8 Steps to Monitor Progress on Tier 2/3 Reading Interventions

13 min. read

Whenever I can, I like to visit the American southwest and hike in rocky desert terrain. I often find small piles of stones (cairns) placed at intervals as trail markers. Hikers are always on the lookout to spot the next cairn, moving from signpost to signpost to successfully navigate the trail. Trekkers who ignore the progress-monitoring information of these trail markers can quickly wander off the track and become lost.

Like hikers in a rugged landscape, RTI/MTSS interventionists rely on signposts — in this case, academic performance data — to judge in real time whether their intervention efforts are successful. And Tier 2/3 academic interventions come with high stakes. If struggling students fail to respond to these targeted interventions, they can face negative outcomes like grade or course failure or school disengagement. They may even be referred for special education services. Therefore, interventionists must regularly collect academic progress-monitoring data on Tier 2/3 students to judge with confidence whether their current attempts at intervention are effective and — if necessary — to self-correct by trying different interventions.1

However, the diversity in student need and assessment tools at Tier 2/3 makes the topic of monitoring progress for interventions complex ― Tier 2/3 students present with diverse academic deficits across the grade levels; interventionists employ a variety of reading assessments; schools use a range of different school-wide RTI/MTSS screeners.

By following this general 8-step process, any interventionist can bring order and simplicity to the process of accurately monitoring Tier 2/3 reading interventions.

Step 1: Who qualifies for Tier 2/3 intervention services?

A necessary first step to establishing and progress-monitoring Tier 2/3 groups is identifying which students would benefit from these intervention services. It is the job of the school-wide academic screener to accurately predict students’ current risk for academic failure.

This screener is administered at least 3 times per year, typically in the fall, winter and spring. Once the screener has been administered to all students, the school consults the screener’s ‘benchmark’ (performance) norms and applies pre-selected cut-points (e.g., 11th-20th percentile for Tier 2; 10th percentile or below for Tier 3) to identify those students eligible for intervention services.2  At the same time, any current Tier 2/3 students with improved screening results who now fall within the ‘low-risk’ range can be exited from these services.

Step 2: What are the appropriate groupings of Tier 2/3 students based on profile of academic need?

Once you identify students eligible for Tier 2/3 services, you need to organize them into small intervention groups (i.e., Tier 2: up to 7 students; Tier 3: up to 3 students) based on a shared profile of academic need.3

The uniform sorting of students into groups based on academic skill level is a crucial step in preparation for high-quality Tier 2/3 progress-monitoring. After all, if a single intervention group is created with too wide a range of academic deficits, the interventionist will find it difficult or impossible to match all learners to one effective intervention program — or to find a common measure capable of tracking progress across such a heterogeneous population.

There are school-wide screening instruments that provide at least some diagnostic information about students’ reading skills, allowing interventionists to group students uniformly based on shared academic deficits. More often, the screener efficiently identifies a student as being at risk for academic failure but provides little additional data on the nature of that learner’s specific academic gaps. In such cases, you will need to administer supplemental formal or informal diagnostic assessments to more fully map out the profile of deficient academic skills.

Step 3: What assessment method(s) will you use to monitor Tier 2/3 progress?

After you place students in Tier 2/3 groups based on academic need and match them to appropriate intervention programs, you need to select at least one reading-assessment method (e.g., phonological skills; print awareness; letter knowledge; phonics/decoding; vocabulary; fluency; comprehension) to track student progress across the span of time the intervention will be in effect.4 You can review a listing of MTSS academic progress-monitoring tools at the National Center on Intensive Intervention website.

Progress-monitoring tools that you select should5:

  • Be reliable and valid measures of the academic skill(s) that the intervention group is working on (e.g., letter knowledge; reading comprehension)
  • Accurately measure short-term growth in academic skills, and
  • Include sufficient alternate forms (versions) of the assessment to allow monitoring across all weeks of the intervention period.

Schools may look to several possible sources to locate an appropriate academic monitoring tool to track Tier 2/3 progress:

  • Intervention program: Progress-monitoring component. Commercial academic-intervention programs used at Tiers 2 and 3 sometimes include their own progress-monitoring tools: e.g., Fundations from Wilson Language Training.
  • School-wide screener: Progress-monitoring component. Some building-wide academic screeners used to identify students for Tier 2/3 services (e.g., iReady) also have the capacity to monitor those students’ progress.

Important note: Interventionists will need to research these measures to ensure that they adequately assess the specific skills being taught in the intervention group.

  • Curriculum-based measures. Intervention groups working on foundational academic skills may want to investigate curriculum-based measures (CBMs) to track progress. CBMs are brief, timed measures of basic academic skills (e.g., letter identification; reading fluency; math-fact fluency) that are administered and scored using standardized procedures.

Step 4: How long will the Tier 2/3 intervention last?

The length of Tier 2/3 interventions should strike a balance. On the one hand, they should be in place long enough to collect sufficient progress-monitoring data to reliably evaluate whether the intervention is effective. On the other hand, they should not run so long without being evaluated that students run the risk of being stranded for extended periods in interventions that are not working. Generally, 6-10 instructional weeks is an appropriate span of time to run a Tier 2/3 intervention before checking up on its impact.

Step 5: What is the Tier 2/3 group’s baseline performance?

Before the start of Tier 2/3 group sessions, the interventionist collects baseline data on each student. The importance of this baseline data is to reflect students’ current reading performance, allowing you to clearly track each student’s progress during the intervention. Students receiving Tier 2/3 services often display variable assessment data, so — when possible — the you should attempt to collect at least three data points on each student before the intervention start date and identify the median value from the series as the best estimate of baseline performance.

Real-word example of collecting baseline data:

A reading teacher places a fourth-grade student in a Tier 2 group to work on reading fluency. That teacher administers curriculum-based measurement (CBM) oral reading fluency probes to the student on three separate days for baseline and gets these results: 68 words per minute (WPM), 56 WPM, 72 WPM. So, the teacher uses the median value from this series, 68 WPM, as an estimate of the student’s baseline performance.

Step 6: What is each student’s outcome goal?

Before beginning the Tier 2/3 intervention group, the interventionist sets an academic outcome goal for each student. Establishing and then working toward a specified goal can motivate both teacher and learner. Even more important, an outcome goal establishes a definitive threshold for success: if at the end of the intervention, the student has met or exceeded the goal, the intervention is judged as effective.

The type and magnitude of the goal you select for any student will depend on both the reading-assessment method used (see Step 3) and that student’s initial (baseline) reading ability (see Step 5).

By definition however, the student receiving Tier 2/3 reading services has substantial gaps in reading skills and must accelerate learning to catch up with grade-level peers. So, the Tier 2/3 interventionist should set an outcome goal for that student that is ‘ambitious but realistic’6: the selected goal has a reasonable likelihood of success (‘realistic’) but also falls within the high range of achievement (‘ambitious’) for learners with a profile similar to that of the target student.

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7 Steps to Monitor Progress on Tier 1/Classroom Interventions.

Step 7: How often should you collect data?

The progress-monitoring data collected during any RTI/MTSS intervention should be ‘formative’ — that is, it should be collected with sufficient frequency to allow the interventionist to judge in real time the effectiveness of the intervention. For Tier 2, you should collect data at least 2 times per month. For Tier 3, data collection should take place at least weekly.

Recent research also suggests that inconsistencies in how student data is collected can result in a worrying amount of variability (‘error’) creeping into progress-monitoring data. Therefore, schools should attempt as much as possible to standardize key elements of data collection, including student directions; administration procedures; time of day; and assignment of a single, familiar staff member to perform the assessments.7

Step 8: Is the intervention plan working? How does each student’s actual performance compare with the outcome goal?

Once the intervention begins, the Tier 2/3 interventionist provides academic services to students until the check-up date (see Step 4) arrives 6-10 instructional weeks later. At that point, the interventionist reviews progress-monitoring data for each student and compares it to the goal.

There are 2 potential outcome decisions to make at this point:

  1. Should the student continue in the current intervention?
  2. Does the student still need Tier 2/3 services in general?

The most straightforward question is whether the student should remain enrolled in the current reading intervention. These decision rules can help you find the answer:

  • Outcome goal met. If a student meets the outcome goal, the intervention is successful. However, if the interventionist judges that the current intervention is still helping the student, it should continue. If instead you decide that the intervention is no longer needed, it should be discontinued.
  • Clear progress – but outcome goal not met. If the progress-monitoring data shows that the student has made meaningful progress but still falls short of the outcome goal, you may elect to keep the current program but make adjustments to strengthen it — like shrinking the group size, increasing frequency and/or length of sessions, etc.
  • Little or no progress observed. If the student fails to make significant progress in the group, the interventionist should consider switching the student to a different intervention program or referring that student for more intensive intervention services (e.g., to move from Tier 2 to Tier 3).

If a student is found to meet or exceed the outcome goal, a second question to consider is whether that learner should now transition to a lower level of RTI/MTSS support. For example, is a successful Tier 3 student ready to drop down to Tier 2 services? Or is it time for a proficient Tier 2 learner to exit from supplemental services altogether?

When the intervention check-up date coincides with the next round of school-wide reading screening, this is typically a simple decision to make. Students in Tiers 2 and 3 would first be expected to show through current screening results that they now fall within the low-risk range before they are allowed to transition to a lower Tier of RTI/MTSS service.

Sometimes the Tier 2/3 intervention check-up date falls to coincide with the next pending school-wide screening. In those cases, the school must make the judgment call about whether to give the Tier 2/3 interventionist latitude to judge — based on the progress-monitoring data — whether the student has made sufficient growth to justify stepping down to a lower intervention Tier.

Key Takeaway: Screening is the Foundation for a Progress-Monitoring Plan

Like trail markers on a hiking path, progress-monitoring data helps you set and then evaluate whether students are achieving an accelerated ‘catch-up’ rate of learning in Tier 2/3 interventions. A consistent stream of progress-monitoring can also:

  • Provide real-time evidence of intervention impact that prevents students from languishing in ineffective services.
  • Make the case in combination with updated screening data for stepping down or exiting from intervention a successful Tier 2/3 student.
  • Yield clear documentation to be archived in the school’s RTI/MTSS content-management system indicating whether students have benefited from particular Tier 2/3 intervention groups.

It is worth repeating that a progress-monitoring plan for a Tier 2 or 3 reading group is feasible only when students are first grouped uniformly according to area(s) of reading deficit. To accomplish these homogeneous groupings, the school typically depends on information from the fall/winter/spring school-wide screenings — and perhaps additional diagnostic testing. So, at Tiers 2 and 3, plans to monitor progress of intervention groups are built on the foundation of screening data.

Are your struggling learners receiving the right level of support? Collect the screening data you need alongside other data sources to find your answer with Frontline’s RTI/MTSS Program Management software.

Hixson, M. D., Christ, T. J., & Bruni, T. (2014).  Best practices in the analysis of progress monitoring data and decision making in A. Thomas & Patti Harris (Eds.), Best Practices in School Psychology VI (pp. 343-354). Silver Springs, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.

Glover, T.A. & Albers, C. A. (2007). Considerations for evaluating universal screening assessments. Journal of School Psychology, 42, 117-135.

Wright, J. (2007). The RTI toolkit: A practical guide for schools. Port Chester, NY: National Professional Resources, Inc.

Johnson, E. S., Pool, J., & Carter, D. R. (n.d.). Screening for reading problems in grades 1 through 3: An overview of selected measures. Retrieved from http://www.rtinetwork.org/essential/assessment/screening/screening-for-reading-problems-in-grades-1-through-3.

Hixson, M. D., Christ, T. J., & Bruni, T. (2014). Best practices in the analysis of progress monitoring data and decision making in A. Thomas & Patti Harris (Eds.), Best Practices in School Psychology VI (pp. 343-354). Silver Springs, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.

Shapiro, E. S. (2008). Best practices in setting progress-monitoring monitoring goals for academic skill improvement. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology V (pp. 141-157). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.

Hixson, M. D., Christ, T. J., & Bruni, T. (2014). Best practices in the analysis of progress monitoring data and decision making in A. Thomas & P. Harris (Eds.), Best Practices in School Psychology VI (pp. 343-354). Silver Springs, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.

Jim Wright

Jim Wright is a highly-acclaimed national presenter, trainer and author on topics that cover the essentials and beyond of Response to Intervention and Multi-Tiered System of Supports. He has worked for 17 years in public education as a school psychologist and school administrator. Jim has published "The RTI Toolkit: A Practical Guide for Schools" and is the creator of the InterventionCentral.org website.