Problem Solving to Support Student Success in Catholic Schools

The following article was contributed by Karen Kroh, Ed.D., Associate Superintendent for Student Services in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

As educators we’ve all had a student who is struggling, either academically or behaviorally.  We meet to discuss the student and everyone starts asking, “have you tried…?” The problem solving process is a systematic, team approach utilized to address a student’s needs in the area of academics or behavior by following six specific steps:  identifying strengths and concerns, problem identification, problem analysis, intervention generation and selection, progress monitoring, and evaluation.

The first step of the problem solving process is to identify the student’s strengths and concerns, both academic and behavioral. You may end up pairing a student’s strength with an intervention later in the problem solving process. The problem solving process is designed to focus on one or two very specific academic or behavioral concerns.

The second step of the problem solving process is problem identification; the teacher is going to summarize the critical information regarding the specific academic or behavioral concern. The summary should include the following:

1. Student’s current performance compared to his/her peers
2. Lessons the teacher has learned related to instruction
3. Lessons learned related to curriculum
4. Lessons learned related to the environment
5. Lessons learned related to the student

During the problem solving phase, the teacher should think about the data already collected as part of the school routine to document the student need. Specific data allows the team members to understand the size and scope of the teacher’s concern. Once the teacher has summarized the data, the other team members can ask clarifying questions.

Problem analysis allows the team to explore critical variables which affect student learning. The team members create a hypothesis by completing the following statement. “We think the student is struggling with _________ because….” Based on the most likely hypothesis identified by the team, targeted interventions can be generated. Problem analysis allows the team to understand the reason why specific interventions have been considered for the student and helps the team to address complex student concerns in a systematic manner.

Based on the hypothesis, the team will determine interventions which directly align and have the greatest likelihood of positively impacting the student concern. The team should use research based interventions to guide their work. Once a list of interventions has been created, the person who will be the primary implementer of the interventions should consider the following questions:

1. Which of the interventions do you think have a high probability of success?
2. Which of the interventions is manageable to implement?
3. What do I need to carry out the intervention plan?

Next, the team must determine a method for measuring whether the intervention(s) has been effective for the student. Frequent data collection allows the team to make confident decisions based on student performance trends. To evaluate progress, the team must set specific, measurable, ambitious, and realistic goals.

The final step of the problem solving process is evaluation of the intervention plan. Evaluative decisions should made by the team based on progress toward the goal, not necessarily mastery. The team should discuss the following three questions:

1. Was the student’s need met with the current plan?
2. Was the plan effective but requires continued intervention or strengthening of the intervention to support the student?
3. Does the intervention need to be changed?

The evaluation process gives the team guidance regarding the next steps for the student, based on the intervention results.

As Catholic school educators, we want to make sure the gifts and talents of each our students are maximized. The problem solving process allows us to systematically address a student’s needs.