There is a universal truth when starting any sort of new project, vision, implementation, or system change: a disruption and reallocation of time and resources must be addressed. With the addition of a new goal, there will be a back and forth battle as finite (time, staffing, money) resources are reassigned. To minimize or alleviate the exhaustion that accompanies the tug-of-war, alignment should be the goal of every leader.
In 2001, motivated by the desire to make US education rankings more competitive in the global climate, the G.W. Bush administration pushed through an initiative called "No Child Left Behind (NCLB)." Through this initiative, schools were held accountable for student success determined by state testing. Schools that did not make adequate yearly progress (AYP) on state exams could be penalized, placed under state supervision and required to make significant improvements in their programming. Alongside the birth of NCLB came Response to Intervention (RTI), a practice designed to help educators apply many teaching best practices to proactively identify and intervene on behalf of students needing additional support. Whereas state tests worked as an accountability measure to determine if students had made adequate progress for NCLB’s purpose, RTI practices pushed educators to seek out more proactive data, such as benchmark assessments (tri-annual broad outcome measures) that sampled students' mastery of grade level skills. Using adaptive measures that adjusted the level of difficulty based on previous responses, the assessments were able to identify every student's ability level and compare them to local and national samples. These data were analyzed by school teams early in the academic year to identify students who were at the highest risk to ensure they receive more and/or targeted instruction in deficit areas. Students identified as needing intervention were then briefly assessed 1x/week or 2x/month to get small samples of their growth in a specific skill area. This "progress monitoring" was designed to help educators evaluate the quality of a student's response to the intervention they received. If students showed growth, they could graduate from needing the additional support. If students struggled to progress, teachers would use tracking graphs to determine if they should change or intensify what they were doing to support the student.
Even though most teachers and school administrators agree that teacher collaboration leads to improved outcomes for both teachers and students, many schools are still not providing enough time for teachers to work together during school hours. Of course, there are many challenges in building a master schedule that gives teachers this time, but there is also a growing body of research showing the significant benefits of facilitating effective collaboration. Teacher collaboration is an important element for school improvement across the nation, and even more important when it comes to implementing a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) approach, and certainly worth taking a deeper dive.
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!
Secondary teachers and leaders often cite difficulties and frustrations when they are asked about their current RTI/MTSS practice or implementation. My own experience with this work started when a district-level administrator walked into my office (about 2 seconds into my first year as a high school Asst. Principal) and dropped off a thick binder titled MTSS (that used to be titled RTI). Here you go. Run with this and see what you can do. MTSS? In high school? Why, how?
Some leaders don’t see the point of MTSS in secondary schools and think of it as a framework that belongs in elementary schools. Others understand the importance of implementing a strong practice, but when they take steps towards establishing the structures and procedures they meet many challenges and quickly get frustrated, which was my experience almost immediately.
Long before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered our nation’s schools in mid-March 2020, many districts across the country had been working to transition to MTSS (Multi-Tiered Student Support System). Schools were “ditching” their more traditional models to evaluate students for special education and instead began moving towards a more holistic approach to consider the needs of all students. Many chose to transition to MTSS as it uses a multi-tiered support foundation that wraps around a school’s entire student body and uses data-driven problem-solving to address academic and non-academic (attendance, social-emotional, etc.) needs. Schools and districts making this shift found that they improved education for all students, gained efficiencies, and prevented students from “slipping through the cracks.”
As a lifelong educator, I have worked for decades with teachers and teacher candidates in pre-k through high school classrooms in both public and private schools. One constant for my teachers across the board regardless of subject matter/specialty or grades taught--all consistently have experienced the “educational pendulum” swinging throughout their careers, and some may have even experienced the pendulum swing with multiple initiatives, new policies, etc. in a single year. In just this past year alone, teachers have experienced the shift from remote instruction to hybrid learning, and then back to in-person learning. It is no surprise that experiencing many shifts in the classroom can lead to fatigue, burnout, skepticism and a feeling that whatever the change is, “it won’t last.” Research has found that teachers make more minute-by-minute decisions than brain surgeons, and this can obviously be exhausting, especially when trying to keep up with new school initiatives (Watson, 2017). Unfortunately, due to this exhaustion, I believe that some vital processes such as MTSS/RTI run the risk of becoming miscategorized and put on the “just something else to do” list; rather than recognized as a best practice for all students, and a model for all schools.
Students who are meeting or exceeding standards may require enrichment beyond the core to demonstrate academic growth. It is the school’s responsibility to ensure that all students make academic progress regardless of their entry-level. The Branching Minds Support Library contains learning activities that may be used as early as Tier 1, as teachers design differentiated instruction for individual or small groups of students. Below are some examples from the Branching Minds Support Library:
High fidelity RTI/MTSS can only be achieved if teachers have ready and up-to-date access to all of the data associated with their students in efficient and reliable ways. Certain systems and programs make this process more efficient and reliable. Districts need to find easy ways to sync their student information systems, assessment platform, and intervention management systems so that teachers have the ability to access and add the information they need to support all students fluidly throughout their tiered model of support. Finding a rostering method that integrates seamlessly and securely with all of your education application partners and meets your RTI/MTSS needs can be challenging. At Branching Minds, a leading RTI/MTSS intervention management system, data interoperability is our bread and butter. In this post, we will review the secure options that we support for sharing district and school-level rostering data to help you determine which best suits your district/school needs.
In these stressful times of seeing more struggling students in need of Tier 2 and Tier 3 support it is easy to glance over Tier 1 needs by thinking they are sufficient. Often times an overview of the data will lead us to believe this common thought, however skimming over Tier 1 data is causing us to miss key red flags that push our numbers of Tier 2 and Tier 3 even higher. We can address this concern with some “Best Practices” and procedures built into how we meet the needs of all our students. Utilizing data and applying differentiated practices are two critical components to success with all of our students.