In these stressful times of seeing more struggling students in need of Tier 2 and Tier 3 support, it's easy to glance over Tier 1 needs by thinking they are sufficient. Often times an overview of the data will lead us to believe this common thought, however skimming over Tier 1 data is causing us to miss key red flags that push our numbers of Tier 2 and Tier 3 even higher.
We can address this concern with some “Best Practices” and procedures built into how we meet the needs of all our students. Utilizing data and applying differentiated practices are two critical components to success with all of our students.
It is risky to assume that teachers know what to look for in this age of massive amounts of available data. Do they truly understand what the numbers mean and how to break them down into usable pieces? We must begin by supporting teachers with data analysis skills.
Take the time to sit down with individuals and grade levels to assist in the analysis process and help guide educators in determining specific sub-skills lacking for their students. Often educators are overwhelmed by too much data and guidance is needed to filter down and extract the information necessary to make the best instructional decisions.
Do a quick review of daily schedules. Is there a time set aside for teachers to work with the data? A designated time to come together to do a deep data dive is a critical component of data analysis. Are there ample opportunities for teachers to collaborate?
This work is challenging and educators need each other to help make sense of the data and carry the load. As leaders, it is our responsibility to make sure teachers not only understand and respond to the data appropriately but also have quality time to analyze data.
As in most classrooms, teachers have a variety of learners on a variety of levels and we ask teachers to differentiate instruction for all students across all of the tiers. We need to do the same with teachers to model expectations for what needs to happen with the children in our care.
If you are not aware of the data analysis skills of your staff, send out a simple survey explaining your efforts to differentiate your support to them appropriately. Depending on the experiences and the culture on your campus, the first few times you conduct a survey, you may not get transparent, honest answers, but over time teachers will see that your efforts are intended to meet their needs so that they can support their students. Our experiences as building principals, for over 30 years combined, has taught us that leadership is about modeling “Best Practices,” not just talking about them.
Let’s take a minute to dig deeper into what differentiated instruction looks like. Carol Ann Tomlinson shares a great definition for differentiated instruction, “Differentiation means tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. Whether teachers differentiate content, process, products, or the learning environment, the use of ongoing assessments and flexible grouping makes this a successful approach to instruction.”
It is imperative that we as leaders understand, model, provide feedback and highlight those educators who are consistently applying differentiated instruction for students. A quick google search can lead you to all kinds of information to share with others. As leaders, it is critical to share from the "Best Practice" lens of differentiation.
Which Students Do We Support?
As you look across your Tier I data, drill down into all skills. Go beyond the broad content topics and look at the sub-skills. Determine the precise area students are below average. Students may have high overall scores in reading, but vocabulary may be below average.
If vocabulary is not addressed, students may soon need more than Tier 1 support. If there are low or below-average descriptors on the benchmarks, use this data to ascertain the need for supportive interventions. Intervention plans are not reserved for only students designated as needing Tier II or III support. Identifying and attacking these lacking sub-skills early, can keep your Tier I healthy.
Another approach to your analysis of who needs support can be found in the standard deviation score of your universal screener. For example, if you are using NWEA MAP interims and you see more than a 12-point spread for a student, consider developing an intervention support plan to help close that gap proactively.
If any part of these steps is not adhered to, success is highly unlikely. Once mastery of the skill is documented, keep monitoring all data to make sure the student's needs continue to be met by Tier 1 instruction, across all skills.
Remember, supporting our students is a team effort, and data-driven decisions are supported by Student Success Teams, MTSS Campus Support Teams, Professional Learning Communities or any other name a campus assigns to such groups. The value of collaboration cannot be overstated!
When sustaining a healthy Tier 1, don’t overlook these components:
➡️ Deep data analysis ➡️ Ability to identify students’ needs ➡️ Ability to group students with like needs and differentiate ➡️ Time for teachers to collaborate ➡️ Differentiate support for teachers and model “Best Practices” ➡️ Have a reliable problem-solving cycle in place
Investing time in Tier I students will ultimately result in higher student achievement for all! Engagement of campus leadership in supporting all students is a non-negotiable for student success!
Linda Hawkins and Abby McCone are life-long educators. Both have experienced the first hand struggles of the classroom teacher by teaching in kindergarten through eighth grades in a variety of diverse settings. Seeing the need for a broader reach, Linda and Abby became elementary school principals in the Dallas area, each of them for nearly two decades. It was here that they devoted their efforts to helping teachers gain the tools they needed to make the greatest impact on our nation’s youth. Preparing principals and teachers for this challenge was their focus as they served as adjunct professors in the university setting. Currently, both Linda and Abby work with Branching Minds to support districts across the country in implementing effective MTSS systems.