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.
An intervention is a program or a set of steps to help students improve in a specific area of need. Interventions can provide support with academic, behavioral, and/or social-emotional needs. The students requiring intervention plans are identified through universal screening data and benchmarks. Additional diagnostic assessments help narrow down which specific skills to target in an intervention plan to help students achieve grade-level mastery.
Most intervention plans span a period of weeks, with progress monitoring occurring every week or every two weeks depending on a student’s level of need and progress. Progress monitors assess a student’s progress towards the attainment of a SMART goal, which is the guiding foundation of each specific intervention plan. SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) set the standard used to measure progress and determine growth.
Progress monitors measure a student’s progress in mastering the specific skill of the intervention plan, and these data points are used to determine if a student is on track for reaching their SMART goal within the intervention plan's timeline. Interventions are the strategies, tools, and programs used to aid a student in mastering a skill. Interventions should always be research-based to ensure there is evidence for addressing each student’s specific learning needs.
➡️ Related Resource: A Quick Review of MTSS Supports, Interventions, and Accommodations
Sound like a lot? It really isn’t. When broken down, an intervention plan follows a similar model that teachers use every day to guide their instruction. As teachers, we have established the best practice of defining a standard that we target for our students each day. This standard guides the content and instruction we deliver, and then we incorporate formative assessments to measure student learning at the end of each lesson or unit.
Intervention plans take that model and narrow it down to a more targeted skill and measurable standard, applying the approach to a smaller group of students or an individual. On a larger scale, keeping track of all of this data can be difficult, but that is where an MTSS software, like Branching Minds, can come in handy and be a big time-saver.
So, we use screener data to create our SMART goal, select the perfect intervention to target a specific skill, and dive into the schedule of weekly progress monitoring. Now, we start asking ourselves, “How do we know if the plan is working?”
➡️ Check out this MTSS Intervention Process Flowchart
Progress monitors provide the data points needed to determine if students are showing progress on their intervention plan. These points are about the established goal attained from a SMART goal. Once there are at least three data points, we can begin to calculate the Rate of Improvement (ROI) of an intervention plan. ROI identifies whether a student is responding to instruction and intervention, and can be calculated based on peer expectations of growth, growth required to meet targeted goals, and attained progress monitoring data. Simply put, ROI is the change that we see overtime during an intervention plan.
Several types of ROI need to be considered when analyzing intervention performance.
By placing this information into one graph, educators can determine if a student is demonstrating success in their intervention plan. While this data can be plotted by hand, Branching Minds provides a visualization tool on our platform that aids educators in understanding ROI and data trends. This makes it easier for teachers to quickly assess if a change needs to be made to an intervention plan. Here are some examples of how ROI can be graphed in an MTSS software program, such as Branching Minds.
Panic. I’m just joking, but that always feels like the first response. Between frustration and confusion, it is easy to feel overwhelmed when a student isn’t showing the progress we anticipated. However, when we utilize research-based interventions and standardized progress monitors, we are ensuring that we have the capabilities to quickly assess and pivot to get a plan back on track. Let’s look at a couple of scenarios and see some courses of action we can take:
In this scenario, a large group of students is not showing progress in their intervention plan, specifically for reading. When so many students are showing no progress, this means we have a problem with something larger than just our interventions. It’s time to take a step back and evaluate our core instruction. By asking ourselves the following questions, we can assess our core instruction:
In this scenario, our student shows that the intervention plan is showing some success, just not at the rate we need to meet that target ROI. In this case, we can determine that the intervention we are using is correct; however, the delivery needs to be adjusted. One first step we can take is to determine if all the intervention time allotted is being used. Has the student been absent? Has the intervention been skipped due to interruptions or holidays? This is where tracking the usage of interventions comes in handy. While you can track intervention usage by hand, the Branching Minds’ platform can keep track of all intervention plans, intervention times, meetings, assessment data, and communication–making a one-stop-shop for easy MTSS fidelity.
If the research-based intervention plan has been delivered with fidelity, the student might require a more intensive intervention schedule. We can increase the intervention time and continue to monitor progress data to determine if this helps address the need. Whenever we change an intervention plan (such as increasing interventions), it’s also best to increase the rate at which we monitor progress to quickly assess our data. If this student plan called for progress to be monitored every two weeks, we could begin to monitor him every week to determine if this change was successful.
➡️ Related Resource: Aligning SMART Goals to the Just-Right MTSS Interventions
In this scenario, we’ve flat-lined. We have a student showing no growth (or very little growth), even though we are using research-based interventions and standardized progress monitors. In this situation, it helps to reassess the interventions and skills we are utilizing to ensure that they meet the student's needs. Some questions to ask include:
➡️ Related Resource: Intervention Planning in MTSS: How to Balance Best Practices and Feasibility
MTSS intervention plans follow the same philosophy that we utilize during reflective teaching. Reflective teaching allows educators to think about lessons they have observed (or taught) and analyze instructional techniques. Through this reflection, we can self-assess our own instructional practice and consider areas of strength and growth.
We are constantly looking at our data to drive decision-making and make proactive adjustments to fit the needs of our students. As teachers, we depend on our assessment data to provide feedback on our instruction and guide us in where we need to reteach or move forward. Intervention plans require the same reflection and feedback. The scenarios above only provide a brief sampling of the variety of situations an educator can encounter during MTSS. However, three actionable steps can pave the way forward. When encountering plans showing no progress, reflect on the following:
It’s easy to get swallowed up in feelings of frustration and defeat when our students continue to struggle with content even with interventions in place. At times, closing the gap for students can feel like an insurmountable mountain at times, and we don’t know how to take the first steps. However, an intervention plan showing no progress does not mean we have failed; it’s an opportunity to take a step back and consider our processes.
In every classroom and every school, time has become our main source of currency. MTSS is an invaluable process to lead students on the pathway to success, but doing it all by hand can be very time-consuming. Branching Minds helps educators gain back their time, by doing the data-tracking for you, allowing everyone a little bit more breathing time and a little less panic time.
And remember, there is always a path forward—we just have to be willing to do a bit of detective work along the way.
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.
Want to learn more?
Mollie Breese is the former Content Manager at Branching Minds. She helped streamline the support library, so schools can identify and access the interventions they need to support student success. She researched the newest strategies, activities, and programs to add to the robust library, providing a wealth of resources for partner schools. Prior to joining Branching Minds, Mollie worked in the classroom as an English teacher, Reading teacher, and ESL instructor. Mollie earned her B.A. in Political Science from the University of Missouri, and her M.A. in English Literature from the University of Glasgow.