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.
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.
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?”
How to Use Progress Monitoring Data to Measure Rate of Improvement
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.
Typical ROI: This is the measured change between benchmarks at a national level. Typical ROI provides a point of reference to understand where a student needs to perform to meet grade-level expectations by the end of a benchmark period.
Target ROI: This is the predicted goal line required to meet a SMART goal within the time frame of an intervention plan.
Attained ROI: This is the realized trend line calculated from a student’s progress monitor data.
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.
What to Do if an MTSS Intervention Plan is Showing No Progress
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:
Scenario 1: 70% of 10th-grade students show no progress in their reading intervention plans.
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:
Is our core instruction being implemented with fidelity?
Have we used current data to drive our instruction and determine student needs?
Are we differentiating our core instruction to target large gaps of knowledge exhibited by most of our students?
Are we using our universal screener data to identify these larger gaps of knowledge then adjusting our instruction to fit the needs of our current class?
Scenario 2: A student is showing some progress, but is not nearly where he needs to be to meet his SMART goal.
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.
Scenario 3: A student has shown no progress in his intervention plan and continues to struggle with core instruction.
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:
Does the intervention match the target skill?
Does our diagnostic data clearly show which skill our student needs support in?
Is there a more foundational skill our student is lacking?
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:
Evaluate core instruction
Determine if more support is needed (such as a move to Tier 3)
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.
Mollie Breese is the Content Manager at Branching Minds. She helps streamline the support library, so schools can identify and access the interventions they need to support student success. She researches 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.