It is early October in Des Moines, Iowa. Educators at Smithfield Elementary School have just finished administering the universal screeners they use for Reading, Math, and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). The MTSS team now has the school’s beginning of year (BOY) baseline data they need to evaluate their progress in helping all students succeed.
The team gathers to review the data. Ms. Powell poses the first guiding question of the meeting: Is our core instruction supporting 80% of our students (i.e., are 80% of students on grade level)?
As the MTSS team reviews the BOY data, they notice three alarming trends:
Smithfield Elementary School is just beginning to understand the power and importance of systematically reviewing this baseline data to determine the need for school-wide, Tier 1 intervention. They know that the educators who have been involved with Response to Intervention (RtI) are familiar with Tier 2 (Targeted) and Tier 3 (Intensive) interventions. But as they make the shift to a comprehensive MTSS framework, how do they support teachers with understanding what Tier 1 interventions are and how to choose the ones that are considered “high-leverage?”
First, a little background. Tier 1 is general instruction for all students and is designed to provide access to grade-level curriculum. All students are part of core instruction, and intervention is in addition to standards-based instruction. MTSS is a prevention framework; instructional strategies at Tier 1 are intended to build on student strengths and create a foundation for further learning and achievement.
MTSS decisions at the Tier 1 building level are focused on balancing the needs of the entire student population as well as resources available to the building. Critical areas for teams to examine include identification of student needs and the effectiveness of the core instruction or the instruction that all students receive every day.
In Smithfield Elementary’s case, an intervention might be a program they adopt to support particular skill development. Or, an intervention might be a change in instructional approach, such as a double-dose of explicit systematic instruction.
This graphic from Portland Public Schools helps us visualize a compendium of supports at each Tier level. Notice that the Tier 1 supports are research-based, high-leverage practices that support all students, not just a few. In addition, this pyramid places Tier 1 at the top instead of the bottom (inverted) to place the emphasis and focus on all students.
Portland Public Schools (Oregon) Inverted MTSS Pyramid of Student Supports
Related Resource: What is Tier 1 Enrichment and Support?
An MTSS Problem-solving Approach relies on the use of evidence-based curricula that is taught in a consistent manner (valid and reliable). It is assumed that effective and research-based instruction already occurs in the general education classroom for all students. Universal screener data and the Problem-solving Approach both help us determine when a Tier 1 intervention is necessary for most or all students.
This graphic explains the problem-solving process that schools undertake to determine when/if a Tier 1 intervention is necessary:
In the case of Smithfield elementary, the reading data revealed that fluency scores in grades 3-5 had been dipping for 3 years (identify the problem). In reviewing opportunities for students to practice fluency across content areas (analyze the problem), members of the leadership team deduced that students did not have enough opportunity during the school day to build automaticity and fluency in reading. So they went in search of a high-leverage fluency intervention that could help students build automaticity at multiple levels.
The term “high-leverage” indicates a “proven” intervention that has evidence and data to support claims of effectiveness. Evidence-based interventions came into practice under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The goal of ESSA is to help increase the impact of educational investments by ensuring that interventions being implemented have proven to be effective in leading to desired outcomes, namely improving student achievement.
Evidence-based interventions are practices or programs that demonstrate effectiveness at producing results and improving outcomes when implemented, thus “high-leverage.” The kind of evidence described in ESSA has generally been produced through formal studies and research. Under ESSA, there are four tiers, or levels, of evidence:
Level 1 – Strong Evidence: supported by one or more well-designed and well-implemented randomized control experimental studies.
Level 2 – Moderate Evidence: supported by one or more well-designed and well-implemented quasi-experimental studies.
Level 3 – Promising Evidence: supported by one or more well-designed and well-implemented correlational studies (with statistical controls for selection bias).
Level 4 – Demonstrates a Rationale: practices that have a well-defined logic model or theory of action, are supported by research, and have some effort underway by an SEA, LEA, or outside research organization to determine their effectiveness.
When the MTSS team at Smithfield Elementary is intentional about making sure teachers are choosing interventions with strong or moderate levels of evidence, they are supporting educators in knowing how to choose Tier 1 interventions that have solid data behind their effectiveness for all students.
Smithfield Elementary decided to implement a practice across grades 3-5 that improves automaticity at the letter, word, and text level and increases reading comprehension called Repeated Reading.
They evaluated the research and meta-analysis of Repeated Reading by Theirran (2004) and found the following information:
The ESSA evidence for programs assured the leadership team that the intervention met the criteria for a high leverage intervention. They created a plan to introduce Repeated Reading to all teachers of students in grades 3-5.
The Smith Elementary Team reviewed the IES Practice Guide for Mathematics and decided to improve their 3rd graders’ computational fluency by following Recommendation 6: Interventions at all grade levels should devote about 10 minutes in each session to building fluent retrieval of basic arithmetic facts. They reviewed the ESSA evidence level for Imagine Math Facts, an online program that provides students with activities and lessons to develop math fluency and automaticity. The program focuses on basic math skills, such as multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. Research studies have shown the program to have strong positive effects on elementary students' math fact fluency. So they decided to introduce the use of this online program as part of their morning routine for all students.
Related Resource: The Top 10 High-Leverage Math Strategies Used in 2020
This graphic from PENT at the California Department of Education MTSS graphic contains positive behavior and emotional supports for achieving important social and learning outcomes. The visualization helps educators recognize the diverse range of high-leverage, evidence-based interventions recommended for each Tier level.
Smithfield Elementary recognized from the DESSA data that their 2nd graders needed support in Self-Management. They decided to adopt a program called Competent Kids, Caring Communities to increase student self-efficacy in the targeted competency. Competent Kids, Caring Communities is considered an evidence-based SELect program by the Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL): http://www.casel.org/guide/programs They set aside time during their Morning Meeting every day to deliver the lessons in the program. They also decided to send home the weekly activity sheet for parents to be partners in progress.
In summary, now that they are equipped with these evidence-based, high-leverage Tier 1 interventions for each targeted area, the Smith Elementary MTSS team is confident their next data review will show improvement in scores!
Reading Fluency Intervention Strategies to Build Automaticity at Multiple Levels. Roxanne Hudson, Ph.D. University of Washington. https://www2.ed.gov/programs/readingfirst/2008conferences/reading.pdf
California Department of Education: Evidence -based Interventions Under the ESSA. https://www.cde.ca.gov/re/es/evidence.asp
Rubric for Tier 1 Intervention from Center on MTSS at the American Institutes for Research https://wyominginstructionalnetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/WY-WAVE-Tier-1-HLPs-and-EBPs-HANDOUTS.pdf
Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS); PENT, California Department of Education http://www.pent.ca.gov/mt/mtss.html
Assisting Students Struggling with Mathematics: Response to Intervention (RtI) for Elementary and Middle Schools, 2009. https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/PracticeGuide/rti_math_pg_042109.pdf
Imagine Math Facts, https://www.imaginelearning.com/math/math-facts
The DESSA Comprehensive SEL System; https://apertureed.com/products-solutions/dessa-system-2/
Library of Hundreds of RTI/MTSS Evidence-Based Learning Supports
Branching Minds has the most comprehensive and instructive library of evidence-based learning supports of any MTSS platform. Our supports include hundreds of paid evidence-based intervention programs, as well as nearly a thousand free evidence-based strategies, activities, and resources. For each of these supports, BRM helps educators understand what the support is, why and for whom it should be used, how it should be delivered, and connects them to the supporting research and additional material.
Our learning science team has curated these resources from the most trusted and respected hubs of evidence-based supports, including the Florida Center for Reading Research, What Works Clearinghouse, Evidence for ESSA, Intervention Central, the IRIS Center from Vanderbilt University, Harmony SEL; and, each one has been reviewed and categorized based on the ESSA tiers of evidence guidelines.
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Susan is one of the Branching Minds consultants. Her passion is working with school leaders and teams to implement high quality curriculum and transform systems (RtI/MTSS). She loves strategic planning and compensates for that with beach-combing and occasional oil painting.