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    MTSS for Secondary

    As a former MTSS coordinator, I always anxiously awaited universal screener results. I wanted to know every single student who needed support and interventions. Optimistically, I believed that once all students on my high school campus had been identified as needing additional support, we, as a school community, would quickly begin creating interventions and support plans to ensure all of our students were successful. 

      Foundational support is support implemented to fill gaps within the student's foundational skills deficits.

    But as my late great uncle would often say, "Optimism only goes so far, then comes reality." The reality is that when a student has been identified as needing Tier 3 foundational support (foundational support is support implemented to fill gaps within the student's foundational skills deficits) at the high school level, there is typically a state of confusion and frustration by all stakeholders. I have found that the initial questions asked by my colleagues usually were: 

    1. "How could this student make it this far without the support they need?"
    2. "How are we going to help this student?"

    The answers to these questions will vary vastly from student to student, making it difficult for educators to not only answer these questions but to create and implement plans of support with fidelity for each student. 

    Why Students Make It to High School Without Being Identified and/or Receiving the Right Support

    As secondary educators, we want to identify students who need support as early as possible (the goal is to identify support needs at the primary level); however, we don’t always have that opportunity. The following are all common reasons why students make it to the secondary level or high school without being identified and/or receiving the data-driven support and interventions they need to be successful:

    • Lack of universal screening is to identify students in need.
    • Educators are working in silos, instead of in collaborative teams to support students.
    • Every year, students have new teachers with little or no background knowledge of previous work, prior observations, interventions, etc., and the student's historical background information is virtually unknown and not shared with the new teacher. Essentially, the work to identify student needs and create intervention/support starts anew annually.
    • The whole child (academics, behavior, social-emotional, attendance) is not considered and/or supported.
    • Student data is not being used to make decisions on which researched-based interventions are actually needed. 
    • Research-based interventions have not been implemented and/or have not been implemented to fidelity. 
    • Retention is used instead of acceleration (the adaptation of instruction in which curriculum standards are prioritized based on the learning needs of students). 
    • There is a lack of resources for teachers, parents, and students.

    Although the identification of learning needs may come later than we would hope, the goal is still to provide the student with effective support to ensure their success. 

    Utilizing MTSS in High Schools

    Fortunately, I have learned throughout my experience in high schools that when educators are trained in MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports), a framework that helps educators identify students' academic, behavioral, and social-emotional strengths and challenges and provide differentiated support for students based on their needs, students can get support and the interventions they need to succeed. Furthermore, when educators have access to an online MTSS platform like Branching Minds, at-risk students are identified systematically, making it much less likely that a struggling student would get to high school without a plan.

    After students are identified, we as educators begin to answer the following question: "How do we help our students at the high school level who have been identified as needing foundational support?"  

    Before we can answer this question, we must consider the two main barriers to implementing MTSS in high schools, which are instructional and logistical

    • Instructional challenges are related to a lack of resources to improve core instruction, a system for identifying effective intervention, and/or building capacity for implementation (Anderson et al., 2021; Epler, 2019a; Marlowe, 2021)
    • Logistical challenges arise with scheduling (protected time for educators to implement MTSS effectively and with fidelity), staffing, and space.

    These difficulties cannot continue to prohibit us from providing foundational support to our students who need it the most. Planning for these challenges empowers us to avoid and/or overcome them without more learning loss or missed opportunities for our students. We can do this by ensuring the following four pillars for secondary MTSS success are evident and active on our campuses. 

    Four Foundational Pillars for Secondary MTSS Success


    Ensure Instruction is Engaging and of High-Quality

    MTSS includes a continuum (Tier 1, 2, and 3) of integrated academic, social, emotional and behavioral, instructional and intervention supports that are evidence-based and culturally and linguistically responsive. 

    Ensuring that instruction is engaging and of high quality for all students begins by gauging the effectiveness and health of your campus's Tier 1 core instruction (the Branching Minds platform organizes data to inform this conversation into a Tier Movement Report). If the majority of your students are not successful with the current Tier 1 core instruction and differentiation, then it is safe to predict that students who need foundational support at Tier 2 or Tier 3 are not going to be successful either. 

    Tier 1 instruction should be universally designed, considering all students' needs and areas of strength. The details may look different from school to school or district to district, but the impact level of effective core instruction is that at least 80% of students respond successfully without needing additional support. This means that some campuses or districts need to offer a higher, more intense level of Tier 1 universal instruction than others. If you have greater needs on your campus, or more than 20% of your students need intervention, you will want to immediately address ICEL (instruction, curriculum, environment, the learner) to determine if your core needs a recharge. Additional resources on ICEL can be found here in this ICEL Guide.

    Differentiated Core Instruction (utilizing instructional strategies based on varying readiness levels, interests, strengths, and learning preferences) should also be high-quality within Tier 1 to provide equitable access to core instruction and curriculum. When data-driven differentiated instruction is aligned with standards, it is engaging and culturally relevant. Educators are tasked with delivering differentiated supports, such as small group instruction, scaffolding, mini-lessons, activities with varying degrees of rigor, and much, much more. 

    Reading comprehension strategies can be particularly helpful across content areas. Here are 5 Practical Reading Comprehension Strategies for Secondary Students that can help make core instruction more accessible to ALL students. 



    Accelerated Learning

    Being intentional about accelerating students' learning is necessary to support students who need foundational support. It is crucial to utilize research-based interventions to provide more targeted and intensive support for students who need extra help mastering content, foundational, or social skills. 

    Acceleration provides students with the means to master the content they missed in prior years by focusing on essential "need to knows" in combination with their current grade level content. "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." (Breese, 2022)

    Having data available to see and know what specific foundational skills students are lacking allows educators to make plans and implement interventions that target the deficit effectively. As much as possible, provide intervention for students who need foundational support within their grade level content and/or social realm. It is helpful to have assessment data and a tool such as the Branching Minds Insight Survey to pinpoint specific deficits and identify interventions to address those gaps. Don't remediate, accelerate!


    Implement Culturally & Age Appropriate Interventions

    Accelerating learning is only impactful when interventions are research-based, time specific, and aligned with the individual student's deficit. Interventions must also be culturally appropriate, age-appropriate, and thus respectful to the student. 

    High school students who are behind in mastering content must be treated with dignity and respect. The reality is that, as previously mentioned, the goal is to identify students' needs at the primary level. As a result, many available resources and supports are tailored to primary students, thus forcing educators to modify and tailor resources to meet the needs of their secondary students with primary resources. 

    Giving students who need foundational support at the high school level interventions designed for elementary students or students with different cultural backgrounds will only disengage and/or discourage students. 

    If you or educators on your campus struggle to find interventions that are researched based on grade level, age, and culturally appropriate, utilizing the library of research-based interventions with the Branching Minds platform would be ideal. The library of interventions gives access to hundreds of evidence-based intervention programs, so that if your school or district has purchased those resources they can be added to the student’s intervention plan on Branching Minds, as well as nearly a thousand free evidence-based strategies, activities, and resources that can be added to a student’s intervention plan.


    Maximizing Student Schedules

    No matter which approach or platform you use, remember that maximizing students' time while implementing research-based and respectful interventions is crucial to high school students' success. Start by intentionally creating students' schedules with protected time for implementing interventions that will accelerate their learning and provide intensive support. 

    Here are some suggested ways to maximize the student's time within the school day:

    • Learning labs are held as electives or during lunch for reteaching and support in completing work, retaking assessments, and/or study skills.
    • Add “Learn and Lunch” to the lunchtime schedule. “Learn and Lunch” is a focused lunch period where students eat while receiving acceleration and support. You can also enhance the “Learn and Lunch” by allowing for social choice in seating, if possible and appropriate. Social selection in seating will work to develop their social skills, hold them accountable to be responsible while still having a choice, give them a peer partner accountability, and meet some of their social and emotional needs.
    • Ensure advisory time is focused on academic support and behavioral and/or social-emotional instruction.
    • Double Blocked Courses: Students are scheduled for a double block of core instruction or report for intervention in place of an elective class.
    • Partitioning instructional time within long class blocks to include both instruction and intervention.  
    • Create Mentorship Meetings: Students receiving Tier 3 support have regularly scheduled meetings with a strategically assigned mentor to work on Social and Emotional Learning, Behavior, and/or Academic instruction. Mentors and mentees should have similar backgrounds and interests, and this can be revealed by utilizing an interest survey. A mentor can be an older peer, an educator in the building, or an outside stakeholder that has gone through proper screening to safely work with students. 

    Supporting students who need foundational support at the high school level is challenging; however, it can and must be done! 

    • Ensure that Tier 1 instruction is engaging and of high quality for all students 
    • Accelerate instruction to address specific foundational deficits 
    • Design interventions that are culturally engaging, age-appropriate, and respectful.
    • Maximize instructional time with intentional scheduling.  

    High school students with foundational needs can get the help they need to be successful academically, socially emotionally, and behaviorally. These foundational supports will also help establish a strong MTSS culture on your campus and throughout your school community, putting success for ALL students at the center of what you do. 

    For additional information on establishing a thriving MTSS culture, please also read How to Establish a Supportive & Successful MTSS Culture.

    Four Foundational Pillars for Secondary MTSS Success

    Resources For Using MTSS at the Secondary Level:

     MTSS in Secondary Schools: Major Challenges, and How to Overcome Them
    Implementing MTSS at the Secondary Level: Answering 4 Common Questions
    Best Practices for Tier 1 For the Secondary Level
    Progress Monitoring for MTSS at the Secondary Level
    Watch Dr. Mark Shinn's MTSS Summit 2021 Presentation: Secondary MTSS That Makes Sense

    Branching Minds Strengthens MTSS in Secondary Schools

    A strong MTSS at the secondary level develops a positive school culture, strengthens data-driven instruction, achieves equity of student support, and ensures a pathway to graduation and greater success in life.

    Branching Minds helps by addressing the specific needs of the secondary educator to:

    • See the whole student picture (academics, behavior, SEL, and more) with one click
    • Ensure the use of accurate and reliable sources of data to make meaningful changes to instruction at every tier
    • Reliably identify students in need of academic, attendance, and engagement support, including those at risk of dropping out 
    • Save time accessing curated research-based secondary resources to support differentiation
    • Save effort finding students with shared needs, designing group and individual support plans, and making decisions about student progress
    • Seamlessly collaborate and share data across teams, across years
    • Easily log interventions, supports, student progress, meetings, and plans

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    Breese, M. (n.d.). 6 Research-Based Interventions for Writing. https://www.branchingminds.com/blog. Retrieved September 1, 2022, from https://www.branchingminds.com/blog/interventions-for-writing

    Epler, P. (2019). Teacher Insight on RTI Implementation at the Middle and High School Levels: A Comparative Case Study. In Epler, P.L., Advanced Strategies and Models for Integrating RTI in Secondary Schools (pp. 238-255). IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-5225-8322-6.ch012 

    Marlowe, A. (2021). Multi-Tiered System of Supports: A Case Study Examining Effective MTSS Implementation at the Middle School Level. Doctor of Education Dissertations. 36. https://digitalcommons.gardner-webb.edu/education-dissertations/36


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    Tagged: MTSS for Secondary

    October 11, 2022

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