Joseph F. Kovaleski, D.Ed., NCSP
In the last 10 years, much has been written about using a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) to organize schools to promote academic proficiency, mental health, and appropriate behavior (e.g., Brown-Chidsey & Bickford, 2016; Burns & Gibbons, 2012). These systems were originally conceptualized as response to intervention (RTI) models. The concept of using students’ responding to core instruction, evidence-based interventions, and positive behavior supports continues to serve as the foundation of an MTSS. Along the way, there has been a general consensus about the necessary components of an MTSS, which generally include the provision of standards-aligned core instruction; universal screening; the provision of increasingly intensive, evidence-based interventions for students who lag behind academic or behavioral expectations; and the monitoring of students’ progress. All of these components are conceptualized as being delivered through a problem-solving framework, which includes problem identification, problem analysis, targeted intervention to address the problem, and the evaluation of the effectiveness of the intervention.
Sometimes lost among these important structural features is the reality that the student-centered decisions that are made throughout the MTSS process are mediated through meetings of teachers, administrators and other educational professionals. In fact, the beginnings of MTSSs can be traced to work in the 1970s and 1980s, such as teacher assistance teams (TATs; Chalfant & Pysh, 1989), which convened groups of teachers to talk about student concerns. Over the years, these teacher-meeting formats became more sophisticated in terms of incorporating student-assessment data and research-based interventions into the deliberations (Kovaleski & Black, 2010), and eventuated into MTSS. However, as these important components have been added, the actual procedures for running problem-solving meetings in the context of MTSS have been under-emphasized.
How school-based teams actually work together has been one of my major professional interests throughout my career. As a school psychologist, administrator, consultant, and university professor, I have participated in and observed countless team meetings, both good and bad. I have found that when teams have a set structure, useful forms, and commonly understood operating procedures, they are effective and team members display great satisfaction with the process. Conversely, the lack of structure, poorly designed forms, and uncertain procedures breed ineffectiveness and dissatisfaction (or even annoyance) with the team process. An important factor in the development and operation of effective school teams is team training. Forty years ago, training teams on operational procedures and the interpersonal dynamics of working together were commonplace. Today, training to use an MTSS often addresses the key components described above, but does not include training in teaming per se.
I have tried to address this gap through a series of publications in the National Association of School Psychologists’ Best Practices series (Kovaleski, 2002; Kovaleski & Pedersen, 2008; Kovaleski & Pedersen, 2014). In these publications, my colleague, Jason Pedersen, and I have articulated not only the concepts of teaming based on student-assessment data, but have also provided specific details about how teams use data to make instructional decisions. Included are forms that we have found to be useful in guiding team deliberations and memorializing team decisions and scripts to follow during team meetings. Related material has been posted to the RTI Action Network website. Information about how RTI data from the MTSS process can be used to inform the special-education identification process for students with SLD can be found in my book, The RTI Approach to Evaluating Learning Disabilities (Kovaleski, VanDerHeyden, & Shapiro, 2013).
There are three main components to effective student data review meetings: (a) principal leadership, (b) focus on the right data, and (c) team training.
Principal leadership. In order for any team to work effectively, it requires leadership. In schools, the most logical team leader is the building principal. Depending on the size of the school (i.e., number of students), an assistant principal or other curriculum leader might also serve as the leader of a student data team. Although successful teams require good leadership, this does not mean that the principal, or other leader, controls everything. Instead, effective team leadership is characterized by facilitating meetings and activities through delegating roles to each team member. In addition, the leader can help to coach other team members in understanding and using student data to inform effective instruction. One way that team leaders can best support an effective MTSS is to focus on detail of student data.
Function follows “forms.” In order for school teams to use student data effectively, they need to have the correct information. In most schools, there are one or more forms used to gather and organize student data. Traditionally, such forms were paper-based, but more recently such information is stored on computers. Such forms were designed to help teachers and teams have the right information to make effective decisions. In this regard, making sure that the school or district has adopted and implemented “forms” that include the crucial data for each student. Each school or district might have different forms or data needs, but the data contained in the forms serves the function of providing team members with details important for each student.
Team training. An MTSS is a complex system that requires regular and efficient data gathering and communication. Research about team functions and effectiveness shows that those teams that participate in training to work together accomplish their goals more effectively. For this reason, educational leaders are strongly encouraged to provide training for team members. Such training typically includes information about how team members can interact most effectively and adopt specific roles in order to ensure that all students’ needs are addressed thoroughly.
More details about effective data analysis team meetings is found in a recorded webinar posted in the FAST™Knowledge Base for current subscribers. Additional resources related to possible assessments, data interpretation, and supporting students using an MTSS is also available at www.fastbridge.org.
Brown-Chidsey, R., & Bickford, R. (2016). Practical handbook of multi-tiered systems of support: Building academic and behavioral success in schools. New York, NY: Guilford.
Burns, M. K., & Gibbons, K. A. (2008). Implementing response-to-intervention in elementary and secondary schools. New York: Routledge.
Chalfant, J. C., & Pysh, V. D. M. (1989). Teacher assistance teams: Five descriptive studies on 96 teams. Remedial & Special Education, 10(6), 49-62.
Kovaleski, J.F. (2002). Best practices in operating prereferral intervention teams. In Thomas, A. & Grimes, J. (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology, IV. Washington, DC: National Association of School Psychologists.
Kovaleski, J. F., & Black, L. (2010). Multi-tier service delivery: Current status and future directions. In T. A. Glover & S. Vaughn (Eds.), The promise of response to intervention: Evaluating current science and practice. New York: Guilford.
Kovaleski, J. F., & Pedersen, J. A. (2008). Best practices in data-analysis teaming. In A. Thomas and J. Grimes, (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology V (pp.115-129). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
Kovaleski, J. F., & Pedersen, J. A. (2014). Best practices in data-analysis teaming. In P. L. Harrison & A. Thomas (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology: Data-based and collaborative decision making (pp. 99-120). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
Kovaleski, J. F., VanDerHeyden, A. M., & Shapiro, E.S. (2013). The RTI approach to evaluating learning disabilities. New York: Guilford.
Dr. Joseph Kovaleski earned his doctorate in school psychology from the Pennsylvania State University. He began his professional career as a school psychologist and preschool coordinator with the Carbon-Lehigh (Pa.) Intermediate Unit. He subsequently worked as director of Special Services in the South Plainfield (N.J.) Public Schools, supervisor of Clinical Services with the Lancaster-Lebanon (Pa.) Intermediate Unit, and director of Pupil Services with the Cornwall-Lebanon (PA) School District. From 1990 to 1997, he served as director of the Instructional Support Team Project for the Instructional Support System of Pennsylvania. In that role, he supervised the implementation of ISTs in over 1,700 schools in Pennsylvania. In 2005, he was named as a co-principal investigator for the Pennsylvania Response to Instruction and Intervention Project, which initiated multi-tier service delivery systems throughout the state. He continues to consult with the Pennsylvania RTII Project through the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network. Dr. Kovaleski has consulted with school districts and departments of education throughout the United States. His professional interests include system-wide efforts for school restructuring, the application of student assessment to classroom instruction, and implementing RTI assessment programs in the context of whole-school reform.