this information must be plotted on a graph so that trends in student performance can be visualized. That is, we must be able to see where we're headed in order to evaluate the effectiveness of instructional efforts. Data are used to make important decisions about whether to continue the intervention, modify it, or change it completely.

If an intervention is not producing the desired results, a first step is to evaluate whether the intervention plan is being implemented as designed. If not, adjustments are made to ensure that it is. If the treatment integrity has been verified, all the previous problem-solving steps should be reviewed. A mistake may have been made in problem identification, problem analysis, or intervention design.

If an intervention is not producing the desired results it does not necessarily mean that it is the wrong intervention. It may be the right intervention, but the intensity needs to be increased. Three basic ways to increase the intensity of an intervention are: 1) Reduce the size of the group; 2) Increase the amount of time that the intervention is delivered; and 3) narrow the focus of the lesson. These strategies for intensification may be used individually or in combination.

Problem solving is a self-correcting methodology dependent upon instructional decisions made using reliable data collected frequently.

James Barringer
School Psychological Services Coordinator​ 
Ext. 20757