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What are critical MTSS decisions for Tier 1 intervention?

By Timothy Mugabi

Getting a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) right is a delicate balancing act of meeting the needs of your students and making the best use of your school’s resources. The best way to do this is to ensure that Tier 1 of your MTSS implementation is as comprehensive as possible, and that you’ve optimized its instruction and intervention methods. By doing so, you’ll end up referring fewer students to Tiers 2 and 3, but it requires making the right decisions in a number of critical areas. This post explores what those decisions are and how each strengthens Tier 1.

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What is Tier 1 of MTSS?

Tier 1 of MTTS involves all students. They receive the same level of instruction and aren’t afforded any specialized treatment — until they need additional intervention.

At Tier 2, students get specific, supplemental instruction in small groups. At Tier 3, this is escalated to one-on-one support, where they receive tailored instruction in an attempt to get them up to the level of their classmates.

A greater level of attention requires more resources, so as the number of students who receive instruction at Tiers 2 and 3 increases, so does the drain on your school’s resources. In order to make Tier 1 as effective and beneficial as possible, you’ll have to make critical decisions at both the student and system level.

Critical decision for Tier 1 interventions

At the student level

Decisions made at this level are concerned with making sure the instruction at Tier 1 meets the needs of the student. It’s necessary to determine:

  • What those needs are
  • How you can measure if they’re being met
  • Which students need more support and what form that will take

In order to determine your students’ needs, you first need to prioritize your goals as a school. Although there are many, most fall under the category of academic performance or behavior.

These priorities will be decided by your appointed MTSS team, which consists of various members of staff from different departments, levels, and functions, with as much input as possible from the faculty as a whole. 

The MTSS leadership team is responsible for determining which metrics need to be improved in order for the school to progress and their students to thrive. You should focus on the metrics that offer the most leverage or that will cause the most significant “domino effect,” such as honing in on attendance and tardiness or improving the school’s culture.

Once you’ve identified the areas you’d like to focus on improving, you need to create a set of benchmarks by which students will be measured. 

These benchmarks can be:

  • set by other schools in your district
  • based on a curriculum-based screening tool
  • completely devised by your MTSS team. 

A suggested measure of success within MTSS is for 80% of students to meet the chosen benchmark.

From there, you need to decide how you’ll determine whether a student has passed a benchmark or not. And to do so, you’ll need to select the right screening tools or criteria. This includes:

  • formal assessments
  • observations
  • checklists
  • and other guidelines. 

It’s critical to select the right screening tools, as they will reveal which students require intervention. Improper tools could see you intervening prematurely, rendering your Tier 1 instruction ineffective.

Lastly, having established when you’re going to intervene, the next decision is what form or method the intervention will take. Ultimately, the desired outcome is knowing how to match the right students to the right interventions.

At the system level

Decisions made at the system level must ensure that the core instruction, which all students receive, is working. Again, this is usually indicated by 80% of a student population hitting the established benchmark. It’s crucial to examine your instruction when an insufficient number of students reach the benchmark, as opposed to earmarking students for Tiers 2 and 3. That may unnecessarily stretch your school’s finite resources. Or, put another way, it would be a costly way to compensate for inadequate instruction.

The best way to determine if your school’s instruction is effective is through reviewing relevant data, which means that many of the critical decisions are concerned with how instruction is recorded and subsequently analyzed. You’ll first need to decide what data you’ll be collecting, which is, of course, determined by your objective — what it is that you’re trying to improve. As explored above, this is determined by the needs of your school, which illustrates how intertwined critical decisions at the student and system level are.

Once you’ve decided on the type of data you need, you’ll have to consider how to collect it. It’s important for data to be both accurate and timely, so your methods of recording it need to take that into account. 

From there, you need to decide how it’s going to be analyzed, this includes: 

  • where it will be stored
  • how it can be accessed
  • your methods of analysis

Where the data ends up and how it can be interpreted is as important as how it's collected, if not more so.

As with the decisions at the student level, this is the responsibility of the MTSS team. With that being said, however, it’s important for the entire faculty who are directly involved with the data to have a means of providing feedback and offering suggestions.

Now, if it’s revealed, through analyzing the right data, that instruction in a given area isn’t proving effective, the next step is to identify the particular practices that are causing trouble.  This can be achieved by carrying out an audit of the daily actions and routines for that instruction. Consider these questions:

  • How much time is allocated to instruction? Is it enough, and if not, how much more is required?
  • Which educational materials are used?
  • How is the instruction delivered? (text, video, audio, etc.) Is it delivered in more than one form?
  • How do the students give feedback on what they’ve learned? How is their comprehension tested?
  • When and how are reviews (assessments) carried out? 
  • How are students actively engaging with the instruction?

Periodically and systematically asking questions like this will reveal which elements of your Tier 1 instruction are working and which ones need to be addressed.

Determine priorities, collect data, and review findings

Making the right decisions at Tier 1 is vital in getting your MTSS right and ensuring that all of your students benefit from it being in place. Though such decisions have been divided into student and system levels, the two are symbiotic: The needs of the student are met when core instruction is effective, while such instruction can only be considered effective when the students’ needs are met. The key is to determine your priorities and goals, collect the right data, and continuously review your findings.

Tags: MTSS

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