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Response to Intervention (RTI) in the Province of Saskatchewan

By Debra Kemp-Koo & Tim Claypool

RTI is at a beginning stage in the Saskatchewan province as well as in other parts of Canada. One needs only to enter RTI and the names of any of the Canadian provinces into any widely used search engine to see the marked difference in the availability of information about RTI when the Canadian provinces and individual American states are compared. Canadian school psychologists often look to their neighbors to the south for guidance, direction, and support. It is hoped that a cross-border sharing of ideas and common challenges will engender a spirit of cooperation and collegiality. With this goal of increasing crossborder collaboration in mind, a detailed description of the status of efforts to implement RTI in Saskatchewan is provided along with some predictions about the future direction of RTI in that province.

Saskatchewan is a province in Canada of just over a million people, with a land mass of just over 250,000 square miles. There are 16 cities in the province but only two of them have over 100,000 residents. The northern half of the province is sparsely populated and has a higher First Nations and Métis (Aboriginal or Native American) population. The population of Saskatchewan is 65% urban and 35% rural (http://www .stats.gov.sk.ca). More than 16,300 miles of highways are in the province with the northernmost communities being accessible by air only during the winter season (http://www.highways.gov.sk.ca). Clearly, implementation of any program or model such as RTI will be difficult because of limited accessibility of the schools in such a widely spread out geographical area. School psychologists in some of these regions are required to travel a great deal, limiting their connection to each school, its staff, and its students. As a result, in these cases, it would make most sense for the psychologist to play primarily a consultant role. Obtaining information gathered within an RTI model of service delivery will greatly assist the psychologist in these cases to have a fuller understanding of student needs.

According to the 2006 Canadian census, Saskatchewan’s First Nations and Métis individuals made up 14.9% of the population, with 54% of these individuals living in urban areas. This population is younger than the rest of the population, with 29.7% from 0 to 14 years of age compared to 17.4% in the general population (Statistics Canada, 2008). Furthermore, the First Nations and Métis population is growing faster than the general population, with the projection that by 2017, the First Nations and Métis population in Saskatchewan will be 20.8% of the overall population, higher than in any other province (Statistics Canada, 2005). There is a higher dropout rate for First Nations and Métis students for grades K–12, with large numbers of students returning to school as adults. When First Nations and Métis students who reach Grade 10 are compared to the general population of students, 50% go on to complete Grade 12 as compared to 80% of other students (Saskatchewan Learning, 2004). Consequently, the implementation of RTI models in Saskatchewan will need to take into consideration the needs of First Nations and Métis students. Best practices and evidence-based methods may differ depending on the background of the students. It should not be assumed that all First Nations and Métis students have the same needs. Culturally sensitive educational interventions, including RTI, will need to consider the unique experiential backgrounds that these students might share and how this could influence their world views, in general, and approaches to learning, in particular (Claypool & Johnson, in press).

Saskatchewan has a total of 18 public school divisions (586 schools), 10 separate (Catholic) school divisions (120 schools), and 1 Francophone school division (13 schools). The school divisions range from having 1 to 59 schools with total number of students within the divisions ranging from a low of 46 to a high of 19,861 students. Included in the public school divisions are 62 Hutterite or colony schools with numbers of students ranging from 6 to 36. The Hutterites are a group of people who live communally on farms with their own language and culture, similar to the Amish people in the United States. Three of the school divisions have two thirds of these schools (Saskatchewan Minstry of Education, 2009). In Canada, education is a provincial jurisdiction with each school division having a great deal of autonomy. Therefore, while RTI can be brought forward to school divisions through professional development activities, it is unlikely to be mandated by the provincial government’s Ministry of Education. Instead, each school division within the province has the freedom to choose its own response to RTI.

Tiered instructional responses, the major focus of RTI, are not new to Saskatchewan. In Saskatchewan, the RTI approach consists of three tiers, similar to the approach adopted in most states. Tier 1 interventions are classroom-based, school-wide interventions; Tier 2 interventions are targeted or group interventions; Tier 3 interventions are the intensive individual interventions either in a resource room setting or a self-contained classroom. The general education classroom, partial specialized instruction in the resource room, and stand-alone special education classes are all examples of the three-tiered response to the educational, emotional, and behavioral needs of children. The difference between these approaches and the new RTI approach lies in the use of evidence-based practices and screening with all students to prevent learning and behavior problems and the use of data collection and progress monitoring to inform decisions for interventions when students are at risk or fail to respond at an acceptable level. It is only when the student has not responded to the best interventions that have been formulated by the learning and behavior teams that comprehensive assessments are then conducted.

In a search of all school division websites in Saskatchewan, only two make specific reference to RTI. One of these school divisions is implementing an RTI model with data collection several times a year. Presentations on RTI were made to school personnel, including an orientation to Tiers 1 and 2. The other school division has its own student success model for response to learning (representing responsive instruction, the equivalent of Tier 1), targeted response to intervention (representing the equivalent of Tier 2), and intensive individual interventions (representing the equivalent of tier 3). Many school divisions are collecting baseline and follow-up data on targeted areas for improvement while several school divisions are reporting the use of coteaching, positive behavior support programs, and other evidence-based practices.

The Saskatchewan Educational Leadership Unit (SELU) conference, Leading through Diversity and Change (2010), held in Saskatoon, the largest city in Saskatchewan, was attended by more than a thousand educators and school administrators. One of the speakers presented information from her research on RTI while the content of four of the other concurrent sessions related in part to RTI. Kemp-Koo’s (2010) presentation reviewed the results of her research examining RTI in depth, while another session highlighted the North East school division’s implementation of a Differentiated Instruction Project based on an RTI model. In June 2008, Prairie Valley school division identified positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) through an RTI model as the framework to foster positive behavior in the school division. Currently, several schools in this division have been designated as demonstration schools for RTI interventions. Holy Trinity Roman Catholic implemented both a RTI model across their school division in 2009-2010 with an emphasis on Tier 1 interventions, as well as a Tier 2 Leveled Literacy intervention program. There has also been an inservice training for psychologists through a one-day informational session with Kelli Cummings (2009), an expert in RTI from Oregon.

Th e School Psycho log ist in Saskatch ewan

The Registered Psychologists Act of 1962 exempted persons working as psychologists in schools from licensure. As a result, many such individuals were practicing without a graduate degree, and in some cases, only one graduate level class in assessment. Furthermore, these individuals, although referred to within the school system as educational psychologists, were not governed by a professional body of psychology (Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, 2008).

With the passage of the Psychologists Act in Saskatchewan in 1997, all persons using the title of psychologist were required to be registered with the Saskatchewan College of Psychologists (SCP). The act included educational psychologists within the schools as well. It wasn’t until 2002, however, that the SCP was established and the 1997 act was implemented, with an Authorized Practice Endorsement required to make diagnoses (Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, 2008). Some of the individuals previously practicing as psychologists within the schools did not meet the requirements for licensure and were no longer able to make the diagnosis of learning disability.

A masters degree in psychology at an approved program with a supervised practicum is necessary to work as a provisional psychologist under supervision. Scoring a minimum of 70% on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, completing 1,500 hours of supervised experience, and successful defence of an oral examination are required to practice with the title of Registered Psychologist. A Registered Doctoral Psychologist has completed additional requirements to obtain the PhD in psychology. Of the two universities in Saskatchewan, the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon offers both a masters program in school psychology and a provision for an individualized PhD program, while the University of Regina offers both a masters program and a formalized PhD program in educational psychology. Both universities were consulted in the development of the Guidelines for the Practice of Professional Psychology in Schools within Saskatchewan, Living Document (Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, 2008). However, while students in graduate studies in school psychology are being made aware of RTI, there is no formal training provided at this time.

The role of school psychologists in Saskatchewan has evolved from that of providing assessments in response to referrals in order to place students in special education programs, to a role of responding to student needs in collaboration with parents/guardians, teachers, school administrators, and other professionals (Saklofske & Grainger, 2001). The 2008 Guidelines for the Practice of Professional Psychology in Schools within Saskatchewan, Living Document may promote a number of changes and opportunities. An increased involvement in prevention and early intervention, a team approach to assessment and intervention, and consultation in the areas of research for learning and behavior issues are some of the anticipated changes (Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, 2008).

Assessment remains an important role for psychologists with the diagnosis of learning disability being protected as part of this role. As noted in the Guidelines for the Practice of Professional Psychology in Schools within Saskatchewan, Living Document, “The psychological assessment process involves the gathering of information about the student from multiple sources and through multiple means to arrive at accurate recommendations for intervention, and when appropriate, accurate diagnoses” (Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, 2008, p. 9). However, with the current trend toward RTI, it is likely that school psychologists will be involved with assessment in a less formal way at all tiers of the RTI model, with a greater emphasis being placed on preventive measures. It will also be important to include in the assessment process the responsiveness or lack of responsiveness to interventions to rule out a lack of opportunity to learn or ineffective instruction. Formal comprehensive assessment will most often occur when students fail to respond adequately to interventions at Tier 2. These assessments will either inform intervention strategies to be attempted or modified at Tier 2, or establish the need for special education supports at Tier 3.

The recommended staffing for psychologists in Saskatchewan is 1 psychologist per 1,500 students. With a school population of almost 160,000 students, 109 fulltime psychologists would be needed, but the actual number of psychologists for the 2008–2009 academic year was only 69, an increase of 6 psychologists from the year before (Cummings, 2009). The shortage of school psychologists is, in large part, responsible for the long waiting lists for psychoeducational assessments in schools, especially in some rural areas. It will be difficult for school psychologists to take on a new role and additional duties within the context of an already existing shortage. This will have particular impact in rural areas where filling and maintaining psychologist positions is difficult and where the geographical service areas are very large. It could also be argued, however, that a focus on prevention could reduce the need for comprehensive assessments and ultimately allow school psychologists to perform this function for the children who have the greatest need.

Conclusion

Several predictions can be made with respect to RTI in Saskatchewan. Information present on the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education website, training sessions provided to groups such as school psychologists, conferences such as the one offered by SELU, and access to reading materials mainly from the United States have raised awareness about RTI and have contributed to the initial impressions that educators, school administrators, and school psychologists have regarding RTI. In most cases, impressions appear to be positive and RTI is seen as a series of interventions that make sense. However, with limited resources, it is likely that there will be some resistance to using a model that may be perceived as creating more work in the area of data collection and analysis. In the current economic climate, schools need to accomplish their goals with the same or reduced budgets. Programming in Saskatchewan that is currently based on an RTI model has focused primarily on Tiers 1 and 2 and this is likely to remain the case until more resources are available or until the model, at its early stage, becomes part of the culture of the school.

News of the successful implementation of RTI in one area of the province will inevitably spread to other school divisions because of extensive networking and relatively small populations. Consultants who travel throughout school divisions will play an important role in the success of the RTI models in Saskatchewan, especially given the large distances that separate schools in many cases. School psychologists who travel within these divisions already have knowledge of research, evidence-based practices, and assessment, making them good candidates for the role of consultant. Universities will need to respond by incorporating more instruction in the area of RTI in their undergraduate teacher training programs as well as in the graduate level training programs for school psychologists.

The shift in focus to RTI will provide opportunities for school psychologists to redefine the emphasis of their work in the schools; however, it will not diminish their importance in advocating for the success of students through other programs and interventions. School psychologists in Saskatchewan can benefit from the experience of those in the United States who have been involved with RTI programs for a longer period of time. The role of school psychologists in Saskatchewan may be changing, and learning from the successes and challenges of other programs will be very important during the development phase of RTI. By aligning with proven practices and following recommendations for change, Saskatchewan will be better positioned to meet the needs of its diverse student population, with school psychologists playing an important role in the process. Collaboration with students, parents, teachers, administrators, and other staff and specialists is critical to the success of an RTI model.

References

Claypool, T., & Johnson, A. (in press). Incorporating a multi-method assessment model in schools that serve First Nations, Inuit, and Métis learners. Native Studies Review, 19(2).

Cummings, K. (2009). Response to intervention for psychologists discovery session. (PowerPoint presentation). Retrieved from http:// education.gov.sk.ca/Default.aspx?DN=190,184, 211,81,1,Documents

Kemp-Koo, D. (2010, September). RTI (response to intervention) and its role in the identification of learning disabilities. Paper presented at Leading Through Diversity and Change conference, Saskatoon, SK.

SELU Conference. (2010). Leading through diversity and change. Retrieved from http:// www.usask.ca/education/selu/professionaldevelopment/ leading-thru.php

Saklofske, D., & Grainger, J. (2001). School psychology in Saskatchewan: The end of a decade, the start of a century. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 17(1), 67–77.

Saskatchewan Learning. (2004). Building communities of hope: Effective practices for meeting the diverse needs of children and youth. Retrieved from http://www.education.gov.sk.ca/ building-communities-of-hope

Saskatchewan Ministry of Education. (2008). Guidelines for the practice of professional psychology in schools within Saskatchewan, living document. Retrieved from http://www .education.gov.sk.ca/Default.aspx?DN=190,184, 211,81,1,Documents

Saskatchewan Ministry of Education. (2009). Active list of Saskatchewan schools. Retrieved from http://www.education.gov.sk.ca/ school%20Division

Saskatchewan Ministry of Education. (2010). 2010–2011 impact assessment identification of students requiring intensive supports. Retrieved from http://www.education.gov.sk.ca/ IntensiveSupports

Statistics Canada. (2005). Projections of the aboriginal populations, Canada, provinces, and territories 2001 to 2017. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub91-547- x/20050014072106-eng.htm

Statistics Canada. (2008). Aboriginal peoples in Canada in 2006: Inuit, Metis, and First Nations, 2006 census. Retrieved from http://www.12 .statcan.ca/census-recensement/2006/ as-sa/97-558/pdf/97-558-XIE2006001.pdf