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.
School districts are increasingly adopting MTSS/RTI intervention management software to help teachers streamline their documentation work and strengthen their student intervention practice. This is largely due to the evolution of the MTSS/RTI software space, which has grown significantly over the past ten years. There are two primary factors responsible for this renaissance: 1) advancements in technology and design have finally made their way into education technology, fostering user experience and engagement that delights rather than dismays teachers; and 2) the culture of intervention has shifted from the compliance-driven Response to Intervention protocol, which often felt like a laborious chore, to the more holistic and school-wide practice of Multi-Tiered System of Supports, which resonates with teachers’ desire to personalize and accelerate learning in equitable ways.
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.
It’s fun to be a leader. You were chosen because you are a “solutions and get it done” kind of an educator! It’s also very challenging, as it requires you to keep yourself fit – physically, mentally and emotionally! It requires that we relinquish the superhero cape and share the real work of leadership. The work district and school level leaders must accomplish is weighty and we must admit that building positive capacity in others is the only way to accomplish our goals and sustain them over time. You could have the greatest initiative ever, and spend an entire year working for all hours every day to get it going, only to be moved to another campus or another position for the following year. What happens to your initiative then? It slowly disappears, as staff and leadership changes. Moreover, doing everything on your own just takes longer! To solidify the foundation of a great initiative in an organization, it is crucial to build capacity in others.
The MTSS/RTI team is a school-based, problem-solving team; it is the engine that drives the MTSS/RTI practice. The MTSS/RTI team exists to proactively address system needs by reviewing school-wide data (within grade levels and classrooms) and support individual student growth by helping to monitor progress and make decisions for students at Tier 3.
The site administrator should play an active role in recruiting and ultimately designating the composition of the MTSS/RTI team. The most successful teams consist of volunteers, so it is important that site administrators make an effort to designate members who truly want to be involved. MTSS/RTI team membership is made up of both standing members who contribute expertise from their respective disciplines and those who may be invited to address a specific concern. Examples of standing members on the MTSS/RTI team include: administrator, general education teacher, school psychologist/counselor, dean, content area specialist, ELL teacher, special education teacher, and grade-level or department representatives.
Student goal setting is a topic that is often covered during teacher professional development and in-service days. Educators have naturally been setting goals for students since the beginning of teaching, and goal setting today has become a critical element of an effective MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports) framework. MTSS meets all student’s needs with three levels of support for each school's entire student body. Within MTSS, Tier I (also known as whole class core instruction), the core curriculum should be meeting the needs of at least 80% of all students. Tier II includes whole class core instruction with the addition of targeted instruction for students needing support, often provided in small groups. Tier III is whole class core instruction, additional targeted instruction, and explicit intensive intervention. Support activities provided to students receiving Tier II and Tier III instruction should be robust, research-driven and align to student’s specific needs.