How this Book Should be Useful to You and Your School

When writing Enhancing Instructional Problem Solving, the authors attempted to produce a practitioner friendly guidebook and model of instructional problem-solving that could align with a school’s existing practices, allow for incremental implementation and sustainability, and be used in nearly any school to enhance the ways in which struggling learners are assisted.

As described in the book, the SOPAA model was also developed to address some common challenges that educators face when trying to support all students’ learning difficulties. If your school experiences one or more of the challenges listed below, the resources and recommendation provided in the book may be useful to you and your school.

List of Common Challenges When Trying to Assist All Struggling Learners

The following list provides ten of the common challenges educators face when trying to assist struggling learners:

  1. There is an effective schoolwide system in place to identify students with learning difficulties, but most teachers in the school do not have the training and/or resources to select and use a research-based intervention.
  2. Students with learning difficulties are identified with valid assessments, research-based interventions are available to teachers, but teachers do not have the time to learn or implement the interventions consistently and accurately (i.e., with integrity).
  3. School-based teams can be effective in addressing students’ learning difficulties, but often too much time elapses between the time the teacher raises the concern, the team meets to discuss it, the intervention is implemented, and the team can meet again to determine its effectiveness.
  4. School-based teams have been developed to assist teachers with struggling learners, but no one educator in the school has the time, or perhaps sufficient knowledge, to ensure that the designed intervention plan is carried out by the teacher (or others) as it should be.
  5. School-based teams have been developed to assist teachers with struggling learners, but they require too much time from too many educators. For example, the school does not always need a team of four or more educators to effectively develop an intervention plan for a struggling learner. Having too many educators spending time in meetings for which fewer persons are necessary to address the issue takes their time away from instruction or instructional planning.
  6. Teachers are required to implement an intervention to assist a struggling learner before the student can be considered by a team or considered for special education, but the school does not have a system for helping the teacher accurately document the intervention provided, or for ensuring that the intervention is adequately carried out according to district or school policy (or according to what could be considered “best practice”).
  7. There is no established system in the school for identifying all students who struggle in the core academic areas (reading, math, and writing), so some students continue to “fall between the cracks,” with their problems unaddressed until their skill deficits are so severe that they require more resources and are harder to address.
  8. There are insufficient resources within the school, or an insufficient system, for monitoring students’ progress as a result of intervention. As a result, teachers experience great difficulty determining whether students receiving intervention are actually benefiting from it.
  9. Educational leaders in the school have great ideas for addressing both systems-level and student-level challenges (such as those just described), but those leaders do not have the experience, time, and/or resources to integrate those ideas in a way that will be supported by other educators in the school, possibly including the school principal.
  10. Educational leaders in the school have great ideas that will help to overcome challenges associated with addressing all students’ learning needs, and teachers in the school would likely be supportive of the ideas, but the leaders are unsure how, when, and to what degree they should start implementing their ideas.

To further complicate these types of challenges, national data suggest that schools must increasingly do more with fewer resources. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the U.S. recession resulted in substantial budget cuts to K–12 education in 2008 and 2009 in 29 states and the District of Columbia (Johnson, Oliff, & Williams, 2010). For example, Michigan’s fiscal year budget for 2010 included a $165 per-pupil spending reduction from the previous year, Hawaii’s 2009–2010 school year was shortened by more than 3 weeks, and Massachusetts enacted cuts to early intervention programs and K–12 funding, including cuts to teacher training and services for disabled students (Johnson et al., 2010). In North Carolina, a state not even designated in the 2010 CBPP report as a state with “substantial” cuts to K–12 education, a 2008 survey showed that 87% of North Carolina teachers indicated that K–12 educators desire more time and resources to meet the educational needs of their students (Hirsch & Church, 2009).

In sum, there have been important research, practice, and policy advances over the past several decades, all designed to move schools closer to the goal of effectively addressing the needs of all learners. However, many schools continue to struggle with how to move from where they are to where they want to be. They are interested in implementing innovative practices, but often lack a road map for change.

How the SOPAA Guidebook May Help Schools Meet the Needs of Struggling Learners

The book does not propose any grand solutions to cure the woes of the U.S. education system. However, it does offer a pragmatic plan with which an educator or small group of educators at a single school can begin to systematically implement a number of innovations that have the potential to improve how their school responds to children encountering difficulty in the general education classroom. The aim of the book is to provide a comprehensive yet time-efficient, resource-efficient, and user-friendly approach to improving students’ learning outcomes in reading, math, and writing. In addition, the approach and the materials presented throughout the book are designed to respond to recent changes in how schools are expected to document their efforts to assist struggling learners. For example, the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA, 2004) requires that a special education referral for a learning disability include “data-based documentation of repeated assessment of achievement at reasonable intervals, reflecting formal assessment of student progress during instruction, which [should be] provided to the child’s parents” (p. 34 CFR 300.309(b) (1–2).

Termed the Systems-Oriented Plan for Academic Achievement (SOPAA), this model is designed not only to put evidence-based interventions in the hands of teachers quickly, but also to move toward addressing needs of learners in a systemic, resource-efficient, schoolwide way. This academic consultation model integrates what is known to be effective through both organizational consultation and triadic consultation (both of these basic models of consultation are discussed in Chapter 2 of the book) to put into place a program for moving schools toward standardized and systemic procedures for serving all children. In using both organizational and triadic consultation, the SOPAA integrates six key components that should collectively improve how schools respond to the types of challenges described earlier. A basic description of each component is presented in Chapter 1 of the book. Extended detail about each component is provided in the subsequent chapters.

To learn more about how this book may benefit you and your school, click here to read Chapter 1 of the book. The citations used in the preceding text are referenced in the SOPAA guidebook.