NASP Communiqué, Vol. 35, #1
Bridging the Training and Practice Gap Through RTI-Focused Internships
By Dawn M. Decker, Sara E. Bolt, & Heidi L. Triezenberg
Although Response to Intervention (RTI) is a relatively new
concept within federal special education legislation, it is not a new concept
for most school psychologists. Special education and school psychology journals
have been publishing information on progress monitoring tools, such as curriculum
based measurement (CBM), for over two decades (Deno, 1985; Fuchs, 2004; Hintze,
Shapiro, & Lutz, 1994; Rosenfield & Shinn, 1989). Intervention design
and consultation skills have been an important part of training within many
school psychology programs for the past few decades (Fagan, 2000). In fact,
in order to receive approval from the National Association of School Psychologists
(NASP, 2000), school psychology training programs need to demonstrate that
they provide training in problem solving, intervention, consultation, and
progress monitoring, all of which are important for the effective delivery
of school psychology services using an RTI framework.
While the development of knowledge in these areas has been an
important focus of school psychology training for quite some time, students
have not often had adequate opportunities to practice and receive feedback
on their application of such skills in practice. Federal, state, and local
policies have a significant influence on school psychology practice (Reschly & Bersoff,
1999); their programs may require time-intensive administrations of traditional
intelligence and achievement tests. As a result, many practicum and internship
field supervisors may not be able to provide adequate modeling of interventions
and consultation to students. Without sufficient modeling, and a corresponding
lack of adequate supervision, it is questionable whether students will ever
put their coursework training into practice. A recent survey of school psychologists
indicated that although many school psychologists reported being trained
in curriculum-based assessment, they did not report frequent use of this
training in their practice (Shapiro, Angello, & Eckert, 2004). This seems
to indicate a need for greater attention to initial practice experiences
of school psychologists in order to bridge the training-to-practice gap.
Recent and forthcoming changes in legislation, regulations,
and policy are likely to allow school psychologists more opportunities to
apply their training in intervention and consultation within practice settings.
School psychologists may soon be able to apply an RTI framework in helping
educators, parents, and students make a variety of educational decisions.
In order for these legal changes to result in optimal outcomes for K-12 students,
it is important that new school psychologists have adequate opportunities
to develop related skills in applied settings. A recent study of school psychology
interns suggested that there is a need to increase consultation experiences
within the internship year to increase the self-efficacy of beginning school
psychologists (Trant, 2001). Because early field experiences likely have
an important influence on later practice, we want to encourage graduate students
to consider completing internships in settings that offer sufficient support
and supervision for applying RTI-related skills.
Several internship sites exist that provide substantial related
support. Each author recently completed an internship in such a setting,
and we consider these experiences vital to our understanding and future application
of RTI-related skills in practice. The remainder of this article is intended
to provide guidance to current students as they consider obtaining internships
in settings where RTI is systematically used to inform decision-making. This
information may also be helpful to those in supervising roles who are seeking
information on how to best support staff in systematic implementation of
RTI procedures. It also may be helpful to school psychology faculty who want
to enhance training in related areas. We provide coursework recommendations,
factors to consider when selecting a site, tips for preparing to work in
a RTI site, and recommendations for trainers on preparing students to work
in sites that are systemically using RTI.
Although we surmise that most school psychology training
programs provide at least some training in the following skills, we encourage
students who are interested in securing internships in settings that are
systematically using RTI to obtain extensive training in the following areas:
1. Tools for progress monitoring. RTI should be
determined with measures that are valid and reliable for the purpose of monitoring
progress. Although further development and research on progress monitoring
instruments is needed, there are several tools currently available that can
help individuals determine whether particular interventions are helping students
meet long-term objectives, i.e., curriculum based measurement (CBM) and structured
observation systems. To effectively assess RTI, interns need to know which
tools are particularly helpful as well as recognize the extent to which these
tools contain error and need further development to maximize their sensitivity
to student growth over time (Hintze & Christ, 2004).
2. Problem analysis. Information collected through
screening and progress monitoring typically provides limited data to inform
the development of a specific intervention plan. Additional information must
often be collected to know how to most effectively intervene on behalf of
a student who is struggling. Ruling out attendance, hearing, and vision problems
is needed to avoid developing an inappropriate target for intervention. Information
may need to be collected to determine whether a student’s difficulties represent
skill or performance deficits to adequately identify appropriate intervention
strategies (Gresham & Elliott, 1984). Interns also should have training
in the analysis of various contextual factors (e.g., curriculum, instruction,
environment) that may influence a student’s development of skills (Howell & Nolet,
3. Effective instruction/intervention. Although
problem analysis skills are important to address the individualized needs
of students who are struggling the most, it is equally important to be familiar
with what has been shown to be effective for improving the achievement of
other students in the past. Several groups of researchers have highlighted
common components of effective instruction (Good & Brophy, 1984; Ysseldyke & Christenson,
1993). By connecting an analysis of the problem with what is known about
effective instruction, interventions can be designed such that they have
a high probability of improving student achievement.
4. Consultation. The effectiveness of an RTI framework
rests on the extent to which appropriate interventions are implemented by
teachers. It is important for school psychologists to be effective communicators
and to help teachers understand the rationale for intervening in the general
education classroom to address the needs of students who are struggling to
learn. Only when teachers implement interventions with substantial integrity
can one know whether or not a particular strategy is helpful to a student’s
learning, and therefore should potentially become a regular part of the student’s
5. Program evaluation. Although much emphasis
has been placed on using RTI to inform entitlement decision-making, RTI procedures
ultimately can be used to address system-level problems as well. Heartland
Area Education Agency (AEA), an agency that has been systematically using
RTI to address students needs for over a decade, has recently revised its
original problem-solving model in order to more efficiently address problems
that may occur on a school-wide basis (Grimes & Kurns, 2003). School
psychologists’ skills in analyzing the effects of school programs can be
helpful within schools and districts that are considering RTI procedures
to inform school improvement. Taking courses that address program evaluation
and prevention programs can help prepare prospective interns with these skills.
6. Facilitating systems change. Although several education
agencies, such as those that we will highlight in this article, have been
using RTI to inform decision making for several years, substantial variation
is present in the extent to which all schools, administrators, and teachers
have “bought-in” to an RTI model for service delivery. During our internship
years, each of us encountered several educators and administrators that were
resistant to this approach. It was important for us to understand the change
process and the varying perspectives that educators may have on how to most
effectively address student problems. During our internship experiences,
we each quickly learned that school change can be slow and that to facilitate
change we needed to think carefully about how our ideas for best helping
struggling students were portrayed to educators and administrators.
Considerations in Selecting an Internship Site
At least a year prior to the start of internship, prospective interns should
begin thinking about their goals and expectations for their internship experience.
When thinking about obtaining an internship at a site that is implementing
an RTI model for the delivery of services, prospective interns may want to
give special attention to the factors outlined below. Thinking about these
factors, along with their individual goals and expectations, may help prospective
interns determine whether or not an internship site is a good match. (Note:
In Table 1, we have included information on these factors according to the
three different agencies in which we completed our internships.)
1. Length of implementation of RTI. Prospective interns may
want to consider the length of time that the district has been systematically
using RTI for decision-making. Districts that have been implementing RTI
for longer periods of time are more likely to have trained staff who specialize
in RTI-related skills, and are more likely to have established materials
and resources for use. They are also more likely to have teachers and other
school professionals who understand and are committed to using RTI for service
delivery. If a district has just recently started systematic implementation
of RTI for decision-making, they may be seeking interns who are willing to
facilitate the change process and who come from training programs that provide
the skills necessary to begin RTI implementation. Regardless of the length
of time the district has been implementing RTI, it is important to acknowledge
that systems-level change takes time and change agents are needed at
all levels of the process. Being involved at any stage of the change process
is valuable, but prospective interns may want to consider the point within
the change process that they personally want further training.
2. Amount of training. Prospective interns may want
to find out about the amount of additional training that they will receive
in the administration of RTI-related assessment tools and in designing interventions
for struggling students. Some agencies and districts may provide extensive
training while others may assume that interns already have the prerequisite
skills based on their university training experiences. Prospective interns
may want to evaluate their level of development in knowledge and skills required
for working in a RTI site (e.g., ability to conduct progress monitoring,
connecting assessment information with intervention selection). If prospective
interns feel that their skills could be further refined, they make want to
ask district personnel if training opportunities will be provided to strengthen
3. Type of supervision. Prospective interns will want to consider
their expectations for supervision when selecting a site. Some internships
are full-time equivalent school psychologist positions where interns are
responsible for a full caseload and function independently. In these places,
minimal direct supervision is provided, although it is likely available when
sought out by the intern or deemed necessary on the part of the supervisor,
and should comply with NASP standards. Other internship sites may provide
more scaffolding where schools and/or cases are shared with a practicing
school psychologist, such as a supervisor or mentor. Prior school experience
and comfort level in functioning independently could influence the amount
of supervision that prospective interns need.
4. Type of decisions for which RTI is used. Districts
vary in the types of decisions for which they are using RTI. As highlighted
by Burns, VanDerHeyden, Ysseldyke, and Telzrow (2006), RTI data can be utilized
for multiple purposes such as determining special education eligibility,
evaluating systems outcomes, and making accountability decisions. Although
it is often more widely used to address academic development, some agencies
are using RTI in a similar fashion to address student social-emotional development.
RTI procedures may be used to address a variety of different needs within
any given agency, which may present unique learning opportunities for interns.
For example, the Minneapolis Public Schools has used an RTI framework to
reduce the overrepresentation of minority students in special education;
working within this agency provides interns with the opportunity to get experience
in applying RTI to meet the needs of diverse populations.
Before Starting the Internship
The internship year can be very exciting and rewarding, but
at the same time challenging and stressful. In order to prepare, we encourage
prospective interns to consider doing the following shortly before beginning
1. Learn about the characteristics of the population that
your assigned school/district serves. This is certainly not a
guideline unique to preparing for working in a place that systematically
assesses RTI, but it is something that is important to consider before
beginning internship. The effectiveness of certain interventions may
be dependent on the context in which the interventions are delivered.
There also may be certain needs within the school/district for which
it may be important to know what types of school-wide interventions may
be most effective.
2. Learn about the history of systems change within
the agency and policies governing current agency practice. In
order to be an effective school psychologist within a given agency, it
is important to know how far advanced the school or district is in terms
of using RTI to drive decision-making. Even within agencies that have
been implementing RTI practices for a long time, there may be wide variation
across schools and districts in “buy-in.” We consider it valuable to
find out as much as possible about the history of the given schools/district
so that any recommendations that are provided will be framed in a way
such that they will be well-received by those working in a given school
3. Recognize that systems change is a process that takes
time! One of us received a very good piece of advice from
one of our supervisors: “Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint!” Implementation
of a systematic RTI process requires school psychologists to engage in
many activities. At first, teachers may need substantial support to put
into place systematic progress monitoring and intervention procedures.
When RTI is systematically used to make a variety of decisions, school
psychologists can be pulled in many directions to assist with a variety
of different problems at the school, classroom, and individual level.
It is always important to recognize that problems in schools can take
a long time to “solve.” Holding unrealistic expectations for initial
practice can quickly lead to burn out! Although we think systematic application
of RTI is a step in the right direction that will allow school psychologists
and school systems to better address student needs, it is important to
keep in mind that change takes time.
Recommendations for Trainers on Preparing Students for RTI Internships
One of the most important ways that school psychology trainers
can prepare students for working in RTI internship sites is to provide students
with adequate training in each of the six areas of coursework outlined above
(i.e., tools for progress monitoring, problem analysis, effective instruction/intervention,
consultation, program evaluation, and facilitating systems change). The knowledge
and skills that students gain from their coursework provide a foundation
on which students build skills upon during their internship. Trainers also
play a critical role in guiding students to particular internship sites.
Thus, it is important for trainers to be knowledgeable about what sites are
working to implement RTI principles and to encourage students to consider
those sites. Finally, trainers should be ready to support and guide students
as they work through varying levels of systems change within their sites.
This support should be provided, and may be essential for students who are
working in traditional internship sites who are interested in introducing
the idea of RTI within their districts.
With the legislative changes put forth in IDEA 2004, intense attention has
been directed toward the use of RTI. Furthermore, it is likely that there
will be increases in the number of districts utilizing RTI, and prospective
interns will have a variety of internship opportunities available. In order
for prospective interns to find an RTI internship site that is a good match
for them, it is imperative that they examine their internship goals and expectations.
Internships can be positive and exciting experiences for critical skill development
and reinforcement. However, it is important to acknowledge the additional
challenges facing interns who are establishing themselves in a new city, are
still completing other aspects of their training programs, and/or find themselves
in the midst of systems change efforts. These difficulties can be managed
by creating and establishing positive support systems, whether through training
and supervision, family and friends, or other means of support that have
been effective in the past. We strongly encourage current students to seek
out placements in internship sites that will provide quality training and
supervision in the development of RTI-related skills. We see this as one
potentially effective way to bridge the training-to-practice gap.
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instructional, eligibility, and accountability decisions. Symposium
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Good, T. L., & Brophy, J. E. (1984). Looking in classrooms (3rd ed.).
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for addressing NCLB and IDEA expectations: A multiple tiered model to ensure
every child learns. Paper presented at the National Research Center
on Learning Disabilities Responsiveness-to-Intervention Symposium, Kansas
City, MO, download at http://www.nrcld.org/symposium2003/grimes/grimes.pdf
Howell, K. W., & Nolet, V. (2000). Curriculum-based evaluation: Teaching
making (3rd edition). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson
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function of passage variance in CBM progress monitoring. School Psychology
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sensitivity of curriculum-based measurement in reading. The Journal of
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In C. R. Reynolds & T. B. Gutkin (Eds.), The handbook of school psychology (3rd ed.,
pp. 1077-1112). New York: John Wiley & Sons.
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assessment/measurement? The School Psychology Review, 18, 297-298.
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assessment become a staple of school psychology practice? An update and extension
of knowledge, use, and attitudes from 1990 to 2000. School Psychology
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Trant, R. P. (2001). Elements and outcome of school psychologist internship
supervision: A retrospective study. (Doctoral Dissertation, Northeastern
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© 2006, National Association of School Psychologists. Dawn M. Decker,
PhD, is now on the faculty of Central Michigan University; Sara E. Bolt,
PhD, is on the faculty of Michigan State University; Heidi L. Triezenberg,
PhD, is a school psychologist with the La Grange Area Department of Special
Education. All three completed their training through the University of Minnesota
School Psychology Program.
Comparing Important Features of Various
RTI Internship Sites
Heartland Area Education Agency (Iowa)
Length of Implementation:
Heartland introduced a problem solving model in 1990, which focused on addressing
individual student problems. Currently, model is being revised to address
individual and school level problems.
During the 2003-2004 school year, interns and school psychologists new to
the agency received at least 22 days of training. This
training included the following:
in Curriculum-Based Evaluation (CBE; Howell & Nolet, 2000)
related to restructuring efforts to better address school-level problems
Leadership (DDL) training to address school-level problems
Although interns and school psychologists new to the agency serve as the
sole psychologists to the schools in which they work, they have “on-call” access
at all times to the following school psychologists for support:
school psychology supervisor
Regular meetings are scheduled across the school year with each of these
individuals, some of which are held on site, with constant follow-up and
feedback provided on their application of the training provided into practice.
All school psychologists work with a special education consultant and social
worker to help address needs within their assigned schools.
Types of Decisions Made Using RTI:
of special education effectiveness
from special education
related to academic problems
related to social skill/behavior problems
LaGrange Area Department of Special Education (LADSE; Illinois)
Length of Implementation:
LADSE introduced a Flexible Service Delivery Model (Flex) in October of
1997 when it submitted a proposal to the Illinois State Board of Education
to provide special education services via a Flex model. At this time, it
was one of only a handful of pilot sites in Illinois implementing this model.
Prior to the start of the school year, all new staff members receive new
staff training which includes an orientation to a flexible service delivery
model. Training continues for all psychologists through monthly psychologist
unit meetings which address critical issues in working with LADSE students.
In addition, LADSE invites nationally recognized researchers in the area
of RTI (e.g., George Batsche, Ken Howell) to present on critical topics in
implementing RTI and provides ongoing opportunities for skill development
through training provided by experienced LADSE staff members. During my internship
year, I received further training through participation in the Flexible Service
Delivery Consortium (www.fsds.org) and the annual statewide Flex training.
Interns work closely with supervisors and share school psychology responsibilities
at their supervisor’s assigned schools. In addition, interns collaborate
with their supervisors to design supervision and experiences that meet their
specific goals and needs.
Types of Decisions Made Using RTI:
LADSE districts are encouraged to use a problem-solving model for decisions
at multiple levels (e.g., district, building, class, individual student)
and to address concerns in multiple domains (e.g., academic, behavioral).
In addition, many LADSE districts determine eligibility for a learning disability
based on RTI criteria.
Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS; Minnesota)
Length of Implementation:
MPS introduced a problem solving model in 1993 after a waiver was obtained
from the Minnesota State Board of Education. An alternative process for identifying
students for special education was approved to help reduce bias in special
education evaluation (for the categories of Specific Learning Disability
and Mild-Moderate Developmental Cognitive Delay only).
Prior to school starting, interns and new psychologists receive new staff
training, which includes an orientation to the Problem Solving Model. Training
continues for interns and non-tenured psychologists through monthly meetings
that address critical issues in working with MPS students such as conducting
best practice evaluations with students from diverse backgrounds, especially
English Language Learners. Also, there are monthly mandatory psychological
services meetings that provide additional training. From the 2004-2005 school
year, some examples of training topics include the following: organizational
skills, working with ELL students, basics of crisis management, mental health
in the Somali community, positive behavior strategies, and interventions
for students with language and math needs. Lastly, MPS relies upon the expertise
of its psychological department staff and maintains a close relationship
with the University of Minnesota School Psychology Program. These relationships
help to enhance the understanding and generalizability of RTI principles.
Interns are matched with a supervisor (someone with expertise in the areas
the intern is looking to expand upon) and often an additional mentor on the
Problem Solving Team (i.e., team of personnel responsible for training within
district regarding problem solving process). Interns can share schools with
Types of Decisions Made Using RTI:
MPS uses a problem-solving model for systematic school-wide screening, monitoring
of pre-referral interventions, and determining eligibility for special education
(Specific Learning Disability and Mild-Moderate Developmental Cognitive Delay).