Pyramid Response to Intervention (by: Buffum, Mattos & Weber)

Overall Summary: This book is compendium of resources, research and insight for practical implementation.  It is worth every penny it costs.  The authors break down every aspect of systematic, school wide improvement.  The authors assume that all students can learn at high levels and that it is the collective responsibility of the school to ensure that systems of intervention exist to support each learners need for a variable amount of time and support to learn effectively. If you agree with the two main assumptions, this book will guide you through every aspect of developing, implementing and improving a pyramid response to intervention that will ensure that all students do in fact learn at high levels.


Chapter 1: What is Pyramid Response to Intervention?

Response to Intervention (RtI): “Response to Intervention is a new movement that shifts the responsibility for helping all students become successful”

Pyramid of Interventions (POI): “A collective and systematic approach to providing additional time and support to students who experience  difficulties learning.”

Our schools do a great job of providing students with the opportunity to learn, we must create a system that ensures learning and success for all students… not just those who want to learn.

When schools operate as professional learning communities, creating pyramids of interventions and implementing response to intervention, they create the opportunity for powerful change.”

Foundations of a Pyramid Response to Intervention takes the best of both RtI and POI and creates a systematic and cultural shift focused on ensuring that’s very student learns at a high level. It is based on the following:

    • Structure – PLC Philosophy & RtI Structure
    • Universal Screening – both academics & behaviors
    • Frequent Progress Monitoring – CFA’s based on essentials standards that are collaboratively developed & assessed frequently
    • Research Based Interventions – What is proven to work, not what we hope works
    • School Culture – it is not a program, it is the way a school does things
    • Timely, Directive, Systematic, Flexible Support – students get highly specific, targeted support as needed, built into the school day
    • Shared Instructional Goals – “What do we want all students to know well.” “How will we know when they know it well?” Teams must collaboratively agree on the answers to these things.

Chapter 2: The Facts About RTI

Defining RtI: “The practice of 1) providing high-quality instruction and intervention that match students’ needs and 2) using students’ learning rate over time and level of performance to make important Instructional decisions.”

There are several pages on the history and the political/legal aspects of RtI.

“RtI is not a program, but rather a system for meeting all students’ needs.”

Chapter 3: RTI Models

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

The Models: There are essential two models for implementing RtI in our schools.

    • The Protocol System – students qualify for existing intervention programs according to pre-established criteria and the mature of the deficiency.
    • The Problem Solving System using staff member input to to identify highly individualized student plans.

Steps to Implementing RtI:

    • Implementing high quality core program (Tier 1)
    • Employing universal screening
    • Implementing a classroom intervention
    • Monitoring student progress across core program
    • Initiating a supplemental intervention (Tier 2)
    • Monitoring student progress n response to the supplemental intervention
    • Initiating an intensive intervention (Tier 3)
    • Monitoring student progress in response to intensive intervention
    • Assessing student to determine whether they have a learning disability

Questions for Implementing Effective RtI: There is a great list of guiding questions for establishing RtI (see page 32&33)

Case Studies: The book then describes 5 schools from varying levels and communities that have successfully implemented the RtI model around the country.

Elements of RtI in a True PLC:

    • Collective responsibility by all staff for all students
    • Access to a high quality core curriculum
    • True differentiation in the classroom
    • Universal screening
    • Analysis of student work to evaluate overall curriculum and diagnose individual student needs
    • Tiers of intervention
    • Systematic, explicit, and research based programs, diagnostically chosen and taught by the most effective educators.

A Unified Approach: The chapter ends with a section articulating how and why the entire school must be unified in its approach to RtI. Special eduction teachers and general education teachers, must recognize that this is one system servicing all students.

Chapter 4: Laying the Foundation: A Professional Learning Community

“To successfully implement RtI, a staff must dissolve the cultural and structural barriers between special education and regular education to create a collective response in which core instruction and supplemental support form a learning continuum to meet the individual needs of every student.”

True and effective RtI requires both restructuring and reculturing to align with the philosophy of PLC and the application of RtI.

PLC Value #1 – A Focus on Learning: What do we want all students to know well?

Assumptions: There are two fundamental assumptions that every school must make to ensure high levels of learning for all students.

    1. Educators believe that all students are capable of high levels of learning
    2. Educators accept responsibility for making this outcome a reality for every child

The focus must shift from what the teacher is doing to how the student is learning.

PLC Value #2 – A Collaborative Culture: How will we know when they now it well?

“Disciplinary teams must work interdependently to achieve common goals linked to their collective mission of learning for all. PLC collaboration involves more than collegiality; it digs deeply into learning.” It focuses on the following:

    1. Common Standards – a collective agreement on what must e learned well by all
    2. Common Assessment – collective assessment of standards for learning

“Professional learning communities add value to standards by analyzing, synthesizing, and prioritizing them in a way that allows every teacher to allocate time and instructional focus towards common goal.”

PLC Value #3 – A Focus on Results: what will we do when they don’t know it well?

“All collaboration, planning and goal-setting are useless until put into action.”

“The central concept behind RtI… Is to apply research-based interventions for a struggling student, then measure the ‘learning’ response to the intervention.”

“I have yet to see a school where the learning curves of the adults were steep upward and those of the students were not. Teachers and students go hand and hand as learners… or they don’t go at all.”

Collective inquiry is the key to an effective focus on results.

“Trying to implement RtI without first creating a school culture and structure aligned with PLC practices would e like trying to build a house starting with the roof.”

Assessing Your Current Reality: No interventions can compensate for poor initial instruction.

Assessing the Quality of the Core Program: This section includes a set of seven questions schools must ask to self assess the quality of the core program. These are incredible questions and if answered honestly, they are very illuminating.

Chapter 5: Learning CPR

The Quality of Our Response: Our response to students who fail to learn must be like the medical response to a person who is dying.  Our response must be:

    • Urgent – we must understand the necessity of getting this right… Right now
    • Directive – it can’t be optional.  If it is optional, we are telling students that failure is an option, if the core mission is learning… Learning can’t be optional!
    • Timely – virtually every student can learning provided with targeted instruction and sufficient time to learn. Time and instruction must be the variable so that learning becomes the target. With in a week or so of failing to learn… For about 3 weeks.
    • Targeted – failure is a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself.  The intervention we use must address the core problem that caused the failure… We can’t lump all students into one bunch and expect anything different.
    • Administered by a Trained Professional – the best teachers should be administering the necessary interventions.
    • Systematic – the interventions should not be doled out based on “luck of the draw”… Data and professional opinion, must drive access to interventions in a systematic and guaranteed way.

Chapter 6: Tier 1 – The Core Program

“No intervention program can compensate for ineffective core instructional practices.”

Steps to Strengthening the Core Program:

1) Differentiate Instruction

    • “The most important step a school can take to improve its core program is differentiating instruction and small group activities.”
    • Two challenges schools face when upgrading the quality of their teaching are 1) classroom management and 2) the selection of quality activities at students can complete independently.
    • “For a teacher to productively work with a small group of the students in the class, the rest of the lass must be deeply… engaged in high quality independent activity.”

2) Determine Power Standards

    • Focus on the Doug Reeves criteria for prioritizing standards (Endurance, Leverage, Necessity)

3) Analyze Assessment Data

    • Teacher teams use both summaries and formative assessment data to determine the instruction and interventions that will be most effective.

4) Ensure Quality Teaching and Focused Staff Development

    • There are five attributes that research has shown inform quality teaching, focus staff development and produce superior core programs. These are identified by the work of Doug Reeves and are as follows
        • Academic Achievement – is the first priority of all stakeholders
        • Curriculum Choices – focus on depth of reading, writing and math
        • Frequent Assessment & Opportunity to Improve
        • Writing – frequent modeling and practice are essential to core program
        • External Scoring – teachers and principal grade work from other teachers.

5) Maximize Instructional Time

    • Research suggest teachers utilize between 21-69% of classroom time on instruction.

6) Use Programs with Fidelity

    • It is impossible to assess a programs effectiveness accurately unless all teachers agree to maintain the fidelity of implementation.

The rest of the chapter is a discussion of how an effective Tier 1 core program looks at each level (elementary, middle & high) of the K-12 system.

Tips for Effective High School Implementation:

    • Prioritize the The Learning Standards – there are simply to many standards to effectively focus on all of them.
    • Identify the interventions that are already available and being implemented.
    • Ensure direct parent contact regarding failures and interventions
    • Update parents weekly regarding progress in interventions
    • Mandatory retakes of all exams that are failed. A student can’t be allowed to accept a failed unit exam, if they are expected to pass the entire year.
    • Leverage peer tutoring and academic study halls after school for students not achieving mastery of the content.

Upgrading the Core Program: Essentially, it comes down to:

    1. Set very high expectations for students and staff
    2. Focus resources, efforts and curriculum
    3. Ensure all students learn by diagnosing problems and prescribing supports one child at a time.

Chapter 7: Tier 2 – The Supplemental Level

Students who are not successful after an effective Tier 1 core program require supplemental instruction.

Determine Root Cause: The first step to developing an effective Tier 2 intervention program is to determine the cause of the failure to learn. There are two broad categories:

    1. Failed Learners – they didn’t get it and need more instruction
    2. Intentional Non-Learners – They didn’t try to get it and need either more instruction or forced compliance

Supporting Intentional Non-Learners: “These students are nether motivated by grades, nor are they aware of the long-term implications for failing in school.”

Potential Supports for Intentional Non-Learners: Here are a list of potential supports for intentional non-learners that articulated in greater depth in the book:

    • Mandatory study hall
    • Mandatory homework help
    • Frequent progress monitoring
    • Study-skills class
    • Goal-setting and career planning support
    • Targeted rewards

Supporting Failed Learners: “The problem is no that they won’t do the work, but that they don’t know how.”

This all hinges on the learning formula. “Targeted Instruction + Time = Learning”. There can only be one constant.  If we want learning for all to be a constant, we must make the other two the variables.

Potential Supports for Failed Learners: Here are a list of potential supports for failed learners that articulated in greater depth in the book:

    • Targeted, Differentiated Instruction
    • Additional Time
    • Prerequisite Skill Review

Failure on a test is not the core problem… It is a symptom of a deeper problem. “without targeted programs set up to address specific student needs both teachers and students are set up for failure.

Level Specific Action Plans: The book then spends a significant chunk of time focusing on how to identify and place students appropriately at all levels of the school system.

Chapter 8: Tier 3 – Intensive Interventions

Tier 3 interventions are intensive interventions focused n closing the learning gap for students needing more than supplementary intervention.

Tier 3 interventions typically last about a semester and are required by no more than 5-10% of the students.

This chapter contains numerous matrix with descriptions of the various tiers of interventions and specific descriptions of potential Tier 3 interventions.

“Tier 3 interventions should be mandatory and not invitational, and provided during the school day, not before or after school.”

The chapter concludes with a short description of what Tier 3 could look like at an elementary and high school level.

This chapter is not extensive and has far less detail than the the chapters on Tier 1 & 2. Presumably this is because at the Tier 3 level a school must intervene in a unique way to meet the individual needs of each student.

Chapter 9: The Role of Behavioral Interventions

This chapters is dedicated the the understanding that many students fail to learn because of behavioral issues rather than learning or non-compliance issues.

Four Major Components of Behavioral Interventions:

    1. Academic and behavioral intervention are based in the severity of the problem
    2. Students’ responses to intervention provide the basis for changing, modifying, or intensifying interventions
    3. Evidence-based practices are used to select, evaluate and assess interventions
    4. Social validation is the final component of implementing behavioral interventions

Supporting Positive Behavior

    1. Identify the 6-10 key areas in which it is important or necessary to focus staff and student attention
    2. Demonstrate and model positive behaviors to students
    3. Monitor for adherence to the rules

The book then contains a section on data gathering and analysis to inform interventions and decision making. This is essentially what our SWIS software does for infinite campus.

Tier 1 Behavior Interventions: Tier 1 is all about prevention and is effective for over 80% of the students. The focus is to provide a positive environment for all students through the use of effective classroom management along with differentiated instruction

    1. Positive Environment
    2. Effective Classroom Management
    3. Differentiated Instruction

Tier 2 Behavior Interventions: Tier 2 is specific targeted interventions such as check ins, small discussion groups, mentoring relationships or actual behavior plans. This level of intervention should be required for no more than 15-20% of the students. These supports can be provided by administrators, counselors, peers or teachers.

Tier 3 Behavior Interventions: Tier 3 should be required for no more than 1-5% of the students and is highly intensive and individualized. Interventions at this level could include adult mentorship, social skills training, behavior supports, self monitoring and any other number of targeted interventions.

The chapter concludes with a case study example of a middle school in Michigan that implemented effective behavioral interventions at all three tiers.

Chapter 10: Meeting Legal Requirements

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw

Keys to Compliance: This chapter begins by listing several “keys to compliance”.  These include:

    1. Develop a systematic progress-monitoring plan
    2. Keep careful records
    3. Utilize research-based programs
    4. Change a students’ tier when appropriate
    5. Refer for formal evaluation when appropriate
    6. Meet periodically with all stakeholders, including parents

Five Steps to Effective Communication:

    1. Explain how the school has systematically monitored the students progress
    2. Share records of past performance honestly
    3. Describe why the team elected certain interventions (or didn’t chose others)
    4. Reveal how data supports the teams recommendations
    5. Make specific recommendations but be open to input

Making the Commitment to Go from Good to Great. The chapter ends with a few pages about making a collaborative decision to choose to be a great school rather then settling for being a good one.

Chapter 11: Putting it All Together

Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right.’ Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.” Napoleon Hill

Avoiding Pitfalls: The following factors can undermine the PRTI systems:

    • Counterproductive grading practices
    • Failure to communicate program goals and procedures to students and parents
    • Lack of program evaluation

Most current grading procedures are designed to sort and rank student achievement; they reward students who learn quickly and accurately and punish those who require additional time and opportunities to master material.”

“If teachers follow assessments with high-quality corrective instruction, then students should have a second chance to demonstrate their new level of competence and understanding. This second chance determines the effectiveness of the corrective process while also giving students another opportunity to experience success in learning, thus providing them with additional motivation.” Thomas Guskey

The primary purpose of grades = provide communication in summary format about student achievement in meeting learning goals.

Program Evaluation: Great questions for evaluating PRTI programing are suggested the book in this section to help teams analyze and evaluate the quality of their interventions.  This is a great set of questions that should be visited regularly.

Leadership Matters: “Schools can and will be successful when the principal leads them through and beyond today’s challenges rather than being ‘tossed about’ on stormy waters as just another passenger. The school principal must assume the role of advocate for all students, so that all students achieve at high levels.”

Success Stories: The rest of the chapter is devoted to three in depth case studies in which we learn a detailed perspective on the implementation of the PRTI philosophy at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

The price of greatness is responsibility” Winston Churchill

The Appendix

The book concludes with an appendix full of numerous reproducible charts, activities and other documents that can be copied or downloaded from the authors website.


1 Response to Pyramid Response to Intervention (by: Buffum, Mattos & Weber)

  1. Jeff Henley says:

    Very nice summary Mr. Gianotti. I have been particularly intrigued about the leveraging of peer tutors as well as the case studies mentioned in the book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s