A Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) is a systemic, continuous school improvement framework. At the Tier 1 level, all students have equitable access to effective core instruction with high quality curriculum and the use of universally designed, differentiated instructional practices. Within the Social-Emotional and Behavioral (SEB) realm, our school wide efforts are directed toward establishing an environment where both students and staff feel connected and supported. It is important to ensure there is alignment of academic standards, behavioral expectations, and social-emotional competencies taught and reinforced with fidelity and sustained over time at the Tier 1 level. 

Another necessity in this work is a problem-solving culture that includes a data-driven, team based approach designed to ensure that every student receives the appropriate level of support when they need it. With a strong academic and social-emotional-behavioral core in place, data should show that at least 80% of students are successful if the core is effective.  This core instruction is the basis of the entire multi-tiered system of support. Below is additional information on how to implement and evaluate a strong academic and social-emotional-behavioral foundation.

Tier 1 implementation is continuously improved through an ongoing process of systematically and regularly analyzing school-wide data to identify strengths, areas of focus, and fidelity of implementation, to problem solve at the school level. This data can include current academic skill levels or Social-Emotional Behavioral progress through the use of screeners, Additionally, other forms of school-wide data such as Surveyworks, school and district report cards, state assessments, and PSAT/SAT results can be used to inform improvement efforts. Lastly, Early Warning System (EWS) data such as attendance, discipline referrals, suspensions, and course failures can be useful to determine the strengths and areas of focus to improve Tier 1 implementation. Data should be examined with a “Whole Child” lens stressing the interconnectedness of academic and life outcomes with SEB skills and an emphasis on looking at disaggregated data for subgroups to ensure we are meeting the needs of different populations and considering groups of similar students who are not as responsive to Tier 1 instruction. 
Grade-level, or content area teams may choose to focus on data available through screening, school-wide behavior data, climate data, or common assessments in order to identify strengths and areas of need. When reviewing data with a Tier 1 lens, we do not use student names but rather the percentage of students who are meeting benchmarks or other identified indicators. Students who are meeting these benchmarks are responding to core instruction. If the data shows that less than 80% of students are responding to core instruction, the problem solving should focus on efforts to strengthen the core. When considering this data teams should also review disaggregated subgroup data to evaluate the effectiveness of Tier 1 instruction for different groups of students. The team should consider both fidelity of implementation, the consistent use of evidence based practices, and standards based curriculum.
Effective core instruction, based on the use of high quality curriculum and evidence-based instructional practices, is the foundation of a strong academic core for all students, including diverse learners. Curriculum and instruction should include:

  • Defined Goals - standards based instructional materials and assessments aligned to rigorous college and career-ready standards. 
  • Methods - the use of research-based instructional strategies (e.x., Universal Design for Learning, Peer Assisted Learning), data driven instructional decisions, and routines that teachers use to meaningfully engage students in active learning. 
  • Screening- Proactive universal screening to evaluate core instruction and to ensure early intervention if any students are struggling with skills that could likely impact access to grade level standards. 
  • Supports- At the tier 1 level appropriate scaffolding and additional support must be provided on an as needed basis to ensure the core curriculum is accessible for all students. This includes support for differently abled students, students from diverse backgrounds or multilingual learners. Universal access to core curriculum is a key component of tier 1.
  • Assessment and Data- the ongoing process of gathering information about student learning.  Both formative and summative assessment data should be collected and reviewed periodically to identify the efficacy of core instruction. Paying close attention to the progress of different groups of students will help to inform instructional decisions and other considerations for assessing the effectiveness and fidelity of core instruction.

In an effective social-emotional-behavioral core, preventative supports are provided to all students. There is a consistent and instructional approach to both behavioral health and social-emotional learning.
Research has found that successful student behavior support is linked to school climates that are effective, efficient, relevant, & durable (Zins and Ponti, 1990). Schools with such climates use the smallest number of evidence-based practices needed to produce those outcomes, specifically:
  • Common, co-created with students/community, positively stated social and behavioral expectations aligned to social-emotional competencies are defined, taught, and supported.
  • Social and Behavioral expectations are grounded in awareness of self and impact of our behavior on others. 
  • Use of consistent, instructional, restorative and non-exclusionary continuum of supports for social and behavioral errors.
Additionally, because many adults in schools do not have expertise in social-emotional and behavioral (SEB) instruction, training and follow up coaching and feedback should be provided to support the use of evidence based practices throughout the school. Adults need a broader understanding that behavior is not intentional or purposefully targeting an adult rather a lagging skill for the student. Creating a culture around the belief that students do well when they can, and a commitment to using neutralizing routines and additional instruction to support the SEB health of students is imperative.  
Though the core features of Tier 1 in a Multi-Tiered System of Supports are the same at the secondary level, there are certain contextual factors that need to be carefully considered when planning implementation.

  • Size - secondary schools are typically larger and often are departmentalized. It can be challenging to reach everyone in the building, and implementation typically takes longer as a result.
  • Organizational Culture - secondary schools have a laser-like focus on academic content. While important, teaching behavior and social-emotional health is equally important and is the responsibility of all adults in the building.
  • Schedule - The secondary school schedule can create challenges. Meeting students’ needs requires flexibility in the scheduling and delivery of interventions as well as collaborative time for teachers and related service providers. The schedule should consider: student access to tiered supports; time for teachers and other staff members to collaborate, and time for teachers to analyze and discuss data.
  • Student Motivation and Engagement - older students will want greater input into decision making that directly affects them. Consider soliciting feedback from student stakeholders while building and maintaining the behavioral/social-emotional core. Including a diverse student population in these feedback sessions will help to ensure alignment with the unique needs of students throughout the school. Including students who are less likely to be engaged and who represent a diversity of race, culture, ability, sexual orientation, and gender when gathering feedback will help to ensure alignment to the population’s needs. 
  • Staff Culture - Adopting a multi-tiered framework at the secondary level can require a significant shift in a school’s culture. Staff members may need to collaborate in new ways, related service providers may need to push in or coach rather than pull out, various groups may have to work together to examine data in ways they did not before, and agree - philosophically - that the success of all students is the responsibility of all staff members.

Because students spend the majority of the school day in classrooms, this environment is particularly important to academic, behavioral, and social-emotional learning. When we speak about the MTSS  framework in the classroom, we are referring to the instruction and practices that occur for all students, including diverse learners. An effective social-emotional/behavioral core at the classroom level supports effective classroom communities, and thus, academic achievement.

Evidence-based classroom practices should be utilized to improve student engagement and thus, academic outcomes. Classroom practices should be aligned with the school-wide expectations and include:

  • Minimize crowding and distraction
  • Maximize structure and predictability
  • Co-create behavior agreements with students
  • State, teach, review and support positively stated behavioral agreements
  • Maximize active engagement and varied opportunities to respond
  • Active supervision
  • Efficient and specific feedback regarding behavior
  • Consistent formation of strong community engagement through the use of restorative practices. 
  • Equity focused ongoing self-assessment and reflection for continuous improvement
Intervention practices for students who are receiving Tiers 2 and 3 supports should be integrated into the classroom setting. Additionally, students with IEPs and/or 504 plans as well as multilingual learners should also have access to integrated practices and strategies within the classroom setting.

Secondary Considerations
Although content is a large focus of academic learning at the secondary level, it is still critically important to focus on skills and behaviors that help students meet with academic success and become college- and career-ready. Educators should support students needing additional focus on executive functioning (such as homework, organization, and planning skills), as well as address skill deficits that may have grown larger over time. Additionally, motivation and engagement at the secondary level are key factors for student learning and should be addressed accordingly. To this end, connectedness and relationships between students themselves as well as students and educators are critical to success at the secondary level.  

Learn More in the Classroom Communities Course.

As you can see, effective Tier 1 instruction and team based data driven approaches to implementation are the foundation of a strong academic and behavioral/SEL core. When working together educators can make improvements in both the academic and behavioral/social emotional progress for all students.

Learn More About Tier 1

If you're interested in improving your school's implementation of Tier 1, be sure to check out BRIDGE-RI's strand of courses devoted to this topic. We have courses focused both on Tier 1 Academics and Tier 1 Behavioral/Social Emotional Learning. Please note that you must have an account with BRIDGE-RI to enroll in courses. Sign up today - it's free and easy!

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Last modified: Monday, January 29, 2024, 4:20 PM