Learning decline and struggling students continue to challenge our education system. Educators spend countless hours seeking ways to help our young learners. We collect and analyze data, create authentic assessments, modify lessons and differentiate for the unique needs of our learners. How do we address these needs instead of waiting for failure?
MTSS or the Multi Tiered System of Support is a framework for providing support both academically and behaviorally for all students, especially those struggling. The support system is tiered providing minimum and maximum support for all students. Derived from Response to Intervention, MTSS has evolved to incorporate more behavioral, social and emotional interventions laced with elements of a positive school culture and family/community involvement. Universal screening of students has become a proactive approach allowing early assessments and subsequent interventions to address the needs of students before further academics and SEL (Social Emotional Learning) decline. Once identified, students are supported at various levels or tiers according to their need.
Tier 1 Interventions are generally considered “good teaching” and “best practices”. The majority of students (75%-90%) are at the Tier 1 level. Tier 1 interventions are proactive classrooms with core instruction and positive relationships in a supportive classroom environment.
Tier 2 Interventions address the needs of approximately 10%-25% of the students and mostly involve targeting learning in small groups, again addressing academic and behavioral goals. And finally Tier 3 interventions address the needs of less than 10% of the population that involve specific and individualized supports that Tier 1 and Tier 2 interventions could not address.
Tier 3 students can often be easily identified with apparent needs as they are our most struggling learners. Tier 2 students can often be supported with a “check in/check out” plan to meet their goals. However, it's the Tier 1 instruction that is often overlooked as the key to supporting students before any issues arise in skills gaps and emotional struggle. Tier 1 is for a majority of the students and is the foundation of the entire system of support. When considering robust Tier 1 instruction, use the following checklist to evaluate its effectiveness in supporting students from the get go:
Are there positive relationships between students and teacher(s)?
Is there an established, proactive classroom management system in place?
Do the expectations in the classroom match the school wide expectations?
Are parents regularly involved and in communication with the teacher?
Do teachers have the resources to plan and collaborate to discuss best practices for Tier 1?
Are the available resources maximized to support Tier 1 students?
Are evidence based practices (EBPs) and interventions utilized?
How often is targeted small group instruction taking place?
Is instruction standards based, explicit and systematic?
Is data collected with authentic assessments and used to inform instruction?
Using these foundational questions will help districts recognize that poor quality Tier 1 instruction is a threat to the MTSS process. It can overload the other tiers unnecessarily. Utilizing EBPs ,standards based and differentiated instruction with rigorous and reliable assessments helps to meet the needs of Tier 1 students before they need additional support. Taking an honest look at Tier 1 instruction using a list of high quality questions can help teachers, schools and districts understand the importance of this part of the MTSS model. Shortcomings can be addressed through collaboration, inquiry, research and professional development to help lay the foundation for the MTSS framework.