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.
COVID-19 and Education Technology
For the past year and a half, the education industry has faced a vast wave of changes as instruction rapidly transitioned online. Since the spring of 2020, when everyone was suddenly required to teach and attend class virtually, the response to COVID-19 has placed significant stress on teachers and schools.
As with any industry that is asked to adapt quickly, schools and educators can struggle to keep up with new standards regarding cloud security and data privacy. But even before the pandemic, student data and school technology systems were most likely not as safe as they could have been.
As a result of the transition from in-person to remote and hybrid learning and back again, the need to clearly understand your students’ data protection has never been more critical. As schools integrate MTSS into their framework, data is significant to its functioning, and protecting that data should be a top priority. Branching Minds wants to ensure that schools are taking the necessary precautions when handling student data. Here are five questions to consider about your school’s protection of student data:
Question #1: Does My School or District Adhere to FERPA Guidelines?
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), which is also known as the Buckley Amendment, is a U.S. federal law that protects the privacy of students’ educational records. Those records include personally identifiable information (PII) of underage students and adults over 18 enrolled in educational programs. Violation of that privacy can put schools in sticky predicaments, so enforcing proper security policies should be a priority.
This question is perhaps the most important to ask your school and district, as it can help you determine where to put your resources and figure out the security problems.
Branching Minds is authorized by schools and districts under the FERPA “school official” exception to receive and use educational data to provide educational services. This data has significant educational value, enabling teachers to identify students’ cognitive learning strengths and challenges, match them with research-backed learning supports, and track and report data on student growth. This information is used only for academic purposes. Branching Minds does not collect data for collection’s sake, and access is limited and appropriate.
Question #2: Does My School or District Work With Secure Third and Fourth-Party Vendors?
Under FERPA, schools and districts are responsible for their chosen vendors’ student data. The school would still be at fault if a vendor intentionally or accidentally misuses students’ education records. The schools and districts are held accountable for any possible violation of student privacy.
This can sound scary, but it’s more about ensuring your school and district only use vendors who have vigilant Data Privacy Practices.
The Branching Minds platform is designed from the ground up to support FERPA compliance. Our platform contains sufficient security to restrict access to individually identifiable student and personnel data based on each user’s defined roles. We utilize a permission system to ensure that student data is accessible to teachers working with that student.
Branching Minds is designed to give administrators the freedom to restrict staff access to student information and ensure that student and staff data is protected according to all FERPA requirements. Conversely, administrators can access all data at the campus and district levels, depending on their access level. We monitor all Branching Minds vendors on an ongoing basis to ensure they utilize industry-standard privacy precautions.
➡️ Related Resource: How to Create a Seamless Data-Driven School Culture Through MTSS
Question #3: Does My School Use Technology—Databases, Systems, Apps, and Other Tools—With the Highest Standards of Encryption?
The key to protecting your school’s data is encryption. According to the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency,
“In very basic terms, encryption is a way to send a message in code. The only person who can decode the message is the person with the correct key; to anyone else, the message looks like a random series of letters, numbers, and characters. Encryption is especially important if you are trying to send sensitive information that other people should not be able to access. Because email messages are sent over the internet and might be intercepted by an attacker, it is important to add an additional layer of security to sensitive information.”
As time goes on, districts and schools are using more cloud-based apps to communicate and facilitate remote learning. At Branching Minds, all data is encrypted in transit and at rest. Strong encryption protects data as it moves through your organization to ensure the highest viable levels of security. Learn more about the specifics of data encryption here.
➡️ Related Resource: 5 Considerations When Selecting an RTI/MTSS Intervention Management Software
Question #4: Does My School Use Secure Cloud-Based Tools?
When schools vet new tools, functionality is often the first concern and security the second.
Some apps, platforms, and tools aren’t obviously under the cloud security umbrella—such as learning management systems (LMS) where teachers can post assignments and instructions, link to resources, or use tools for emails or newsletters. These apps, platforms, and tools can lead to potential data loss if they aren’t correctly secured.
When considering a new technology tool, a few things to check on are information or account retention, privacy policies, encryption, sharing settings, and data storage. First, if tools don’t look safe on the surface, be skeptical and investigate to ensure student data is protected.
Branching Minds uses an internal Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) site called Branching Minds Cloud (cloud.branchingminds.com) to transfer student and assessment data. SFTP’s network protocols provide file access, transfer, and management over a reliable data stream. The Branching Minds Cloud site is hosted on our internal servers, with the files residing within our secure SFTP.
Branching Minds also supports the use of a secure SFTP connection to send student and assessment data. Districts wishing to automate the sending of their manual assessment files on a nightly basis can utilize this option. This SFTP is set up by Branching Minds, and the credentials are either sent via a Branching Minds Cloud link or relayed over the phone, but cannot be sent via email.
Question #5: Does My School Need to Be Following Any Other Data Privacy Laws and Regulations?
The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) of 1978 (also known as the Hatch Amendment) is a law intended to protect the rights of pupils and their parents in programs funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) is a U.S. federal law protecting children’s privacy under 13 years of age. (Read more about how Branching Minds adheres to COPPA standards here.)
PPRA and COPPA include strict parental notice and consent requirements on how underage students’ data should be gathered, shared, and used within a school or district.
Even with FERPA, PPRA, and COPPA compliance under control, your school or district might still have some security gaps. The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy has a wealth of information and resources dedicated to helping parents and educators create more secure digital environments for students.
➡️ Related Resource: Webinar - Using Screening Data to Tier Students for RTI/MTSS
As we all know, not everything is figured out overnight, but staying aware of secure technology best practices can help your school protect precious student data. Utilizing technology and student data in your MTSS practice can be the make or break between success and failure. We live in a rapidly evolving technological world, but when used correctly—technology can enhance our educational frameworks and support more and more students on their pathways to success. Learn more about How Technology is Improving the Way We Implement MTSS.
Content adapted from:
Best Practices on Interpreting Assessment Data
Thursday, January 27, 2022, at 1 PM ET / 10 AM PT
A robust system of MTSS relies on a systematic data collection process. The data we use to drive our decision-making is derived from the array of assessments included under the umbrella of MTSS. Join the Branching Minds team for an hour of learning, as we break down the role of assessments in MTSS, and how to use assessment data as feedback to interventions and instruction.