Equity often seems like a lofty idea, and complicated to achieve. How do we make sure that schools are set up to meet every student where they are and provide the support they need to succeed? When it comes to actually addressing equity, the application is the hardest part. This is where a Multi-Tiered System of Supports comes in. The MTSS framework makes it possible to meet the needs of students and practically, intentionally close those learning gaps.
In our previous blog, we asked the question, “Is Special Education and MTSS the same thing?”
The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights estimates that six percent of public school students are enrolled in gifted and talented programs (source).
As we round the corner to almost two years of school disruption due to COVID-19, we continue to see the growing impact on our school-wide population; staff, students, and communities. The far-reaching consequences have yet to be seen; inequities in access to resources, quality instructional materials, and current technology have been magnified.
It’s no secret that these are challenging times for all educators and our students. Our most vulnerable populations have fallen the furthest behind due to school disruptions (NAEP dashboards - achievement gaps, n.d.). We have an opportunity to make a difference right NOW in all of our students' lives by addressing and resolving disproportionality within our systems, becoming stewards of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access.
My co-author and I are both former school leaders and Branching Minds consultants. We support system-wide equity initiatives and tackle challenges related to disproportionality and disparities within our schools. We work hard to help schools support the mantra that ALL truly means ALL students receive support through a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS). So, let’s begin—grab your data and get ready to bring disproportionality to the light of day. We’ll provide critical examples of leveraging your MTSS problem-solving to address disproportionality and create equity.
As lifelong educators, my co-author and I have experienced a combined 50, yes 50 years in education! Spring semesters, planning, reviewing middle-of-year data, and targeting support before the final bell rings for summer. No matter what role we have held, including teacher, administrator, instructional coach, our instinctual goal was to ensure at least one year’s growth for every student.
With COVID-19 and all of its impacts still looming, we again find ourselves faced with an end-of-year deadline and, as always, evaluating student growth. Longstanding academic inequities continue to creep into our schools and classrooms as many students fall further and further behind meeting grade-level standards.
And who’s most at-risk for falling behind? Recent data suggests that our underperforming students are racially and ethnically diverse, are from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and have individualized education programs (IEPs) (Methodology Studies - Achievement Gaps | NAEP). With the best intentions, after a thorough middle-of-year data review, our initial instinct is to group students to focus on remediating foundational skills only to risk excluding them from grade-level content instruction.
➡️ Related Resource: Best Practices on Interpreting Student Assessment Data in MTSS
What if, instead of focusing on growth for every student (which potentially may be grade levels below), we focus on grade-level proficiency or bust for every student? Instead of focusing on identifying the gaps and moving backward to fill them, we accelerate our core instruction by strategically curating the grade-level standards-based instruction. That way, the student can spend time and attention on identified targeted skills to prepare for upcoming learning. Student outcomes change when accelerated instruction replaces traditional remediation strategies alone.
With traditional remediation, students identified as needing additional support typically receive intervention for skill gaps that may have little or nothing to do with the current, on-grade level material and/or instruction.
While it is certainly important to "backfill" for learning gaps, when that remediation is not closely aligned to what the student needs right now to be successful with current grade-level material, the student will only slip further behind. In contrast, acceleration provides immediate access to end-of-year expectations by strategically identifying prior years’ learning and learning gaps, AND providing just-in-time support along the way.
➡️ Related Resource: Selecting the Right Interventions to Boost Accelerated Learning
Considering our classrooms’ significant and diverse needs in 2022 and beyond, we can layer the strategies and principles of accelerated instruction as an equitable multi-tiered systems solution that ensures our Tier 1 core instruction is fluid, dynamic, responsive, and matches our diverse students’ needs. But, before we can jump into how to accelerate, let’s answer the first question that comes to mind…what exactly is differentiated core Tier 1 instruction, and what is acceleration?
Response to Intervention (RTI) and the Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) are data-driven, systemic approaches to providing instruction and intervention at varying levels of intensity based on individual student needs. These models were born out of the necessity for more objective ways to identify students with a learning disability and have since evolved into a more holistic practice that aims to better meet the needs of all students through a streamlined, data-driven approach.
While equity remains at the heart of these models, they remain unproven to have a positive impact on promoting equitable student outcomes. Based on data we’ve collected through the Branching Minds platform and with a close examination of these practices across our district partners, it appears that the systems and structures of RTI and MTSS alone are not enough, and districts need to adopt an equity-focused, self-reflection process that guides their decision making through these practices in order to ensure equitable student outcomes.
The term English Language Learners (ELLs) refers to students whose first language is not English, and encompasses both students who are just beginning to learn English (often referred to in federal legislation as "limited English proficient" or "LEP") and those who have already developed considerable proficiency.
The term underscores the fact that, in addition to meeting all the academic challenges that face their monolingual peers, these students are mastering another language. Branching Minds takes students' ELL level into account when collecting the Branching Minds Insight Survey, as well as recommending interventions and accommodations matched to their needs.