When I was a teacher, I would sometimes compare teaching to hosting a dinner party. And as the host, I always want to cook the easiest meal so that when my guests are at my home, I can engage with them.
It’s no surprise to see more states and school districts adopting a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) as their framework for supporting students across academics, social-emotional learning, and behavior for all students. MTSS is a collaborative, evidence-based approach to differentiating and personalizing instruction and intervention for all students.
About two years ago, I was a district administrator for school climate improvement. In this role, I was asked to support a group of administrators that were handling intense behaviors on their campus. The campus had maxed out its intensive support resources, and determined that they had no other option than to create a new tier of support—what they referred to as “Tier 4.”
I have noticed this trend quite often. I hear different variations of this new level of need: “Tier 4,” “deep red,” or even “too many red students.”
What does this mean?
A Multi-Tiered System of Supports is based on the three-tiered public health model. This means that we must identify the root cause(s) within our current system and identify why it’s not serving our student population. By creating an additional tier, we ignore a problem that is perforating our entire system.
There is no Tier 4. However, there is a Tier 2. And this tier is often overlooked in how powerful of an intervention tool it can be.
About six years into my career as a special educator, I attended a child’s study meeting. In this meeting, my 9th-grade student's mother encouraged the team to focus on the student's executive functioning.
Executive functioning? I remember thinking. What is that? I didn’t even know if we taught executive functioning, let alone how to begin supporting it.
I have wanted to be an educator for as long as I can remember. My FAVORITE season is back to school; the pencils, new bulletin boards, clean desks with utility crates in the center filled with markers, scissors, and dictionaries. I doubt that among readers, I am alone in this sentiment.
From my early days as a Special Education teacher to my most recent days as a District-level administrator, I have seen first-hand the impact of "good" communication, lack of communication, miscommunication, and misunderstanding that can occur when meeting with families, and specifically, when discussing Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS). Communicating can be tricky! Are we saying too much? Too little? Are we even on the same page?
I have spent the better part of the last decade providing targeted support to schools, educators, and students requesting advice on improving engagement at their Tier 1 level. Through this experience, I have re-engaged students who are re-entering school after hiatus, coached teachers who faced chronic absenteeism, and helped schools develop infrastructures to support better staff, community, and student engagement.
A Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework uses a problem-solving cycle to monitor and adjust instruction and intervention at three tiers:
An optimal MTSS framework follows the 80-15-5 model, suggesting that our core instruction should meet 80% of our learners' needs. With strong core instruction, 80% of students will not require additional intervention. However, core instruction should be targeted to support all students through the use of differentiation and research-based learning supports. This means Tier 1 targets 100% of students, not just 80% of our students.
However, we can't negate that even with the most effective, evidence-based, validated core instruction, some learners will continue to need targeted and intensive interventions and support plans for some of their needs. When this happens, it's important we identify the student's goal, select an appropriate intervention, develop a support plan, and set frequency and type of monitoring for progress.
One of the most common questions I’ve received over the years has been, "How do I know the intervention I selected will help my student meet the goal?" How do I select the proper intervention once I've set the SMART goal for my student? In other words, you've identified the difference between what was expected of the student (skill) and what is happening, but now what?
The Fuchs Research Group of Peabody College at Vanderbilt University has created hundreds of peer-reviewed articles that help teachers select the best interventions for students. With all that's on your to-do list these days, I wanted to share the top five guidelines from Fuchs' research that will help you align your SMART goals and interventions to optimize student success. A little tip, the more guidelines the intervention meets, the more likely it will maximize student success.