MTSS in the Elementary School: A Common Framework for ELA and Mathematics

As educators, we know students come to our classrooms with a wide range of instructional needs and that our role is to provide appropriate supports to meet those needs.  A Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) is a school structure that allows teachers to collaborate, use data to make decisions, and identify learner needs to effectively intervene on behalf of students.  The end goal of this system is that students are provided appropriate instructional support at the appropriate time.

RTI’s [MTSS] underlying premise is that schools should not delay providing help for struggling students until they fall far enough behind to qualify for special education, but instead should provide timely, targeted systematic interventions to all students who demonstrate the need.
—Buffum, Mattos, and Weber

Essential to the successful implementation of MTSS in classrooms is an intentional use of research-based tools, resources, and supports, while being deliberate about building teacher expertise in regard to instruction, assessment, and intervention.  In this article, we focus on the tools, resources, and supports that should be available to teachers in order to support implementation of MTSS at the elementary level.  We then give suggestions for possible resources to support a successful MTSS framework in the literacy and mathematics classroom.

A diagram consisting of three concentric circles, showing learner development: Learner cannot do, learner can do with guidance, learner can do unaided

Assessment Tools: An Ongoing Process to Inform Instruction

At the classroom level, teachers make use of assessment tools to gather evidence regarding the effectiveness of Tier 1 instruction and to inform decisions regarding additional supports for students. Within the MTSS framework, teachers use three types of assessment tools: universal screeners, meant as the first step in identifying the students who are at risk for learning difficulties, diagnostic assessments, highly-targeted at a particular concept and meant to inform individual learning needs, and progress monitoring, formative assessment used to track individual student progress over time.

Assessing in the ELA Classroom

Universal Screeners: Currently, many universal screeners are available which explore general grade-level reading skills. The first step in choosing a screener is to articulate beliefs about teaching reading and valued aspects of the curriculum. A screening tool should reflect the literacy performances that are most valued by the district.

Diagnostic Assessments: These individual assessments provide an opportunity to gain knowledge about how a student processes reading and thinking about a text. Analyzing and interpreting the data will help guide instructional decisions. In Wayne County teachers use running records, Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA2+), and Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System (BAS).  Used well and for diagnostic purposes, these types of assessments can provide important information about student learning needs and targeting interventions to support those needs.

Progress Monitoring: Collecting data that reveals high-quality information for instructional purposes is the priority of monitoring progress and growth. Assessments rooted in real reading events that are closely aligned to the targets set for students will more readily translate to improved instruction.

Assessing Mathematics

Universal Screeners: There are a number of tools that can be used as a universal screener for mathematics.  One powerful tool is aligned to the research of Math Recovery ®.  Wayne RESA is currently working to make this screening tool available in MISTAR Data and Assessment and to provide training on its use. 

Diagnostic Assessments: Math Recovery®, also has a diagnostic assessment called Add+VantageMR (AVMR).  The AVMR suite of assessments provides diagnostic tools for early number, addition and subtraction, place value, multiplication and division, with a fraction assessment available soon. Wayne RESA has recently been able to tap grant funds to train teachers in the use of this assessment.

Progress Monitoring: As teachers interact with students, they can gather valuable formative assessment information. For example, it is useful to know which students use counting strategies and which are able to see relationships within the number system (e.g. that 6 + 6 and 6 + 7 are related to each other) in order to guide instructional decisions. Professional development focused on these types of progressions can help teachers build and refine their ability to match assessment results to effective instruction.

Resources: Building a Toolbox of Effective Interventions: 

Based upon assessment data gathered, teachers can then make instructional decisions that are individualized for particular learners, with the intent that the instruction addresses the students’ learning in the zone of proximal development, to inform what the student can do independently and what the student can do with the guidance of the teacher. This implies, then, there is a toolkit of appropriate resources in order to meet the needs of the learner. 

ELA: Gathering data on which to base your instruction requires systematic benchmark assessment, targeted diagnostic assessments, and ongoing systematic observations of reading behavior over time. To determine a starting place for daily reading instruction and intervention it is important to first identify the level of text students can read with appropriate accuracy, understanding, and fluency. The teacher can then move on to analyze behaviors that provide evidence of whether and how well they are able to use strategic actions to gain meaning from text. The series MTSS in the Elementary Classroom: How Do We Assess and Monitor Student Growth in Literacy? will explore the network of strategic actions that make up an effective reading processing system and translate that into effective instructional practices.

Mathematics: Based on formative assessment information gathered during instruction and through the use of the benchmark and diagnostic assessments, teachers should be prepared to choose Tiers 2 and 3 interventions based on a student’s current learning needs. In mathematics, this should be based on a progression of student understanding for the particular concept area; a progression that describes the level of sophistication the student currently understands as well as the ways in which that understanding is expected to develop over time.  Teachers who attend the MTSS in Mathematics series of workshops will be given access to a toolkit of interventions aligned to a progression of learning for elementary mathematics concepts.

Supports: Building Level Structures that Support Collective Responsibility

Implementing MTSS for ELA or Mathematics requires that teachers have a shared understanding of such questions as: How do we know when a learner is in need of additional support?  How will we monitor student progress?  How do we ensure coherence within and across grade levels or between classroom teachers and interventionists?  Research supports the use of flexible grouping, timely intervention, and collaborative problem solving.  Building-level structures play an integral role in meeting these needs.  No matter the content area, teachers will need time to answer these questions and make use of the tools and resources in a collaborative manner informed by their ongoing work with students. 

MTSS in the Elementary Classroom: How Do We Assess and Monitor Student Growth in Literacy? will be offered as a K-2 series and a 3-5 series which begins in December.

MTSS in Mathematics (K-4) begins on November 1st and a second cohort will be added this summer.  This professional learning is meant to support a team of K-4 teachers along with an interventionist. There is current grant funding to offset the cost of the diagnostic assessments for a limited number of participants.