Best Practices on Interpreting Student Assessment Data in MTSS

Intervention Spotlight, Best Practices, Universal screener, RTI/MTSS, Assessment, Progress monitoring, Data Reporting and Monitoring

I can still hear my students groan every time I announce “pop quiz time!” My countless hours of learning about secondary education had taught me that a solid instructional strategy was rooted in tests, tests, tests. Test the kids before they learn, test the kids while they learn, and test them after they learn. And then again—test the kids the next day, too—just to make sure they remember what we did yesterday. 

As a teacher, I always sought to have some form of assessment embedded throughout every lesson because that was the foundation of good teaching, right? However, I was never taught what to do with the results of all that testing. I had all this great data at my fingertips, but I was drowning in data points, multiple-choice scores, and whether or not spelling should count in a short answer. So how did that help me help my students? 

A robust Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) relies on a systematic data collection process. We are told to ensure that we have a universal screener and progress monitors, but it’s just as vital that we know what to do with our assessment data after we go through the process of gathering it. To make smart, data-driven decisions to support our MTSS process, we need to have a clear understanding of the role of each assessment in an MTSS model. That way, we aren’t all drowning in data, without any idea of where all this data is supposed to take us.

Cue—this handy, dandy assessment table and a breakdown of assessments.

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. 

The Role of Universal Screening in RTI/MTSS

Universal screener, Starting with MTSS/RTI

Universal screening is the process of assessing all students to identify individuals who are at risk or in need of more individualized support (Hughes & Dexter, 2008). It is similar to screening potential health problems by taking a child’s temperature or monitoring their height and weight.