Q & A: How to Manage RTI/MTSS During School Closures and Reentry

8 min. read

As the fall approaches, you probably have countless questions about every aspect of reentry, including learning loss among struggling learners. We explored those questions, focusing on RTI/MTSS during school closures and reentry in this recent webinar with Jim Wright, a presenter, trainer, and author who has worked in public education as a school psychologist and school administrator for over 17 years.

Below you’ll find various questions he answered on everything from academic assessments to reteaching.

Q: When schools reopen, there will be two factors related to students’ academic levels immediately at play: the need for academic assessments and the need to address students’ social-emotional learning needs. How can educators balance these two important elements of reentry?

A: The answer to this question depends on school system resources and the relative impact of the closure on students’ mental health. Students with more support at home may have had a very different experience during the closures than are students who lack that same support. Regardless of resources, your RTI/MTSS team will need to meet to discuss both questions. “How do we come up with information about what needs to be retaught?” “How do we infuse all of our activities throughout the school day to support social and emotional wellness?” Those are questions that should be incorporated into your RTI/MTSS team’s agenda.

Key Takeaway:

Assess prior to reteaching as there may be topics and concepts that students won’t need to review too much.

Q: Should you consider giving students the end-of-year assessment from 2019-2020 to see if those skills were mastered before moving to the next grade level’s beginning-of-year tests?

A: Those end-of-year assessments could give a sense of the extent to which students mastered the year’s curriculum. A rule of thumb to use in conjunction with assessments: consider if the information will help the teacher decide where to direct the class-wide review of last year’s curriculum.

Q: How can you begin to address screening and tier one interventions if your district does not have good screening tools in place?

A: Teachers are critical in any situation, but especially if your district lacks good school-wide screeners. In that case, you’ll have to depend on teachers to create assessments and, in parallel, think about how they’ll instruct students who are behind on the skills and concepts included in the assessments. With this level of pressure placed on teachers, it will be especially important to open up a dialogue with them to ensure everyone has a shared vision across grade level and classroom about the topics and sequence for review. Leadership at the administrator level will be crucial in setting teachers up for success.

Q: What should you do if parents are not able to support their student — whether English isn’t their first language, don’t have internet, or aren’t engaged?

A: In this situation, it is critical to have your RTI team brainstorm workarounds with administrators and teachers. That could mean showing parents where they can access local hotspots for free internet access. Kids in these situations almost become tier three home instruction students, so you’ll need to pull together a team to try to figure out if there is a way to overcome those obstacles.

Q: How can you manage screening results when assessments are taken remotely?

A: Unless your school-wide screening tool explicitly gives you guidance on how to deliver remote screeners and research on the impact of home-based assessments, you shouldn’t put too much RTI emphasis on that information. With too many unknowns, you simply can’t be sure of data fidelity.

Q: How can you improve student engagement if you begin the 2020-2021 school year completely online?

A: At the start of the school year, you should foster a structured parent-teacher conversation and complete an intervention planning form. A good start? Information from the previous year’s teacher about issues that prevented that student from being successful. Hit the ground running with a school-parent home-based intervention plan conversation to create some individualized accountability and planning.

Q: How can you plan to monitor progress on a regular basis while working remotely?

A: First, it will be crucial to clarify with your RTI/MTSS team the expectations for intervention delivery and progress monitoring for remote learning in each grade level. An example: fourth grade reading fluency. Does the RTI/MTSS team have some recommendations for how that could be conducted? Or what are going to be the recommended tools? And if that assessment is more time consuming over remote connections, are there guidelines for helping to streamline that? Can the school look into the possibility of additional people to assist with progress monitoring?

Key Takeaway:

Students benefit when RTI/MTSS teams come together to brainstorm a plan, and providing clear guidance for teachers is always more effective than putting pressure on them to “figure it out.”

Q: Should staff be trying to schedule intervention time similar to instructional time?

A: Should there be intervention time when we’re back and kids are under one roof? Sure. One model that many schools use and best applies to elementary-level schools is to set aside intervention time (sometimes referred to as “intervention blocks”). This approach provides an opportunity for students who qualify for higher levels of RTI to go into smaller groups and get support for at least thirty minutes per day.

Should there be intervention time during home instruction? In that case, it’s less about carving out time and more about carving out time for intervention activities and motivating students to complete them.

High school interventions and supports for RTI/MTSS are inherently more challenging than for the elementary level, but the basic elements of something that works at the elementary school level carry over to higher levels of education. That means that school reps — a math instructor, perhaps — should discuss roadblocks to learning at home with parents. Home-based intervention plans and teacher-made assessments could prove especially useful at the high school level.

Q: Rather than doing a reteach period, should schools consider using just-in-time learning and reteaching based on necessary prerequisite skills for each grade level?

A: While this approach may seem dramatically different from reteaching, it might not be as much of a contrast at first glance. This method of just-in-time learning is essentially reteaching done in a more focused way. Without the research to know the best way to review this volume of content, its success may depend on teacher skill and the ability to plan in advance.

Q: What can you do to support skill deficits, especially knowing that future intermittent closures may exacerbate these deficits?

A: If your RTI/MTSS team looks at the kids impacted most severely by school closures, they may be able to gain a clearer understanding of how home learning will impact skill deficits. With that understanding, they can then proactively reach out to teachers and brainstorm ways to alter assignments to make them more applicable to an individual student.

Q: Is there a particular universal screener that is most effective? And how can assessments best be done virtually?

A: The answer to this question depends on the general skill level of your students. Some screeners focus more on general broad-based curriculum skills and are adaptive to students. For students who struggle with entry-level skills, a more basic level screener (i.e., DIBELS, AIMSweb, FastBridge) may be useful.

Q: What would tier one COVID recovery review look like? What do other tier kids do at that time?

A: When thinking about tier one school recovery, keep in mind that you’re simply doing what every teacher does after summer break. Some kids who were fully engaged during the COVID shutdown might not need the same level of review, but it won’t hurt for them to get a little extra review. That being said, you’re also explicitly identifying a particular subgroup in that classroom who is getting this school recovery review as a formal RTI resource. So while all kids are getting the review, it’s most benefiting some kids within that classroom.

Q: What role should older students play in formulating home-based intervention plans?

A: When you involve the student in these conversations, the conversation needs to be both positive and student focused. Involving students can yield better results when you truly ask for their feedback about what works best for them rather than simply correcting or admonishing. One point that is sometimes missed is the students’ capacity to manage their own learning. It can be helpful to offer a refresher on study skills, scheduling, time management, and organization.

Key Takeaway:

Engaging students in conversation about their intervention plans can be beneficial to their learning but depends heavily on their capacity to manage their own learning.

If you’re reading these questions and wish you could have tuned in to the webinar live, check out this on-demand version. And if you’re looking for a software solution to help you manage your RTI/MTSS program, you may be interested in hearing about how Frontline can help.

Frontline Education

Frontline Education provides school administration software partnering with over 12,000 K-12 organizations and millions of educators, administrators and support personnel in their efforts to develop the next generation of learners. With more than 15 years of experience serving the front line of education, Frontline Education is dedicated to providing actionable intelligence that enables informed decisions and drives engagement across school systems. Bringing together the best education software solutions into one unified platform, Frontline makes it possible to efficiently and effectively manage the administrative needs of the education community, including their recruiting and hiring, employee absences and attendance, professional growth and special education and interventions programs. Frontline Education corporate headquarters are in Malvern, Pennsylvania, with offices in Andover, Massachusetts, Rockville Centre, New York and Chicago, Illinois.