The Massachusetts System of Tiered Instruction is "a data driven prevention, early detection, and support system with the aim of providing high-quality core educational experiences for all students and targeted interventions to struggling students who experience learning and/or behavioral challenges" (MADESE, Tiered Instructional Models 2010). Tiered Instruction (also called Response to Intervention, Targeted Instruction, or Multi Tiered Instructional Model) is a collaborative, systematic, approach for identifying and addressing student needs; it maximizes the use of all resources and staff in the school. The focus is on a collaborative, flexible use of both financial and human services to meet the many and diverse needs of children. Each school determines the type, nature, range, and intensity of services, based on the level of need. The main components of a tiered instruction model are:
- Flexible tiers for instruction and interventions;
- High quality core curriculum and instruction implemented with fidelity;
- Research based/best practice academic interventions and assessment practices;
- Research based/best practice behavioral interventions and supports;
- Universal screening and progress monitoring; and
- Collaboration and communication between educators and parents.
A New Approach in Service Delivery:
In the last decade, a movement has developed across the United States that has resulted in students with learning and/or behavioral challenges being provided with more flexible and responsive services without having to rely solely on special education. In contrast to traditional service delivery, there are several key differences with the intervention approach:
- Early intervention in the typical, general education learning environment is emphasized,
- This system maximizes all staff's expertise and services, and makes effective use of all existing resources,
- The intent is to assess the student's strengths and weaknesses based on their academic performance or behavior in the regular educational setting,
- Interventions are delivered in this setting and are based on reliable and measurable information,
- The student's response to the intervention is directly and frequently monitored and charted, and
- This system is intended to de-emphasize categories and labels while encouraging creativity, problem solving, and providing support to students in a timely manner.
The primary purpose of assessment in a tiered instruction system is to lead to effective interventions in the general education setting. In this context, eligibility for special education may be seen as an insufficient or unsuccessful response to repeated attempts at intervention in the general education setting. Additionally, sometimes a student demonstrates that they are responsive to intensive intervention and can be successful in the general education. However, if the needed level of intervention is so intense that it exceeds the level of resources in general education, then eligibility for special education needs to be considered.
Potential Benefits of Tiered Instruction:
One of the most commonly cited benefits of a tiered instruction approach is that it eliminates a "wait to fail" situation because students get help promptly within the general education setting. Secondly, a tiered instruction approach has the potential to reduce the number of students referred for special education services. Since a tiered instruction approach helps distinguish between those students whose achievement problems are due to a learning disability versus those students whose achievement problems are due to other issues such as lack of prior instruction or lack of mastery of prerequisite skills, referrals for special education evaluations are often reduced. Finally, parents and school teams alike find that the student progress monitoring techniques utilized in a tiered instruction approach provide more instructionally relevant information than traditional assessments.
The Tiered Instruction Process:
When using a tiered instruction model, a school based team meets regularly to problem solve. The first step is to identify a problem using data. Next, additional information is collected on the problem and hypotheses are developed as to why that problem is occurring. Based on the hypothesized cause of the problem, an intervention plan is created and implemented. Progress is closely monitored through charted data in order to determine whether the plan is effective or not and whether changes in the plan are needed. This process typically emphasizes the use of functional and multidimensional assessment procedures to identify, analyze, and monitor progress, and places emphasis on alterable variables (e.g., the classroom environment, the instructional design) when intervening in a problem. Additionally, tiered instruction stresses both the use of research based interventions and/or other best practices and the importance of decision-making.
The Key Terms:
Response to Intervention (RTI) is an array of procedures that can be used to determine if and how students respond to specific changes in instruction. RTI provides an improved process and structure for school teams in designing, implementing, and evaluating educational interventions.
Universal Screening is a step taken by school personnel early in the school year to determine which students are "at risk" for not meeting grade level standards. Universal screening can be accomplished by reviewing recent results of state tests, or by administering an academic screening test to all children in a given grade level. Those students whose test scores fall below a certain cut-off are identified as needing more specialized academic interventions.
Student Progress Monitoring is a scientifically based practice that is used to frequently assess students' academic performance and evaluate the effectiveness of instruction. Progress monitoring procedures can be used with individual students or an entire class.
Scientific, Research-Based Instruction refers to specific curriculum and educational interventions that have been proven to be effective –that is, the research has been reported in peer-reviewed journals.
Best Practices: Instructional practices that have proven effective based upon research and/or reflective practice and collaborative review.
Tiered Instruction and Special Education Eligibility:
IDEA 2004 offers greater flexibility to school teams by eliminating the requirement that students must exhibit a severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement in order to be found eligible for special education and related services as a student with a learning disability. This increased flexibility has led to a growing interest in using research based interventions as part of an alternative method to traditional ability/achievement discrepancy comparisons. IDEA 2004 addresses Response to Intervention procedures within several contexts.
Effective instruction and progress monitoring: For students to be considered for special education services based on a learning disability they first must have been provided with effective instruction and their progress measured through "data-based documentation of repeated assessments of achievement." Furthermore, results of the student progress monitoring must be provided to the child's parents.
Evaluation procedures: The law gives districts the option of using research based intervention procedures as part of the evaluation procedures for special education eligibility. Comprehensive assessment is still required under the reauthorized law, however. That means that schools still need to carefully examine all relevant aspects of a student's performance and history before concluding that a disability does or does not exist. As before, schools must rule out learning problems that are primarily the result of factors such as poor vision, hearing, intellectual impairment, emotional disturbance, lack of appropriate instruction, or limited English proficiency.
Early Intervening Services: IDEA 2004 addresses the use of intervention procedures is by creating the option of using up to 15% of federal special education funds for "early intervening services" for students who have not been identified as needing special education, but who need additional academic and behavioral support to succeed in the general education setting. The types of services that can be included are central to the tiered instruction process, and include professional development for teachers and school staff to enable them to deliver effective academic and behavioral interventions, as well as educational evaluations, services, supports, and research based literacy instruction.
Next Steps in Implementing Tiered Instruction Approaches in the District:
There are many specific issues that must be addressed in order to effectively implement tiered instruction approaches. Schools must be prepared to offer a variety of proven instructional strategies; staff must be trained to measure student performance using methods that are sensitive to small increments of growth; parents must be kept informed of these new procedures and made partners in the process. Teams must also determine how they will define an "adequate" response to an intervention—how much progress over what period of time will be the benchmark to determine if an intervention is successful? While forthcoming federal regulations will offer guidance, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has begun to provide technical assistance to districts as they develop and implement their own tiered instruction models that are based on state regulations, resources and the needs of the district's student population. The Bedford Public Schools is working on a multiyear action plan to implement targeted instruction. To date, each school has established a Response to Intervention Team to work with classroom teachers to help identify the underlying cause of a student's academic or behavioral challenges and to provide a targeted intervention plan to address those challenges. Both central office and building level staff are working to build the district's ability to provide multi tiered instruction that include a range of instructional strategies, formative and summative assessments for progress monitoring, data collection and analysis, and the use of scientifically based research driven methodologies, matched to student needs. Bedford Public Schools' goal is to develop a flexible system of instruction that provides both intervention and enhancement to all students regardless of category.