By Elizabeth Whitten, Ph.D., Kelli J. Esteves, Ed.D., and Alice Woodrow, Ed.D., coauthors of RTI Success: Proven Tools and Strategies for Schools and Classrooms (Revised & Updated Edition)
Multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) is a framework schools use to meet the diverse needs of students. The two most commonly known examples under the MTSS umbrella are Response to Intervention (RTI) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). RTI focuses on academic systems of support, while PBIS promotes positive behavior and social and emotional growth. All school personnel have a role in the implementation of MTSS, and the best practices offered in this article could be applied to both RTI and PBIS.
Here are best practices for MTSS.
1. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Differentiation Among the Tiers
UDL and differentiation involve changing the pace, level, or type of instruction to meet diverse needs in the classroom. High-quality instruction uses student choice, multiple means of expression, and lessons that address the varied ways students learn to maximize student success. This is essential among all tiers, with special consideration to Tier I. Core instruction doesn’t mean one-size-fits-all instruction, and differentiation that takes place at Tier I can minimize the number of students who need Tier II and III interventions.
2. Common Planning Time for Teachers
Common planning time allows teachers in the same grade or content area to plan for purposeful, flexible groups among the tiers. It also allows educators to analyze assessment data on a regular basis so they can change groups in a timely manner. Teachers can share what is working in their intervention groups and work through problems with one another. Specialists can meet with teachers during this common planning time to offer support and insight related to their area of expertise.
3. Universal Screening for All Students 2–3 Times a Year
Screening is a quick assessment of a student’s understanding, and it gauges knowledge and abilities. It can help answer the question, Which of my students need extra assistance or further evaluation in a given area? It supports instruction by benchmarking where students are at a specific point in the school year and supports the creation of initial intervention groups (along with the use of additional data).
4. Purposeful Progress Monitoring
This type of assessment involves monitoring students on a regular basis to determine whether they are making progress on their goals. Monitoring is important because it allows educators to make data-based decisions about changing their strategy if the original intervention is not effective for the student.
5. Targeted Interventions That Match Student Need and Defined Goals
Interventions must align with the specific needs of individual students and help them reach their academic or behavioral goals. An intervention or strategy that does not match will not provide results in a timely or goal-oriented way. A best-practice approach we have seen for Tier II implementation is called WIN (What I Need) time. It is conducted schoolwide at the same time period, reinforcing an “all hands on deck” implementation philosophy. WIN time allows all school personnel to get involved to reduce the adult-to-student ratio and give students who need intervention more quality time with the teachers or specialists who are highly qualified in the areas in which students need intervention.
6. Evidence-Based Teaching at Each Tier
It is important that the instruction, academic or behavior interventions, and curriculum implemented at your school are grounded in research. We believe that educators are in the best position to determine which evidence-based practices will work for their students.
7. High-Quality Professional Development
High-quality professional development should be linked directly to the implementation goals of MTSS in your district. All school personnel should be able to voice their needs that are related to their success and struggles within MTSS. Ongoing professional development will be needed in order to continue to support educators and students.
A positive learning environment is needed for students to learn at high levels. By implementing a system of support that helps students thrive, you are showing them you value their different levels of academic readiness and social, emotional, and behavioral needs. Taking time to deliberately plan activities to understand the unique interests and attributes of your students creates a safe place to learn. It is essential for educators to emphasize, model, and practice the idea that “different” doesn’t mean “wrong” and that our unique qualities can be our strengths. Establishing this philosophy in your inclusive classroom helps build a safe community, one where students are active in their learning and accepting of each other.
Elizabeth Whitten, Ph.D., is a professor of special education and literary studies at Western Michigan University. Prior to her 18 years in higher education, Elizabeth was a teacher and administrator.
Kelli J. Esteves, Ed.D., is an associate professor of education at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. Kelli has experience as a special education teacher and reading specialist in the Rockford (MI) Public Schools.
Alice Woodrow, Ed.D., is director of special education at Allegan Area Educational Service Agency in Allegan, Michigan. Alice has also served as the supervisor of special education in the Comstock (MI) Public Schools.
Elizabeth, Kelli, and Alice are coauthors of RTI Success: Proven Tools and Strategies for Schools and Classrooms
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