Tiers not Tears: MTSS/RtI During a Pandemic (part 2 of 2)

MTSS/RtI are all about collaborative conversations. We need partnerships to support students—not a separate system but a link connecting all the existing systems.  MTSS/RtI is greater than the sum of its parts.

Tier 1 is for all students, and it is a constant endeavor. You never stop the Tier 1 conversations or supports.

Then there are some children who exhibit one or more of what Dr. Andrea Ogonosky refers to as the “Three D’s” affecting learning: Differences, Difficulties, Disabilities. These children will need additional supports to Tier 1 differentiated instruction. Some of these students are identified through child find activities, and campus data will also show you which kids need more support through Tiers 2 and 3.

Tier 3 is the highest level and contains programs and interventions like Special Education (long term solutions). Tier 2 is the middle ground between what every child needs (Tier 1) and what only a few children need (Tier 3). Prior to COVID-19, interventionists, teachers, and other campus staff would meet every six weeks to discuss the data and determine which kids needed what intervention. If a student was identified for Tier 2 support, their parents would get a letter explaining the needed interventions and the plan for progress monitoring. These interventions would typically entail 60 minutes a week of additional instruction for the child in their area of academic or social-emotional need.

During the era of COVID-19, a question has arisen: “What do we do now for these Tier 2 and 3 kids?”

There are many obstacles to effective interventions right now—accessibility of resources and materials, “real time” accommodations and feedback, distractions in the home environment, parent knowledge of or comfort level with the content, and time.  Despite these challenges, it can be done, and Dr. Ogonosky has some advice for us.

First of all, do not introduce any new content or new interventions but do begin by reaching out to the parents of Tier 2 and 3 children. Counselors and interventionists should still be providing help for the skills that these kids were previously identified as needing. Schedule weekly virtual meetings with parents (15 – 20 minutes, if possible) to discuss the student’s progress and current situation. This is the perfect opportunity to give parents strategies for supporting their child emotionally and academically as well. Schedule weekly small group meetings (15 – 20 minutes) with a handful of students at a time to conduct some guided practice with a skill that the students had been working on prior to the school closures. Provide materials to families to use as independent practice (15 – 20 minutes, 2 – 3 times a week) following the group sessions.

Most importantly, document this work—the communication with families, all of the weekly meetings, and the instruction that each student received during these group practice sessions. These interventions and the resulting data will help ease the transition back to school for everyone—students, families, and school staff. Even more importantly, it will help prevent regression in the skills that these kids had already been working so hard on.

Dr. Ogonosky acknowledges that this documentation contains all qualitative data, but this is perfectly okay! The parents’ input gleaned from weekly virtual check-ins, the interventionist’s observations from the weekly virtual practice sessions, and the students’ completed work samples are incredibly valuable information. You have permission to use data that isn’t a number!

Remember that the supports that should be provided during this time for Tier 2 and 3 kids are foundational skills, not grade level expectations. Be purposeful, prescriptive, and focused with those children who were already identified, and please continue to support them with the additional instruction they need.

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