In my first year of teaching, I had a 2nd-grade student named Colton1 who under-performed on both the beginning and middle of the year universal screener assessments. He was deemed at risk of falling behind his grade-level peers.
But this data can only tell part of the story. Because while the data was showing me a clear picture—identifying Colton’s grade-level performance and flagging him as “at-risk—it didn’t capture the whole picture of Colton’s situation.
During grade-level meetings, my team and I discussed possible interventions I could provide for Colton. And during these meetings, I was quick to point out that due to his poor health, and other family health issues, Colton was often absent from school. These absences made it difficult to provide interventions with fidelity.
Beyond his inconsistent attendance, I was also struggling to refine my organizational prowess in tracking interventions. After all, I was a brand new teacher, and some days I was drowning in data. Colton’s absence was an invaluable part of the data tracking needed to make informed decisions about his needs. But I needed a better way to find interventions to target this need and organize this process. Drowning in data wasn’t going to help me or Colton make any progress.
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As educators, we strive to be data-driven in addressing the needs of our students, but we also want to make sure that we are student-centered and consider the context each student brings into the classroom.
We want to use our assessment data to deliver targeted intervention and track student progress, but sometimes it’s a struggle not to get bogged down in the details of documenting. Which intervention did we use? Was it effective? What interventions target this skill? How do I keep track of everything?
Several years after the inaugural teaching year with Colton, I was working as a 5th-grade Learning Specialist. In this position, I worked with a Director of Student Services who introduced our school to the idea of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS).
A Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) is a collaborative, evidence-based approach to differentiating and personalizing instruction and intervention, across academics, behavior, and SEL, for all students. MTSS supports every student so that every student can achieve academic and life success. MTSS relies not just on academic student data but also on behavioral and social-emotional student data to create a more proactive and holistic approach to understanding student needs.
But Jane, our director, didn’t just give us this definition and leave us to figure out the details. She also provided helpful MTSS tools that helped teachers more effectively and efficiently track our strategic efforts to support students.
Track interventions? Stop drowning in data? I was immediately on board.
These MTSS tools made it easier to track the fidelity of implementation when it came to providing interventions, and to analyze if there were other contextual challenges at play when addressing student needs (like the challenges I observed with Colton). One such tool she provided was a student-centered intervention checklist
💡Did you know?
Different MTSS tools can be categorized as intervention checklists, and typically fall into two main categories. One type of intervention checklist is used as a planning tool to implement interventions for students. The other type of intervention checklist is used as a means of tracking the interventions that a teacher has used with a specific student (or small group of students). It can vary in the detail of data it collects, but it is an efficient and effective way to track how a student responded to the interventions, how long the interventions were utilized, and other pertinent information regarding the way a student responded to a given intervention within a Multi-Tiered System of Supports.
Intervention checklists are a tool used to help teachers provide strategic support for students by ensuring that utilized interventions do not end up “wasted” because they have not been properly documented. But it’s not a checklist leading to a final destination. To be effective, it’s a documentation of where you have gone, so you understand where you need to go to best assist a student in reaching their educational goals.
An effective intervention checklist will provide:
Universal screening data quickly identify students who are at risk of falling being their peers (like Colton). These students are provided with an intervention plan by a certified staff member that utilizes targeted, evidence-based interventions to accelerate student learning. It is vital that teachers document which interventions they utilize.
An intervention plan has a SMART goal (Smart, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented, and Time-bound) that addresses the skill gap, a strategic intervention aligned to the goal, and a progress monitoring tool that measures the effectiveness of the intervention in achieving the goal.
Quick Note: A progress monitoring tool should be a short alternative assessment that allows the student to apply the targeted skill outside of the familiarity of both the intervention and grade-level content, and students should be assessed frequently based upon the assessment's guidance.
Once a support plan has been created, an intervention checklist provides a streamlined tool to ensure that the interventions of the plan are carried out consistently. It allows teachers to track the effectiveness of a given intervention.
This checklist creates a historical running record that teachers can reflect on and reference during grade-level meetings to determine if students need more intensive interventions or if they can scale back the interventions.
The most effective intervention checklists will provide space to track student information, the SMART goal, information about the intervention, how often it will be used, who will teach or monitor the implementation of the intervention, and space to record daily or weekly updates on student progress (based off data from a progress monitoring assessment tool).
Anyone searching online for “intervention checklist” will undoubtedly get thousands of hits. Although it might be easy to download the first option appearing on your search list, it’s important to check to make sure that the checklist is properly aligned with MTSS processes.
For example, some student-centered intervention checklists may only provide a list of possible interventions and space for a teacher to record intervention documentation.
While this information is useful, it does not necessarily help a teaching team make informed decisions about the next steps in meeting the needs of a specific learner. This checklist lacks the space to capture contextual questions we might ask as to why or why not an intervention is effective (for example, information about student engagement with the intervention and their progress monitoring scores).
So, how do you select an effective intervention checklist? Look for the following qualities in each tool you review:
Sound like a lot? No worries, I’ve done the digging for you. The National Center on Intensive Intervention at the American Institutes For Research provides an excellent example of an intervention checklist.
This is just one example of an intervention checklist, but it provides an outline of important information to include. This type of checklist is more effective than the other examples because it provides
This holistic approach to data collection is closely aligned to the basic tenets of MTSS, which seek to support student academic and life success.
Beyond providing a simple and effective organizational tool for teachers to capture student data, an intervention checklist is a running record that can be invaluable when evaluating a given student's needs. It can also provide insight into intervention effectiveness, identify possible errors in targeted skill areas, and evaluate the usage of certain intervention programs.
Intervention checklists can be used and understood by grade-level teams, academic support teams, and school leadership. These checklists are particularly useful if a student is being recommended for additional special education services screening. This additional data can provide further insight into a student’s needs and document interventions that have been effective.
In short, intervention checklists help align quantitative student data with qualitative data so that student needs are addressed not only from the context of “this child is at risk due to these test scores” but also from the context of student engagement and teacher observations.
My director did not use the intervention checklist from the National Center on Intensive Intervention, but the checklist she provided asked many of the same questions.
In addition to providing space for teacher observation, I recorded answers to these questions each week to track what made the implementation of the intervention successful (or not). Having this tool made it much easier to communicate about our students’ needs because we, as a team, were tracking the steps we were taking to meet our students’ needs. We were linking what the data was telling us about our students to the observations we were making as well.
Manually finding a checklist to meet MTSS needs, documenting all of this information, and ensuring we kept up with each checklist for every student meant that our intervention documentation was effective but not fully efficient. This is where an MTSS Management System, like Branching Minds, can come in handy in supporting educator workload and maintaining MTSS fidelity.
An MTSS platform can document all of the data we mentioned today, but also provide a documentation tool for assessment data, data analysis tools for selecting appropriate interventions, logging family communications, recording meeting notes, and accessing robust reports that can provide insight on district, school, class-level needs. An MTSS Management platform helps educators and leaders maintain documentation of interventions and more.
Key takeaways from this article:
1 Name Changed
Supports, modifications, and accommodations for students. Center for Parent Information and Resources. (2020, March). Retrieved April 2022, from https://www.parentcenterhub.org/accommodations/
Other intervention resources you may find helpful:
The most comprehensive and instructive library of evidence-based learning supports of any MTSS platform
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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Kismet Lantos-Swett is a Branching Minds Educational Consultant based in Chicago, IL. Kismet has served students, educators, and leaders through various roles throughout her career including as a classroom teacher, learning specialist, literacy interventionist, and as a Leadership for Educational Equity Fellow in the Rhode Island Department of Education. She is passionate about helping teachers feel empowered to have a strengths-based mindset in supporting their students so that students can grow and find success in a safe, curious, and compassionate environment. Kismet has both a Masters of Education in education, policy and management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Masters of Teaching in Elementary Education from Marian University.