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What Is an Instructional Intervention?

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A pediatrician posed the question: In medicine we have specific medical treatments for specific medical problems; educator’s interventions or treatments seem to vary, even when the student and the problem are similar; why is there so much variability for among teachers for the same problem? This frustration is shared by many, including educators and parents. The research documents massive variability in the effectiveness of educational interventions. The research recommends that educators use the same rules all scientists use in defining and implementing treatments or interventions. The research has stressed that the teacher is, by far, the most important element in the instructional enterprise. The research is very clear. It is the specific interventions the individual teacher uses that makes the difference in determining student outcomes. An effective instructional intervention must address the following questions positively. These three questions follow scientific practices and define the essence of an effective instructional intervention.

Question 1. Is the intervention replicable and exportable? Is the intervention supported by tools that allow different instructors to consistently and effectively implement the intervention or instructional program? This requirement increases in importance with the severity of the student’s disability. The more severe and complex the student’s needs, the more the instructional interventions must be delivered across the different school and home settings, seven days a week. The instructional tools must allow all members of the instructional team, including aides, siblings, and parents, to be informed, effective, and cooperative members of the instructional team.

Question 2. What scientific evidence exists to support claims of effectiveness? Does the evidence involve objective measures of student outcomes? Are the student outcomes aligned with district and state-mandated curriculum outcomes and the associated testing and measurement instruments? Student outcomes can include academic outcomes, affective and attitudinal outcomes, and physical skills. While some would suggest hat an emphasis on academic skills comes at the expense of attitudinal outcomes, the research suggests otherwise.

Question 3. Is an accountability process built into the instructional intervention? In medicine, a specific treatment has a monitoring process allowing for ongoing decisions that support changes in the treatment based on patient reactions. The monitoring should also allow for decisions to replace the treatment. Most federal and state legislative mandates require education programs to have “curriculum-embedded” assessments that would support daily and weekly monitoring of the impact of the intervention on the student. Decisions on the effectiveness of educational treatments should not be left to annual standardized tests, alone. These accountability practices should provide ongoing information on both the effectiveness of the intervention, and the quality of local implementation. An intervention can fail because of the original design of the intervention or because of the failure to implement the intervention as designed. The latter will require changes in staff development as well as changes in the technical assistance provided to teachers and aides.

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