During the first step, Problem Identification, the problem is stated in objective, measurable terms as the difference between what is expected and what is observed. In this way, a problem can be defined by the following equation:
Expectations can be found in a variety of sources including local norms, normative standards, criterion standards, peer performance, instructional placement standards, developmental standards, teacher expectations, school/policy standards, or district criteria on district level assessments to name a few. The important thing to note is that a problem cannot be defined without a declared and accepted expectation.
Equally as important, it must be understood whether the identified problem exists for only one student, a small group of students, or a large group of students. Different interventions will be necessary to address these different situations. A large group problem cannot be solved one child at a time. When large group problems are noted, problem solving is conducted on a large scale and changes in overall curriculum and instruction are often appropriate interventions. Small group problems result in designing instruction that is matched to student need delivered in small group settings. If the problem is present only for one or a very few students, individual student problem solving occurs.
The definition of the problem must focus on teachable skills that are alterable and educationally meaningful that can be changed through the process of instruction.