Branching Minds MTSS Summit -- December 8th, 2021

Branching Forward: Setting Intentions for MTSS in the New Year. REGISTER NOW

How to Respond to an Upside Down MTSS Tiered Triangle

Best Practices, Universal screener, RTI/MTSS, Tiering Students, Progress monitoring

Before becoming a professional development consultant with Branching Minds, I spent 34 years in the roles of teacher, interventionist, and instructional specialist; and I’m currently supporting a school district as they continue to improve their MTSS system. My roles allow me to spend time with teachers and administrators from all over the country. And while fall has everyone drinking, eating, and smelling all things pumpkin...for those in education, this season also ushers in a time of data and stress.

With the arrival of fall comes the arrival of student scores from the Beginning of Year administration of Universal Screeners. Universal Screeners are the assessment tool for targeting students who struggle to learn when provided a scientific, evidence-based general education​​ core curriculum (Jenkins, Hudson, & Johnson, 2007). Typically these assessments are administered three times per year during the beginning, middle, and end of year to all students. 

After administering the universal screener to students, we as educators would expect/hope to see 80% of students in Tier 1, indicating that students are meeting grade-level expectations; 10% to 15% in Tier 2, indicating student performance below grade-level expectations; and 5% to 10% of students in Tier 3, indicating students are well below grade level expectations. 

A Quick Review of MTSS Supports, Interventions, and Accommodations

Intervention Spotlight, RTI/MTSS, Tiering Students, Progress monitoring, Data Reporting and Monitoring

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.


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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.

Giving Students Agency With a Seat at the MTSS Table

Best Practices, RTI/MTSS, Progress monitoring, Meetings, Data Reporting and Monitoring

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. 

Progress Monitoring for MTSS at the Secondary Level

RTI/MTSS, Progress monitoring, MTSS in Secondary School

As a professional development consultant for Branching Minds, I work with teachers and administrators from all over the country.  A question I frequently get asked is how should progress monitoring look at the middle school and high school levels? If you are a secondary school teacher and are working under the practice of MTSS or the RTI process you have probably scratched your head over this question many times as well. Today you are in luck! In this post, I will discuss why you should be progress monitoring, what assessments are appropriate for progress monitoring, how these assessments are administered, and when you should progress monitor students. My hope is to give you practical steps and tools to put into practice, like Branching Minds, I aim to make the best practices actually practicable!

How to use progress monitoring data to guide decision making in an MTSS practice

RTI/MTSS, Assessment, Progress monitoring, Data Reporting and Monitoring

The purpose of progress monitoring

Effective progress monitoring is critical for a successful MTSS/RTI practice. In addition to universal screening assessments--which are given to all students three times a year--students receiving tier 2 or 3 levels of support should be given a progress monitoring assessment every other week or weekly, respectively. These data allow us to have better visibility into whether or not our support is working for a given student, and more importantly, when it is not so that we can adjust the intervention approach quickly to better meet the needs of that student. Assessments used for progress monitoring should be quick, skill (not content) based, and valid and reliable (i.e., having demonstrated to accurately and consistently measure what they are supposed to be evaluating). The Center for Intensive Intervention has a helpful chart that evaluates and compares these qualities for common progress monitoring assessments. 

What does progress monitoring look like in RTI / MTSS

Starting with MTSS/RTI, Progress monitoring

The purpose of monitoring progress is to determine the effectiveness of an intervention plan on student learning. When data show students are progressing, interventions are maintained until students meet identified goals. When data show students are not progressing, a change in intervention is necessary (Fuchs, Compton, Fuchs & Davis, 2008). When changes are made to intervention plans based on data, intervention or phase lines should be placed on student graphs to indicate the change. Students receiving Tier 2 support should be assessed weekly or every other week, while students receiving Tier 3 support should be assessed weekly.