2020 has been a doozy and I’m pretty sure I won’t be alone celebrating the new year of 2021 with a capital C. That being said this Thanksgiving, I, and the entire Branching Minds team, have a ton for which to be grateful.
I know this election season has been an unusual and particularly contentious one. The near-constant arguing, name-calling and just general melee of the last presidential debate certainly seemed like an invitation to check out from the whole debacle.
Since the early 2000s, school districts across the country have implemented a tiered intervention system like Response to Intervention (RTI). In recent years, many districts have been transitioning their systems to a more holistic Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) model. However, like many other areas of K12 funding, how districts choose to fund an RTI or MTSS model can be a complicated question: traditional federal funding streams can be relatively inflexible, but with new funding streams like the CARES Act, passed in March 2020, school districts have greater funding flexibility to implement MTSS.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, our country’s education system is facing one of the most significant opportunities for learning loss that we have encountered in nearly a century. As educators work to address this reality, they are also tasked with managing a variety of learning contexts from fully remote/virtual classrooms to in-person learning and hybrid models. Many administrators are looking for ways to reduce teachers’ workload to mitigate the stress and burnout that has come along with teaching during a pandemic. Some districts have made the decision to “pause” differentiated instruction or “lighten up” on the best practices of the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS). Unfortunately, this decision will likely have a detrimental effect on student outcomes and create even more work for educators down the road.
“Our teachers come together to meet about students’ needs regularly, at the individual student level—we just don’t have a way to come together as district leadership and meet about the system needs at the systems level. We don’t have the data or the structures to do that proactive pattern matching so that we could have bigger more positive impacts on improving student outcomes earlier. ”
The insight above was recently shared with me by a district administrator in Florida who was looking to improve their MTSS practice. Similar observations have been shared with me many times before. The most common component of MTSS that schools and districts implement is the student-level problem solving meeting. In almost every school that employs an MTSS model you will find a team of teachers who come together to understand why a student is struggling, what has been done to support the student, and what should be done moving forward. This collaborative problem-solving work at the student-level is critical for student success and effective MTSS, but it is all too often stymied by an absence of systems-level problem-solving that establishes the infrastructure upon which any student-level support can be provided. After all, as the name of the acronym suggests, it is the system that the model is based on and the foundation for student-level problem-solving.
At Branching Minds, we believe that there are 7 guiding principles of RTI/MTSS: