How to Create an Equitable Tier 1 in MTSS Through Accelerated Core Instruction

Best Practices, RTI/MTSS, Equity, SEL and Behavior

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?

6 Books To Help Build Your MTSS Practice

Leadership, RTI/MTSS, Equity, Starting with MTSS/RTI, Culture

As busy educators, it’s hard to find time to read, let alone sift through the thousands of different resources available, to get the most out of the reading time we do have. At Branching Minds, we try to stay as current as possible with the literature and best practices in the field, so you don’t have to. We compiled a list of what we believe to be the most useful books for your MTSS practice. What’s even better: all of these books are relatively quick to read, include many case studies or real-life examples, and are easily broken down by chapter. If you can’t read a whole book at once, narrowing it down to one component can be easily done with these resources. We love these books and hope you find one in the list below that will be helpful to you.

For reference to key MTSS terms, check out this blog: Demystifying the MTSS Mystery.

The Power of Strength-Based Instruction

Best Practices, RTI/MTSS, Equity, Assessment, Meetings, SEL and Behavior

All students (and adults) have strengths and weaknesses. In K-12 education, student weaknesses and areas of concern are sometimes more apparent, while strengths can fade into the background. Over the past decade, there has been a movement in education to be more explicit in addressing student strengths and encouraging the use of instructional practices to promote growth in areas that might need improvement.

The MTSS framework provides an excellent opportunity for educators to shift their instruction, problem-solving, and planning to include student strengths in addition to areas of needed support. Below we outline the difference between the strengths and deficit lens, how focusing on strengths benefits all key stakeholders in education, and specific guidance on using a strengths-based approach in MTSS.

MTSS & Equity: Is your MTSS practice helping or hiding racial inequities?

RTI/MTSS, Equity

RTI and 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 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.