Supporting the Needs of All Students Through MTSS
All students deserve to have their needs met with intentional precision. We can’t practice on our students with the hopes of getting it right. As educators, we are under a tremendous amount of pressure to devise a sound plan to successfully meet the needs of all students. This means we must be proactive, responsive, and reflective in this process. There are some questions that can help to guide us in this collective effort while incorporating MTSS.
To begin, we must know specific details regarding how students are already performing:
- What are students able to do in reading, math, and other targeted areas?
- What areas are a struggle for students and how do we know?
- Who will be involved with supporting the needs of all students?
- In what ways can educators and families work together to support students learning to make a real difference?
- What intervention(s) will we choose to support all students?
- How will we know what methods are and are not working?
- What will we do about the methods that are not working?
- Does the plan to support the needs of all students include special attention to fidelity of implementation?
- When will we come together to discuss the plan, barriers, and results?
- What do we do when the plan is working, but we believe it can work better?
Multi-tiered Systems of Supports (MTSS) Explained
Multi-tiered Systems of Supports (MTSS) is a framework of supports for students formatted into three tiers, one through three. MTSS benefits students by giving schools the basic structure and processes for shaping and reshaping instruction and interventions to better meet students’ needs. Tier one includes regular instruction, standards-based instructional core curriculum, taught to all students. Intensive small and flexible groups take place as added support in addition to tier one, comprising tier two for students with more needs. Tier three supports are more intense than tiers one and two, supporting students in need of more intensive interventions.
The process is fluid, with first implementing a universal assessment for all students to determine entry points for matched interventions to students’ needs based on data. Very important elements of MTSS include using data to drive decisions for instruction as well as interventions. The Student Support or equivalent team will analyze the data and determine the root causes for underperformance. Tier two supports are matched to the root causes of students’ demonstrated needs. A decision tree based on students’ instructional needs may inform the planning and selection of tier two and three interventions. Tiered interventions should be selected from research and evidence-based options to increase students’ performance. The school schedule should accommodate the tiered interventions and frequency as prescribed for results.
Importance of Using Data Effectively
Imagine hundreds of people flooding the hospital emergency room feeling ill with different symptoms, some broken bones, some stomach aches, some ear infections, and some chest pains among other symptoms. Regardless of the different ailments presented, the hospital decides to treat everyone for a broken toe and instructs them to see their primary care physician in two weeks for a follow-up appointment. Would this not be outrageous? Of course, it would be.
In the same application, our children should not receive blanket instruction and interventions for different issues which would prevent them from demonstrating grade-level standards expectations. Data provides the information necessary to make precise decisions about students’ strengths and needs in all areas reliably assessed. For example, it is unclear which evidence-based intervention will best support a child who is generally below in reading because reading is a complex process. Does the student require instruction and intervention for phonemic awareness, phonics, decoding, fluency, vocabulary, or comprehension? Or could the root cause be that the student needs glasses? Without more information, educators and families are not able to help with impactful strategies and interventions. Data is very important when identifying problems and making decisions. Mathematics is not simple either. If a student is below in mathematics, does the student require instruction and intervention for number sense, geometry, measurement and data, algebra, problem-solving, statistics and probability, fractions, or functions.
There is a misconception that students should learn to use calculators because they don’t need to have a solid foundation in number sense and fact fluency. However, we have all encountered a cashier who may work in a store and when you provide them with an amount that they may not have entered into the cash register the cashier is unable to calculate your change because he or she may not have a solid foundation in number sense or fact fluency. This is not what we want for our students, which means we must create effective instructional and intervention plans that address the needs of all students.
Multi-tiered System of Supports in Action
Reliable universal assessments should be given to students to determine what they are able to do and what they may need more support with. The Student Support or similar team, comprised of teachers, parents, administrators, and relevant school staff, should take a deep data dive and delve into root causes of underperformance. This data is a very important baseline and a continuous platform for problem-solving and decision-making. The school schedule must accommodate tiered interventions. Based on the students’ needs, and evidence-based intervention needs to be regularly implemented, and progress monitored.
The Student Support or equivalent team will need to meet to debrief progress monitoring and summative data to determine if students are progressing or not and why. If students are behind, the supports should continue and may be refined to increase the effectiveness for better results. If not, the team will meet again to make decisions about students’ needs, appropriate interventions, and/or fidelity, refine the tiered intervention plan, and monitor accordingly. Students may move into different tiers based on reliable data resulting from their performance. Families need to remain a part of the process, collaborating with educators, participating in meetings, and helping their children at home. We must consistently and collaboratively monitor the data and implementation of interventions. The team may meet weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly to discuss the plan, barriers, results, and refinement. If your Student Support team or staff are struggling with the implementation and success of MTSS, CSAS can help. Reach out to determine how we might best work together to achieve your goals.