All schools are, or should be, planning for what to do for all students when schools re-open, presumably (and hopefully) in the Fall, for the 20-21 school year. My schools are planning, and I believe that all schools should be planning, for supports that all students will need and the supports that the most vulnerable students will need.

We must plan to provided ongoing Tier 2 and 3 supports throughout the year. Of course, we have always done this, but it’s possible that students with vulnerabilities will need our timely, targeted, and intensive supports more than ever. Let’s ensure that our RTI/MTSS plans, for both academic and behavioral needs, ensure proactive and impactful supports for students.

Let’s consider a scenario that occurs every year. In past years, we have attempted to prepare for scenarios such as these before the school year. We must triple our efforts for the coming year:

Suppose there is a student about to be in grade 7 for whom there are reading concerns. These concerns are known in a timely and efficient manner through universal screening; we both examined assessment data that we gathered on all students (through regularly administered state [or province], district, or school tests) and systematically gathered input from teachers at the conclusion of the school year so that we had the information needed to proactively support students at the very beginning of the next school year. Let’s say this particular student scored in the fourth percentile on regular administered districtwide reading tests. We do not yet know why, but there is something amiss, and we intend to do something about it. Moreover, this year’s team of sixth-grade teachers notes that this student has difficulty reading grade-level material; they notice that he reads in a labored fashion and makes mistakes with longer words. 

After universal screening and identifying that this student needs additional support, we must determine why this student is having difficulty. To do this, we sit with our soon-to-be seventh grader and listen to him read. Given that this student is performing at the fourth percentile (at least as one indicator measures), we do not ask him to read a sixth-grade passage; instead, we asked him to read a fourth-grade passage so that accuracy does not compromise our assessment of comprehension. While the student reads to us aloud, we listen for fluency (rate and prosody) and accuracy, specifically paying attention to any pattern of decoding errors. Following the student’s reading, we ask a few comprehension questions. At the conclusion of this ten- to fifteen-minute period of informal diagnosing, we are in a position to confidently determine whether the student most needs (or first needs) targeted support in the area of single-syllabic phonics, multisyllabic phonics, fluency, or comprehension. We efficient and effectively (albeit perhaps preliminarily) identify why the student was having difficulty reading. 

Then, we determine what we will do to proactively target these needs so that the student is on the path to success. This seventh-grade team embeds buffer times within units of instruction and throughout the school year to provide intervention or enrichment depending on evidence of need that it gathers through assessments (Tier 2 interventions). All students in the class will benefit from these buffer times, either from intervention or enrichment, and we can anticipate that our at-risk reader in this scenario may require these supplemental Tier 2 interventions from time to time. However, his needs are such that he is likely to require targeted Tier 3 interventions.

We would have already developed a system of supports within which there are thirty-minute Tier 3 sessions in the various areas of reading difficulties, available within the school day. Assuming this to be true for our school, we assign this sixth-grade student to a targeted Tier 3 support that specifically addresses the most immediate area of need. Assuming that this situation is occurring at the end of the student’s sixth-grade year, this intervention support would begin at the very start of the student’s seventh-grade year. We would also prevent frustration and failure by being ready on day one of seventh grade with positive and proactive differentiation supports (such as text at the student’s Lexile level, graphical and visual representations of key content, and audio versions of the course’s texts) so that all students can achieve mastery of the course’s priorities.

In addition, we would identify who on staff will take the lead in providing these supports and when the appointed staff will provide them, at all tiers. In this scenario, seventh-grade teacher teams would prepare for the differentiated and scaffolded core instructional supports that students with significant needs in foundational reading skills require to be successful in their courses. If a student cannot successfully read grade-level content, in the absence of scaffolded supports he will experience difficulties accessing learning. But all students can think. All students can problem solve. All students can learn. Educators cannot allow reading deficits to prevent students from mastering grade-level essentials. This student must have equitable access to meeting grade-level expectations as a result of scaffolded differentiation.

Last, we must ensure that we check on student progress frequently and accurately and ensure that we have a process in place for making necessary adjustments. There is no learning unless we know the extent to which students are progressing so that we can adjust our teaching. There is no RTI unless we know the extent to which students are responding to the interventions. So, to measure the extent to which our middle school reader who is at risk is responding to Tier 3 reading supports, we monitor progress in the skill area that matches the area of need, and the area in which we are providing support, at least every two weeks. If the student is receiving single-syllabic support, then we monitor progress in decoding single-syllabic words. If the student is receiving multisyllabic support, then we monitor progress in decoding multisyllabic words, and so on.

Additionally, we ensure that the RTI team (principal, administrators, counselors, special education staff, and teachers) meets weekly to review evidence to ensure that students—particularly students most at risk—are adequately responding to intervention. If students are adequately closing the gap, then we continue these supports until the gaps do not exist. If students are not adequately closing the gap, then we make adjustments to the type of support (or to how we are providing the intervention) until adequate progress occurs. No matter what. No matter how long it takes. Success is inevitable.

None of these practices occur in isolation and they are not completed only for our fictional sixth-grade student. They occur automatically, systematically, as part of our specially designed RTI-based system of supports.

So many schools are seeking guidance and supports in addressing scenarios such as these. The search is over.

In these unprecedented times, our students need our best and we need the best tools to serve them. Mr. Elmer’s Intervention Compass is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Intervention Compass can help:

  • The universal screening of mindsets is available within Intervention Compass.
  • Data from these screeners can be organized and analyzed within Intervention Compass’ Data Walls.
  • Research-based strategies, found within Intervention Compass’ Intervention Library, can be used to promote more positive mindsets.
  • Students’ mindset needs and staff response to these needs can be documented within Intervention Compass’ notes section.
  • Progress monitoring can be scheduled, administered, and data plotted within Intervention Compass’ assessment support system.

We can be prepared to meet students’ behavioral needs. We must. Mr. Elmer is the best solution to help us in this critical work.

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