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.
I can still hear my students groan every time I announce “pop quiz time!” My countless hours of learning about secondary education had taught me that a solid instructional strategy was rooted in tests, tests, tests. Test the kids before they learn, test the kids while they learn, and test them after they learn. And then again—test the kids the next day, too—just to make sure they remember what we did yesterday.
As a teacher, I always sought to have some form of assessment embedded throughout every lesson because that was the foundation of good teaching, right? However, I was never taught what to do with the results of all that testing. I had all this great data at my fingertips, but I was drowning in data points, multiple-choice scores, and whether or not spelling should count in a short answer. So how did that help me help my students?
A robust Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) relies on a systematic data collection process. We are told to ensure that we have a universal screener and progress monitors, but it’s just as vital that we know what to do with our assessment data after we go through the process of gathering it. To make smart, data-driven decisions to support our MTSS process, we need to have a clear understanding of the role of each assessment in an MTSS model. That way, we aren’t all drowning in data, without any idea of where all this data is supposed to take us.
Cue—this handy, dandy assessment table and a breakdown of assessments.
Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) is a research-based framework that helps educators identify academic, behavioral, and social-emotional strengths and needs to provide differentiated support for the entire student body based upon their needs. Data is central to the MTSS framework. MTSS utilizes data-based decision making, which includes data analysis and systematic problem-solving through team meetings to make decisions about instruction, intervention, implementation, and whether the support provided to students is working or if additional intervention is needed.
MTSS Teams use data from multiple assessments—such as formative and summative assessments—to plan tiered instruction that is strategized to meet students’ needs. MTSS Teams use the assessment data to engage in strategic problem-solving to identify student needs and plan for intervention and progress monitoring. Assessments can also be used to evaluate school-wide outcomes, make efficient decisions based on those outcomes, and use this data to inform an MTSS action plan.
In an effort to support the high rate of students who have experienced significant learning loss caused by remote learning and continued COVID 19-related instruction interruptions, Texas has recently passed House Bill 4545 (HB4545). This new statute outlines updated requirements for school districts to provide supplemental accelerated instruction for all students who do not meet grade-level requirements in the state’s standardized assessments.
Since this statute was enacted in the summer of 2021, school districts have quickly reacted and developed new procedures to ensure these requirements are met, and students are receiving the accelerated instruction they need. As many Texas Branching Minds partners have already discovered, Branching Minds is quickly adapting and providing districts the help they need to implement these crucial changes successfully.
Beginning in 3rd grade, all students in Texas public schools take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) in core subject areas. In high school, the assessment program changes to the STAAR End of Course (EOC) assessments, five of which are required for graduation. According to the Texas Education Agency, students who do not meet grade-level expectations in these assessments are unlikely to succeed in the next grade or course without significant, ongoing academic intervention.
The STAAR data from the most recent testing administration highlights the importance of immediate action towards supporting students. Among students tested in 2021, there was a 4% increase in students that did not meet their grade level in reading compared to 2019 and a 16% increase in students that did not meet their grade level in math (source). We do not have time to waste!
Accelerated learning is currently one of the hottest keywords in education. It is hailed as the hero to address the “COVID-19 slide,” which is the concern that students may not be prepared for grade-level instruction due to a loss of instructional time over the past year due to the pandemic.
We often hear “learning loss” in relation to the COVID-19 slide—a term I have come across countless times during professional development webinars. I disagree strongly with this term. “Learning loss” implies that students have missed out on learning. As educators, we know that learning did occur last year (and as teachers, we are all tired of defending that point).
However, traditional instruction did not occur last year. So the phenomenon we are currently facing is an “instructional loss,” not a “learning loss.” While our students did learn, they did not receive traditional instruction, which would have ensured they had all the skills necessary to master grade-level content.
The solution? Accelerated learning.
For those new to the term, accelerated learning is the adaptation of instruction in which curriculum standards are prioritized based on the learning needs of students. It is an intentional, practical approach to intensive instruction to address a significant gap in skills resulting from a disruption to instruction—such as a global pandemic.
What is important to note is that acceleration is not remediation. It is not going back and attempting to fill in every student's gap in knowledge in a content area. Instead, acceleration focuses on what skills are most important for a student to master the content and scaffold those skills using interventions and learning supports in coordination with the grade-level curriculum.
Learning supports and interventions play a crucial role in successfully implementing an accelerated approach. Based upon universal screening data, learning supports provide scaffolding at the core level to address the most common skill gaps in a classroom.
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.
➡️ Related Resource: A Quick Review of MTSS Supports, Interventions, and Accommodations
That’s all fine and dandy, but it doesn’t address the actual “how-to” when selecting these supports and interventions. Let’s take a moment to analyze three considerations when choosing appropriate supports for accelerated learning:
Technology has quickly become a fact of life for educators worldwide. I remember being in the classroom as a secondary teacher and witnessing the quick succession of my trusty whiteboard to an overheating-prone projector to an always-needing-an-update interactive whiteboard. Education and technology have quickly become codependent entities, and the abrupt transition to remote learning in the 2020-2021 school year only solidified this reality.
However, technology does not have to be the enemy. Technology offers the potential to streamline our processes and alleviate the workload of tasks that once consumed the evenings of teachers everywhere. When it comes to implementing MTSS (Multi-Tier System of Supports), technology can be the make or break between a successful system of MTSS or the dreaded next failed initiative.
Let’s take a moment to consider how technology is changing the way we implement MTSS:
A Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework uses a problem-solving cycle to monitor and adjust instruction and intervention at three tiers:
An optimal MTSS framework follows the 80-15-5 model, suggesting that our core instruction should meet 80% of our learners' needs. However, we can't negate that even with the most effective, evidence-based, validated core instruction, some learners will continue to need targeted and intensive interventions and support plans for some of their needs. When this happens, it's important we identify the student's goal, select an appropriate intervention, develop a support plan, and set frequency and type of monitoring for progress.
One of the most common questions I’ve received over the years has been, "How do I know the intervention I selected will help my student meet the goal?" How do I select the proper intervention once I've set the SMART goal for my student? In other words, you've identified the difference between what was expected of the student (skill) and what is happening, but now what?
The Fuchs Research Group of Peabody College at Vanderbilt University has created hundreds of peer-reviewed articles that help teachers select the best interventions for students. With all that's on your to-do list these days, I wanted to share the top five guidelines from Fuchs' research that will help you align your SMART goals and interventions to optimize student success. A little tip, the more guidelines the intervention meets, the more likely it will maximize student success.
There is a learning curve for all educators working through the Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS) to help identify students’ needs. As a former school psychologist, I was often able to make recommendations on effective ways to support students in school and on following MTSS processes.
I’ve heard it said that many school psychologists, case managers, and other student support team members have fallen into the position of reviewing student interventions that were tried but were not “evidence-based.” Or perhaps, having to explain to a colleague that there wasn’t sufficient data to qualify moving a student between tiers, much less qualify for special education.
In my experience, I found that utilizing MTSS processes ensured that before a student is ever evaluated for special education, the continuum of support based upon the student's identified needs has already been provided, documented, and it was already determined if the prior interventions were working.
That being said, it may not be easy for any school team member to remind a colleague to follow a process, and reiterating to my colleagues the critical need to follow the MTSS processes was one of the essential parts of my role. This discussion provided the opportunity for me to help teachers understand the process for supporting growth and meeting the needs of all students.
Planning and implementing MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports) can appear as a monumental task, especially in today’s world, where our teachers’ tasks are exponentially growing. It’s widely accepted that vast numbers of students will struggle this year, and they will need more support than ever before.
Accelerated learning pushes teachers to incorporate grade-level content with students who have spent over a year in an abnormal learning environment. To accomplish this feat, core instruction requires a strong platform built upon support and interventions. The burden of locating these supports and interventions lies on the already burdened shoulders of our teachers.
The Branching Minds team and platform seeks to alleviate that burden, making the road to MTSS smoother and less rocky—so we can all have a bit more time for self-care without compromising student success. The Branching Minds support library comprises thousands of research-based supports and interventions, cutting down the time teachers need to find their own effective resources.
Terminology can be a pesky obstacle, leading to added frustrations when we can’t find what we need. Between “learning supports,” “interventions,” and “accommodations,” it’s easy to get confused as to what resource is needed during the MTSS cycle.
It’s important to note that regardless of the term, these resources all have the same goal— helping all students to achieve academic success. Generally speaking, the use of differentiated support can be applied more broadly to the work you are doing to help a student, such as during Tier 1 core instruction for all students. This fills in learning gaps and facilitates accelerated learning.
Supports become interventions when used in an intensive setting to meet grade-level expectations. Supports become accommodations when they remove a particular barrier a student may have to learn/demonstrate content.
Below, we’ve outlined these definitions more in-depth, as well as when/how they’re typically used. Keep in mind that these definitions are fluid, and many educational resources do not fit into one definition. When it comes to categorizing a resource, you must also account for how and why it is being utilized. The same resource can often be used as a learning support and an intervention, depending on its application and the student’s needs.
Every year I head to my doctor's appointment for my annual check-up. This year, I thought about all the screeners that the doctor used to determine my overall health, as well as the conversation we had in her office as we sat at the table reviewing my results.