Our Journey to Rebalance Literacy Instruction and Refine our MTSS Systems – Part 2, Parallels in Learning Support

In the previous post, I discussed the questions and investigations we explored to consider our literacy progress and instruction. At the same time, and even starting the year before, our ES Learning Support team began to investigate our tiers of support and our referral processes. In this post I will outline that process and in the next post, discuss how these two processes converged.

Who is in Support and why?

When I arrived at AISJ in the fall of 20219, one of the questions that I and the ES Learning Support team had was why are so many students ending up in support? By fourth and fifth grade, we were seeing an increased number of referrals, especially in the area of literacy. Why were kids getting to Upper Elementary and stalling in their literacy development and struggling with writing stamina.  Why did so many students still need intervention and practice in foundational literacy skills?

One of the guiding principles of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) is that there must be strong Tier one instruction that response to the needs of the students. If the majority of your students are reading below grade level, then your tier 1 instruction must address this, we can’t refer everyone. Is this what was going on? Was there a flaw or weakness in our core curriculum that might be affecting our referral rates? For a consideration of this question, see the previous post.

Next, there must be well developed Universal Screeners and clear protocols for data analysis to inform instruction. This was identified as an area to strengthen both by the Learning Support Team and the Literacy Cohort discussed previously. I will outline the steps taken to strengthen this practice in the next post of this series.

Finally, there must be targeted tier 1 and 2 interventions to respond to students not meeting benchmarks or making adequate progress and clear systems for monitoring the impact of these interventions. The Learning Support Team identified this as an area we needed to understand better and could work to improve in our collaborations with class teachers.

What is the difference between Tier 2 and Tier 3?

Over a series of Learning Support meetings and retreats, we began to deepen our own understanding of MTSS through the reading of key material central to strong MTSS practices and team discussions. One article that was particularly helpful and provoked a robust discussion was Distinguishing between Tier 2 and Tier 3 Instruction in Order to Support Implementation of RTI from the RTI Network.

This discussion helped us to clarify the differences between targeted, short term tier 2 intervention and longer term, targeted tier 3 intervention. It crystalized for us that we were providing the long term tier 3 intervention for our students with a diagnosed need for support, but we were less clear on when and how we were providing tier 2 shorter term interventions. The process for working through the tiers of support was unclear to us and inconsistent in practice. It also became clear that our referral process was being driven by teacher’s being worried about students and not data. This was leading to students struggling for too long because some teacher weren’t concerned enough AND students being over referred because teachers were too worried. Neither is good for our students. We knew we needed to refine our practice and our referral systems to ensure that data was driving our decision making.

Next Steps

This is where the Learning Support work and Literacy work began to converge. Both groups understood that we needed to expand the Universal Screening dat collected and our practice of data analysis. Both groups identified that there were Tier 1 literacy curriculum and instruction gaps to address. Both groups wanted to focus on using the data to better inform instruction and intervention with clear progress monitoring. The Learning Support team needed to refine the referral process to align and support this work. In the next post, I will share our plans and action steps.

If you would like more information about MTSS consider the following links:

Improving Practice: Four Essential Components of Supporting Quality Reading Instruction

Developing a Multi-Tiered System of Supports

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