Efficient Data Use Leads to Improved Student Outcomes
Suppose you have trouble breathing. You call your doctor’s office to make an appointment and the receptionist says the doctor has a long waiting list and won’t be able to see you for at least three months. Since you can’t afford a trip to the emergency room, you wait it out and hope for a cancellation.
Three months later, you see your doctor. By this time your breathing is much worse. You anxiously sit in the waiting room hoping to get treated for your breathing problem. You enter the exam room for your long-awaited help; however, what your doctor tells you is far from what you were hoping to hear. Instead of diagnosing you and presenting you with a treatment plan, your doctor tells you he doesn’t have the necessary diagnostic tools but can put you in a treatment group with others experiencing health problems and hope it works. Sound ridiculous? Too often, that is how schools approach teacher referrals for student interventions, especially ones for behaviors.
Most schools have a student intervention team that is tasked with developing intervention plans for students needing additional support. I found these meetings disheartening because we would face the impossible task of problem solving a binder full of referrals in 30 minutes. Our system resulted in students, at best, waiting months to be considered for an intervention and, at worst, going without support. If they did receive an intervention, it was one that was already in place and not necessarily designed to address the problem behavior. This model resulted in few students making progress and most being referred to special education – causing our special education teachers to be overwhelmed and teachers frustrated. Thankfully there is a better way.
The Early Identification System (EIS) was designed to help schools identify students who may have difficulties in such problem areas as paying attention, resolving conflict, or managing emotions. With this assessment, school teams can efficiently sort students by similar needs, conduct additional assessments, and select appropriate interventions that address students’ skill deficits. Gone are the days of problem-solving students one by one. Now, teams can identify common problem behaviors and address them school-wide, at grade levels, in small groups, or individually.
Once schools have identified and sorted students, they are able to choose evidence-based practices designed to address the skill deficit on the National Center for Rural School Mental Health Intervention Hub. The Hub provides teams with interventions for each domain identified by the EIS and organizes them by tiers and grade level. These interventions have been vetted by schools and are relatively easy and inexpensive to implement.
The EIS helps schools move from a scattershot approach to student mental health to a strategic deployment of resources based on identified needs. The challenge for school leadership teams is to carefully examine current practices to eliminate interventions that are not evidence-based and designed to address identified student needs. This may mean you have some tough conversations and growing pains as you move to a more efficient system. But isn’t it time we eliminate the long waiting lists and treatments that do not meet student need and create a system that addresses the well-being of all students?
Carol Ewen, MA, EdS
Director of School Mental Health Programs
Center for Children, Families and Workforce Development
University of Montana | College of Health
About the Authors
Licensed School Psychologist
I have worked at the local and state level developing and implementing school mental health interventions for the past 23 years. I am currently the Director of School Mental Health Programs at the University of Montana’s Center for Children, Families, and Workforce Development.