By: Rachel Brown, Ph.D., NCSP
Recent efforts to support all students have resulted in schools working to create systems that differentiate instruction in relation to each student’s unique need. These efforts have been referred to as Response to Intervention (RTI), Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and a Multi-Tier System of Support (MTSS). All of these terms generally mean the same thing: using student data to design and revise instruction. All such efforts are prevention-based, meaning that they recognize that in order to support the needs of all students, certain practices need to be provided universally (i.e., for all students) with successively more intensive instruction provided in addition to universal programming when a student’s data indicate the need. Most of the time, such supports are provided across three different levels, or tiers. The common thread across all tiers is the use of effective instruction alongside appropriate assessments.
Tier 1: Core Instruction and Universal Assessment
Core Instruction. The first tier includes instruction that is provided to all students. This typically includes the materials and methods that have been formally adopted by the local education agency (LEA) which could be a school board or committee. The instruction at Tier 1 needs to be selected very carefully because it will be used with all students. If it is effective, that means most students will meet grade level learning goals with this instruction. As a general rule, it is expected that Tier 1 core instruction will work for at least 80% of all students. Although that is a majority of students, it means that there are still many who might not meet grade level goals with Tier 1 by itself. For this reason, having additional supports ready for those students who need them is important. In order to know which students need additional instruction, schools need some form of assessment that will identify the students who need help.
Universal Assessment. Universal benchmark screening is how schools can identify students at risk for school difficulty. This screening is conducted three times a year in the elementary grades, and sometimes one to two times a year at the secondary level. The screening assessments are brief and provide up to date information on all students’ basic skills. Although there are logistics required to develop and implement a universal screening system, once in place it is the most efficient way to start the process of supporting all students. There are a number of FAST™ assessments that can be used for universal screening.
|Developmental Milestones (PK-K)|
Screening data should be compared with other sources of information to confirm accuracy. Once that is done, school teams can identify which students need intervention and what type.
Tier 2: Strategic Instruction and Progress Monitoring
Strategic Instruction. For students who are below grade level, but likely to catch up with daily additional instruction, Tier 2 intervention is recommended. Importantly, Tier 2 interventions MUST be in addition to Tier 1 core instruction. This is because students who are behind need more, not less, instruction. Usually Tier 2 interventions typically include 30 minutes of additional instruction in a student’s area of need on 3 to 5 days a week. The materials for such instruction can be drawn from core materials or include other resources that complement the core curriculum. It is important that Tier 2 instruction be aligned with Tier 1 core practices so that students do not get confused.
Progress Monitoring. In order to know if a Tier 2 intervention is working, regular progress monitoring is necessary. FastBridge recommends weekly progress monitoring for students who are participating in Tier 2 interventions. Some, but not all, FAST screening assessments can also be used for progress monitoring. At this time, there is only one behavior progress measure, Direct Behavior Rating (DBR). Here is a summary of the recommended FAST progress monitoring assessments by grade levels for reading and math.
|K||earlyReading: Letter Sounds||earlyMath: Numeral Identification |
earlyMath: Number Sequence
|1||earlyReading: Nonsense Word Fluency or|
earlyMath: Numeral Identification
|4-8||CBMreading||CBMmath-CAP (Concepts and Applications)|
In addition to collecting weekly progress data, it is important that school teams review the data on a regular basis. If teams set up review schedules that include looking at progress data every 4 to 6 weeks, they will be able to see which students are making sufficient progress and which ones need additional assistance. In some cases, changing the current Tier 2 intervention will result in student improvement. In other cases it might be best to change the intervention entirely. This could mean a different Tier 2 intervention or a more intensive Tier 3 intervention. The good news is that the combination of Tier 1 plus Tier 2 is very effective and most students will meet grade level goals as a result. It is estimated that 15% of the total student population will achieve success with Tier 2. Together with the 80% from Tier 1, that means about 95% of all students will meet learning goals as a result of Tiers 1 and 2. That means about 5% of students might still be struggling. For these students, Tier 3 intensive intervention is important.
Tier 3: Intensive Instruction and Monitoring
Intensive Instruction. Tier 3 interventions are usually much more intensive than those used at Tier 2. These can include much longer lessons, or using an entirely different core instruction program. Students who participate in Tier 3 instruction are those whose screening and other performance data indicate that they are significantly below grade level expectations. If enough time can be found in the school day, adding more instructional time for such students is an option. Frequently, there are not any more instructional minutes to be found in the daily schedule, and so Tier 3 intervention needs to be provided at the same time as other instruction. This situation is when using a replacement core program can be the best solution. In such cases, students who need Tier 3 intervention participate in that intensive instruction during the normal core lesson times as well as during the Tier 2 supplemental lessons. As with Tier 2, students participating in intensive intervention require progress monitoring. FastBridge recommends weekly academic progress monitoring for these students as well. For students who participate in Tier 3 intensive behavior intervention, daily progress monitoring is usually best.
Tier 3 Progress Monitoring. The types of FAST progress measures available for Tier 3 monitoring are the same as those outlined above for Tier 2. The most likely difference between measures used at Tiers 2 and 3 is that those students participating in Tier 3 intensive interventions might need to be monitored at a lower grade level of material. This is because their current skills are such that monitoring at their grade level would be too difficult and yield low and very flat scores. Instead, students who are two or more years behind grade level should be monitored at the level of instruction until they reach grade level skills. With Tier 3 support in place, some of the 5% of students who need it can meet learning goals. Others might exhibit ongoing difficulties. As appropriate, and in relation to the collected progress data, some of these students might be referred for a special education evaluation.
FAST™ tools are designed to be used within a problem-solving multi-tier system of supports. Such supports are often provided at three different levels, or tiers. Each tier includes both effective instruction of increasing intensity that is in relation to a student’s current skills and assessments matched to the instructional level. It is important to note that those students who are not yet meeting grade level goals will need to make larger gains over a school year if they are going to catch up to their peers. FAST™ progress monitoring tools include the capacity to set ambitious weekly progress goals to help teachers and students focus on catching up to grade level goals. In order for an MTSS to be successful, careful planning at the district and school levels is important. Such planning includes review of current practices, identified needs, and resource allocations to address the school-specific needs. With such planning teachers can, and will, help struggling students be more successful in school.
References and Additional Resources
Brown-Chidsey, R., Bickford, R. (2016). Practical handbook of multi-tiered systems of support: Building academic and behavioral success in schools. New York: Guilford Press.
National Center for Response for Intervention http://www.rti4success.org/
National Center for Intensive Intervention http://www.intensiveintervention.org/
RTI Network http://www.rtinetwork.org/
What Works Clearinghouse http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/
Dr. Rachel Brown is FastBridge Learning’s Senior Academic Officer. She previously served as Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Southern Maine. Her research focuses on effective academic assessment and intervention, including multi-tier systems of support, and she has authored several books on Response to Intervention and MTSS.