Ah, intervention plans. They are fun, aren’t they? All that data and planning and resources, only to take a look at a student’s progress monitoring scores and realize that those stubborn scores haven’t budged at all. Why? We may scream internally, watching our tediously placed trend lines flat-line. But we worked so hard on this skill! It is a true horror story of education—well, maybe not horror, but the frustration is definitely there.
Edward Munch, “The Scream”
As the bedrock of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), intervention plans are crucial in aiding all students to master grade-level content. While universal screeners and benchmarks can help identify which students require additional support beyond core instruction, intervention plans are the vehicle that delivers that support. Let’s take a moment to review the essential components of an MTSS intervention plan, then jump into the nitty-gritty of what to do if a plan is showing no growth.
As lifelong educators, my co-author and I have experienced a combined 50, yes 50 years in education! Spring semesters, planning, reviewing middle-of-year data, and targeting support before the final bell rings for summer. No matter what role we have held, including teacher, administrator, instructional coach, our instinctual goal was to ensure at least one year’s growth for every student.
With COVID-19 and all of its impacts still looming, we again find ourselves faced with an end-of-year deadline and, as always, evaluating student growth. Longstanding academic inequities continue to creep into our schools and classrooms as many students fall further and further behind meeting grade-level standards.
And who’s most at-risk for falling behind? Recent data suggests that our underperforming students are racially and ethnically diverse, are from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and have individualized education programs (IEPs) (Methodology Studies - Achievement Gaps | NAEP). With the best intentions, after a thorough middle-of-year data review, our initial instinct is to group students to focus on remediating foundational skills only to risk excluding them from grade-level content instruction.
➡️ Related Resource: Best Practices on Interpreting Student Assessment Data in MTSS
What if, instead of focusing on growth for every student (which potentially may be grade levels below), we focus on grade-level proficiency or bust for every student? Instead of focusing on identifying the gaps and moving backward to fill them, we accelerate our core instruction by strategically curating the grade-level standards-based instruction. That way, the student can spend time and attention on identified targeted skills to prepare for upcoming learning. Student outcomes change when accelerated instruction replaces traditional remediation strategies alone.
With traditional remediation, students identified as needing additional support typically receive intervention for skill gaps that may have little or nothing to do with the current, on-grade level material and/or instruction. While it is certainly important to "backfill" for learning gaps, when that remediation is not closely aligned to what the student needs right now to be successful with current grade-level material, the student will only slip further behind. In contrast, acceleration provides immediate access to end-of-year expectations by strategically identifying prior years’ learning and learning gaps, AND providing just-in-time support along the way.
➡️ Related Resource: Selecting the Right Interventions to Boost Accelerated Learning
Considering our classrooms’ significant and diverse needs in 2022 and beyond, we can layer the strategies and principles of accelerated instruction as an equitable multi-tiered systems solution that ensures our Tier 1 core instruction is fluid, dynamic, responsive, and matches our diverse students’ needs. But, before we can jump into how to accelerate, let’s answer the first question that comes to mind…what exactly is differentiated core Tier 1 instruction, and what is acceleration?
Reflective teaching is a practice I believe strongly in utilizing throughout the school year. Throughout my work as a University Supervisor at the National College of Education at National Louis University, I work with graduate teacher candidates to develop their reflective practices. Reflection allows educators to think about lessons they observed (or taught), analyze techniques, self-assess and consider areas of strength and growth. Recently, during my own reflective process, I could not help but think about the significant changes in teaching that have occurred over the last 20 months.
As educators, we have all come to expect that change is our new norm; especially, after we collectively experienced the transition to remote learning, hybrid learning, and the back-and-forth between the two. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, all teachers at one time or another have experienced a challenging learning curve or a difficult programmatic change. And specifically, in education, it is well known that organizational change historically moved at a snail’s pace in schools and was even more difficult than in other professional settings.
I can still hear my students groan every time I announce “pop quiz time!” My countless hours of learning about secondary education had taught me that a solid instructional strategy was rooted in tests, tests, tests. Test the kids before they learn, test the kids while they learn, and test them after they learn. And then again—test the kids the next day, too—just to make sure they remember what we did yesterday.
As a teacher, I always sought to have some form of assessment embedded throughout every lesson because that was the foundation of good teaching, right? However, I was never taught what to do with the results of all that testing. I had all this great data at my fingertips, but I was drowning in data points, multiple-choice scores, and whether or not spelling should count in a short answer. So how did that help me help my students?
A robust Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) relies on a systematic data collection process. We are told to ensure that we have a universal screener and progress monitors, but it’s just as vital that we know what to do with our assessment data after we go through the process of gathering it. To make smart, data-driven decisions to support our MTSS process, we need to have a clear understanding of the role of each assessment in an MTSS model. That way, we aren’t all drowning in data, without any idea of where all this data is supposed to take us.
Cue—this handy, dandy assessment table and a breakdown of assessments.
Happy New Year! A new semester has begun and with it comes the possibilities for positive change. Getting ready for a new semester is crucial, but it can also be a complicated undertaking, especially with the complexities of a pandemic. As 2022 begins, we wanted to share 22 MTSS resources with you so you can start out the second half of the school year strong and prepared.
There’s something here for everyone: whether you’re a classroom teacher, a school admin, a district leader, or an MTSS coordinator; if you’re exploring what MTSS is; if you’re working on developing an MTSS team, selecting an MTSS tool, aligning your MTSS implementation with the rest of the initiatives at your district, or simply strengthening communication and collaboration.
We’ve divided the resources into MTSS Best Practices, Accelerated Learning, Structure and Leadership in MTSS, and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). We hope you find them helpful!
Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) is a research-based framework that helps educators identify academic, behavioral, and social-emotional strengths and needs to provide differentiated support for the entire student body based upon their needs. Data is central to the MTSS framework. MTSS utilizes data-based decision making, which includes data analysis and systematic problem-solving through team meetings to make decisions about instruction, intervention, implementation, and whether the support provided to students is working or if additional intervention is needed.
MTSS Teams use data from multiple assessments—such as formative and summative assessments—to plan tiered instruction that is strategized to meet students’ needs. MTSS Teams use the assessment data to engage in strategic problem-solving to identify student needs and plan for intervention and progress monitoring. Assessments can also be used to evaluate school-wide outcomes, make efficient decisions based on those outcomes, and use this data to inform an MTSS action plan.
I remember thinking last December that if we could just get to 2021, if we could just get through the insanity and exhaustion that was 2020, that we would feel a light at the end of this tunnel. I wanted to buy all of the 2020 dumpster fire gag gifts, as if saying that these challenges were a product of the year 2020 could seal them up tight so they couldn’t possibly follow us into another year. I also know myself to be a relentless optimist, which for the most part has served me well…so I leaned into that optimism hard.
In an effort to support the high rate of students who have experienced significant learning loss caused by remote learning and continued COVID 19-related instruction interruptions, Texas has recently passed House Bill 4545 (HB4545). This new statute outlines updated requirements for school districts to provide supplemental accelerated instruction for all students who do not meet grade-level requirements in the state’s standardized assessments.
Since this statute was enacted in the summer of 2021, school districts have quickly reacted and developed new procedures to ensure these requirements are met, and students are receiving the accelerated instruction they need. As many Texas Branching Minds partners have already discovered, Branching Minds is quickly adapting and providing districts the help they need to implement these crucial changes successfully.
Beginning in 3rd grade, all students in Texas public schools take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) in core subject areas. In high school, the assessment program changes to the STAAR End of Course (EOC) assessments, five of which are required for graduation. According to the Texas Education Agency, students who do not meet grade-level expectations in these assessments are unlikely to succeed in the next grade or course without significant, ongoing academic intervention.
The STAAR data from the most recent testing administration highlights the importance of immediate action towards supporting students. Among students tested in 2021, there was a 4% increase in students that did not meet their grade level in reading compared to 2019 and a 16% increase in students that did not meet their grade level in math (source). We do not have time to waste!
Accelerated learning is currently one of the hottest keywords in education. It is hailed as the hero to address the “COVID-19 slide,” which is the concern that students may not be prepared for grade-level instruction due to a loss of instructional time over the past year due to the pandemic.
We often hear “learning loss” in relation to the COVID-19 slide—a term I have come across countless times during professional development webinars. I disagree strongly with this term. “Learning loss” implies that students have missed out on learning. As educators, we know that learning did occur last year (and as teachers, we are all tired of defending that point).
However, traditional instruction did not occur last year. So the phenomenon we are currently facing is an “instructional loss,” not a “learning loss.” While our students did learn, they did not receive traditional instruction, which would have ensured they had all the skills necessary to master grade-level content.
The solution? Accelerated learning.
For those new to the term, accelerated learning is the adaptation of instruction in which curriculum standards are prioritized based on the learning needs of students. It is an intentional, practical approach to intensive instruction to address a significant gap in skills resulting from a disruption to instruction—such as a global pandemic.
What is important to note is that acceleration is not remediation. It is not going back and attempting to fill in every student's gap in knowledge in a content area. Instead, acceleration focuses on what skills are most important for a student to master the content and scaffold those skills using interventions and learning supports in coordination with the grade-level curriculum.
Learning supports and interventions play a crucial role in successfully implementing an accelerated approach. Based upon universal screening data, learning supports provide scaffolding at the core level to address the most common skill gaps in a classroom.
Research-based interventions provide more targeted and intensive support for students who need extra help mastering grade-level content. Without the combination of data and intervention resources, it’s impossible to deliver differentiated instruction for all student's readiness levels, interests, strengths, and learning preferences required to build up necessary skill sets.
➡️ Related Resource: A Quick Review of MTSS Supports, Interventions, and Accommodations
That’s all fine and dandy, but it doesn’t address the actual “how-to” when selecting these supports and interventions. Let’s take a moment to analyze three considerations when choosing appropriate supports for accelerated learning:
Technology has quickly become a fact of life for educators worldwide. I remember being in the classroom as a secondary teacher and witnessing the quick succession of my trusty whiteboard to an overheating-prone projector to an always-needing-an-update interactive whiteboard. Education and technology have quickly become codependent entities, and the abrupt transition to remote learning in the 2020-2021 school year only solidified this reality.
However, technology does not have to be the enemy. Technology offers the potential to streamline our processes and alleviate the workload of tasks that once consumed the evenings of teachers everywhere. When it comes to implementing MTSS (Multi-Tier System of Supports), technology can be the make or break between a successful system of MTSS or the dreaded next failed initiative.
Let’s take a moment to consider how technology is changing the way we implement MTSS: