Will MTSS take the place of GEI and Problem-Solving?

While MTSS is intended to be a process that schools can use to meet the needs of all students, many of the critical decision-making elements found in the GEI and Problem-Solving processes can also be found in the MTSS process.  It is important to note, however, that while traditional GEI and Problem Solving efforts are typically reactive in nature, MTSS efforts tend to be more proactive/preventative in nature and rely upon the early and consistent use of data to identify concerns with respect to the sufficiency of universal tier instruction as well as individual students whose needs are not being adequately addressed with only universal tier instruction.

Why would we want to develop instructional plans for students who are highly proficient?  Shouldn’t we save our efforts and energy for attending to the needs of those students who are less than proficient?

Given the current forces in education (ex. NCLB), it is certainly important to expend energy and resources to address the unique learning needs of students who are less than proficient.  None the less, it is also important that students who exceed grade level expectations be provided with the necessary curriculum and instruction that are necessary so they too can reach their full potential as well.  This notion of meeting the needs of ALL students is a fundamental guiding principle of the MTSS process.  Continuous improvement is a right for all students, not just those who are struggling.

How will the MTSS process reinforce and support the other initiatives that our school/district is involved in?

It is hard to imagine a school that makes decisions, particularly those decisions regarding their professional development and school improvement plans without a constant vigilance on student data.  This ability to analyze data, develop and implement action plans, monitor implementation, and evaluate outcomes is the essence of the MTSS process.  These are the very processes that are necessary for the successful implementation of initiatives that schools and school districts are currently involved in or may become involved with in the future.

When developing an instructional plan for an individual student or a group of students, how do we document our efforts?

When documenting the additional instructional efforts for an individual or a group, best practice would suggest that you assure that the critical elements (Existing information and data, Problem analysis/ definition, Baseline performance and goal, Intervention and monitoring logistics, Graph and decision-making strategy, Summary/Analysis of data and decision) are addressed and clearly documented.  The main focus should not be on the name of the document used, but instead the quality of the information that is contained in the document and the integrity in which the plan is implemented and monitored so that data-based can be made.  Schools involved in the state of Iowa’s MTSS/Early Literacy implementation process will be provided with a data system, called the Iowa Tier, which will facilitate the documentation of intervention and instructional plans for students.

Are there any additional documentation requirements for students with behavioral concerns?

For all concern areas it is important that the critical elements described above be attended to in their entirety.  However, for behavior concerns, it is even more critical that appropriate data be collected and organized from multiple sources so that a thorough analysis of the problem can occur and  teams can arrive at a reasonable conclusion as to the factors that are contributing to the behaviors in question (i.e. Functional Behavioral Assessment).  Additionally, it is critical that any intervention plan be logically linked with the problem analysis and provide students with the skills that will allow them to use more socially acceptable behaviors to get their needs met.

How can I expect AEA support staff to participate in our school/districts efforts surrounding the implementation of the MTSS process?

As the MTSS process is implemented in a particular district or school, AEA staff can provide a variety of services and supports which may include serving as a process coach and/or content experts as is necessary and appropriate.  Although the time that staff are assigned to any particular school setting is variable, Central Rivers AEA staff will be encouraged to become part of the school “system” and actively engage in implementation efforts of the MTSS process. For the state-wide implementation of Phase 1 schools, AEA staff will provide support to schools as an “external coach.”  Please note that AEA special education staff in non-Phase 1 schools are to provide consultative services in support of the MTSS process and are not to be considered to be a standing member of the team.  Consultative services are appropriate for special education staff when conversations revolve around meeting the needs of students with disabilities

We know what students are struggling, why do we have to spend so much time looking at our universal instruction?

There are some students whose needs are very apparent and it is crucial that the system have procedures in place so that their needs can be addressed with a sense of urgency.  However, there are also many students whose needs may be exacerbated due to inadequate universal tier instructional practices (i.e. inadequate instructional time, poor alignment of content, etc…).  Thus, it becomes important to exert some primary attention to the health and wellbeing of this level of instruction as well. With a solid universal tier instruction/curricular base in place, schools have a better chance of adequately meeting a larger percentage of their student’s needs, and thus will be better positioned to demonstrate continuous improvement and prepare students for the 21st century.  Additionally, with greater numbers of students having their needs met, there will be fewer students for whom targeted and intensive instructional plans are required, thus increasing the instructional efficiency of the school.

Is this MTSS process going to be mandated by the state?

The MTSS process should not be looked upon as an initiative that can or should be mandated by the state.  Instead, the MTSS process should be considered to be a thinking process whereby continuous improvement efforts are systematically and strategically applied to the school/district as a whole as well as to small groups and individual students as is necessary.  Although the MTSS process per se will never be mandated, the effective application of these principles will certainly assist schools in meeting the various accountability mandates that are in place at the current time (i.e. Early Literacy Progression rule -279.68)

How will participating in the MTSS training establish the foundation in our school/district for the implementation of the Iowa Core Curriculum?

Whether school teams receive training via the state implementation structure or through their local AEA (Please note that any training received at a local AEA does not reduce any of the state requirements for training when school is selected as an implementation site for state- wide rollout), teams will be provided with guidance on how to successfully effect change in their system by using a consistent and universally applied decision-making process that relies heavily upon the collection, organization, and analysis of data.  Thus, the ongoing refinement of curricular, instructional and assessment practices, a thrust of the Iowa Core Curriculum, can occur with greater ease.

For students who are less than proficient, how long must we implement an instructional plan prior to deciding that it was unsuccessful and moving to a different step in the process?

Given that this process is built upon the notion of making data based decisions, it is difficult and often times inappropriate to define the length of time that an intervention plan must be implemented prior to moving to a different step in the process as the sole variable to consider.  Although time is an important variable, there are many additional variables that intervention teams need to consider before making such a decision.  These additional variables may include: intensity of present concern, integrity of implementation, and rate of student progress (or lack thereof) or improvement.  Assuming the intervention plan is evidence-based, matches the needs of the student(s) and is implemented with a high level of integrity, some researchers would suggest that a minimum of 3 to 4 weeks of instruction and a minimum of 8 data points be obtained prior to making any substantive changes in the intervention plan.  Moving forward after minor changes have been made to the intervention, teams would again be encouraged to collect a similar amount of progress monitoring data prior to making decisions regarding the “enhanced” intervention plan.  Depending upon the slope of improvement (rate of growth) and current performance level compared to grade/instructional level expectations (discrepancy) teams might decide that the student’s needs exceed the capacity of the current level of instruction and recommend a more intensive level of instruction.

If a less then proficient student requires intensive instructional services, does that mean they are eligible for special education services?

Although there are a wide range of compelling opinions for and against this notion, at the current time, Iowa defines intensive instruction as a general education support. If ongoing data collection in response to this level of instruction indicates that this more intensive level of instruction in not sufficient and more intensive resources are necessary (i.e., needs exceeds the capacity of the general education setting), an option available to team members is to move to formally consider eligibility for special education services.  At this time, the rich data collected as part of the MTSS process should be used to address and satisfy some of the special education eligibility requirements as outlined by the state.

After implementing MTSS practices, will we have to go through the GEI/Problem Solving process in order for a student to be considered for special education services?

As a matter of state law, students must be provided with general education interventions prior to being considered for special education services.

“General education interventions shall include teacher consultation with special education support and instructional personnel working collaboratively to improve an individual’s educational performance. The activities shall be documented and shall include measurable and goal directed attempts to resolve the presenting problem or behaviors of concern, communication with parents, and collection of data related to the presenting problem or behaviors of concern, intervention design and implementation, and systematic progress monitoring to measure the effects of interventions.” (41.312(2) Nature of general education interventions?” from the Iowa State Rules and Regulations document)

Given that the targeted and intensive levels or tier of instruction within the MTSS process requires that the critical elements outlined above be addressed and documented, school teams would have the necessary information and data available to satisfy the general education requirements and would therefore not be required to repeat a similar process prior to the consideration of special education services and supports should such a decision be necessary and appropriate.  However, it may be required that the existing documentation of instructional efforts be placed on an Central Rivers AEA approved document.

Do we need an intervention plan for students receiving supports such as Title I?

Best practice would suggest that any student who receives instructional support of any kind beyond what is provided via universal tier instruction have a plan created that summarizes why the plan is needed, the goals of the instruction, the logistics of this instruction as well as the methods to be used to monitor implementation and student performance in response to this instruction.  Without such a plan in place, implementation may suffer and data-based decisions may not be made in a timely manner.  As a result, inappropriate instructional decisions may be made.

If we implement MTSS, do we have to give up our Building Assistance Team?

No.  However, after implementing the MTSS process, a school’s BAT may function very differently or evolve into a different team.  The key difference between an MTSS framework and the way BAT’s have traditionally operated is the method of referral and the intensity of the presenting problem or concern at the time of referral.  With respect to the traditional BAT process, teachers would typically “refer” students when a problem or area of concern has existed for some time, is currently at a fairly high level of intensity and solutions have apparently been exhausted.  In an MTSS framework, universal screening data, which are frequently collected in an effort to identify the potential existence of learning problems, are used to “refer” a student for consideration of an intervention.  Given the fact that these data are collected multiple times during the school year, there is a greater chance that the issue of concern can be identified earlier.  Therefore, there is an increased likelihood that student needs can be effectively addressed using general education services and supports because the intensity of the issue may not be as great.  Thus, a BAT may become the team analyzing building-wide data, and making recommendations for targeted and intensive interventions.

Will my workload increase if our school implements MTSS?

Not necessarily, but your workload will change.  You may experience an increase in your workload during the time that MTSS is first implemented and old practices are replaced.  The “messy middle” or place between the “old” and “new” system can be challenging as there are two sets of practices running at the same time.  Once the transition period is over, you will work more efficiently by meeting the needs of groups of students and engage in more preventive activities..

Is MTSS a short term commitment that you will implement at once?

No, MTSS is a long-term commitment.  It is a continually improving and evolving process.  This process should not be undertaken if there is not an understanding on the part of the school that it will take significant time to plan, build and maintain the infrastructure for the MTSS process.  Substantive change typically takes three to five years.

Will schools be required to use certain assessments and instructional programs?

Schools that have been selected to participate in the initial phase of Iowa’s state-wide MTSS implementation will be expected to use the universal screening and progress monitoring tools that have been purchased for PK – 6th grade literacy (FAST and IGDI).  As a result of recent legislation, all K-3 schools will be required to use a state approved universal screening and progress monitoring assessment.  As for instructional programs, all K-3 schools will be expected to use scientific, evidence-based instruction (currently in reading) to any student who exhibits a substantial deficiency in reading. For those schools implementing these MTSS practices for older students or in others academic content areas will determine which assessment they will use and what instructional practices will be implemented based upon their unique circumstances.

How is the IDM/RTI process similar to or different from MTSS?

For all practical purposes all processes are similar to one another.  One could almost argue that IDM was and MTSS currently is Iowa’s brand name for the RTI process that is often written about at the national level.  All processes are implemented as a systematic decision-making process, attempt to meet the needs of students by either preventing problems or by identifying them early, require the use of data to make decisions at many levels (needs assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation),  and both require the use of evidence-based teaching practices.