Strengthening Tier 1 With High-Impact Instructional Practices

MTSS Tier 1
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Amanda Ironside, Director of the MTSS Center for FIRST Educational Resources, spoke about the importance of Tier 1 interventions in MTSS frameworks during a recent Tech & Learning webinar. 

The webinar was hosted by Dr. Kecia Ray and was part two of a two-part series about MTSS interventions sponsored by Otus. Here is part one: Building a Data-Informed MTSS Framework for Student Achievement

Watch the full webinar here

Key Takeaways

What Tier 1 Supports Are 

In an MTSS framework, Tier 1 supports are the first line of education and are built upon grade-level standards. “Tier 1 is our universal general classroom instruction,” Ironside said. “That is that core universal instruction.” 

She added it is often the most important component of an MTSS framework. “It includes the instructional practices that are research-based and proven to benefit and strengthen our learners' growth and achievement regardless of their readiness level,” she said. 

Tier 1 Instruction Needs an 80 Percent Success Rate 

The research shows that typically for successful MTSS frameworks, 80% of learners should be meeting grade-level standards and expectations from Tier 1 instruction alone without any additional interventions or extensions, Ironside said. 

She then asked attendees to think about their district right now. “Could you confidently say that about 80% of your learners are at that grade level?” she said. “If you find that percentage to be less, that's when we really have to look into our Tier 1 instruction. We have to look at how we're going to strengthen that Tier 1 instruction. Because without high-quality evidence-based tier one instruction, Tier 2 and Tier 3 will not be as effective.” 

Utilizing What Works in Tiers 2 and 3 in Tier 1

One way to strengthen Tier 1 instruction is to borrow some of the savvy teaching strategies from other tiers. “Some of the things that we use in Tier 2 and Tier 3 for strategies, such as small group instruction, intensive scaffolds and supports, those should also be in Tier 1 – that's still good instruction,” Ironside said. “And just because I'm pulling a small group during my Tier 1 core instruction time, doesn't mean that I'm moving to a Tier 2 intervention.” 

Using Data to Guide You

Data can inform how you update and implement new Tier 1 teaching strategies on a class-by-class basis and larger district level. Ironside said that teachers should look at their class data per unit and see which students need individual attention. “You're looking at 'Okay, these are the concepts that as a whole my class understands, but now here's a couple where I'm noticing some pockets of students that I might need to reteach in small groups during my core instruction.'” 

The principle is the same for district leaders who should be using data to answer questions such as: Which buildings do we need to focus efforts on for this particular subject area? Or where do we need to put resources in order to strengthen the instruction and the achievement that's happening? 

On the opposite end of the spectrum Ironside said that district leaders should look at where student achievement is high and what certain schools within each district are doing that should be emulated. 

Making the Importance of Assessments Clear 

To get good data requires assessment but many teachers and other school stakeholders have a negative view of assessment. To get teacher and student buy-in on assessments, the purpose of that assessment needs to be communicated. 

“As a district, as a building, we have to make sure that the reason why we are giving these assessments is clear,” Ironside said. “We have to make sure that if we are assessing, we're using what we're learning from that otherwise, the negativity towards assessment is right, because if we're not doing anything with the data then why are we giving the assessment?” 

Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is a Tech & Learning contributor. A journalist, author and educator, his work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.