This module deals with systemic provisions for cultivating learning supports not only for entire districts but for the state of Ohio as a whole. “Learning supports” are just the many, many possible adjustments to teaching and learning positioned to give students what they need to learn the general education curriculum in accordance with established content and equity standards.
That mouthful shows the challenges. The standards and the local curricula that translate them are intended for all students. In fact, to succeed with these standards-based curricula, most students will need some adjustments at some time: temporarily. Innumerable adjustments are possible.
Who is to organize it all? Individual teachers? Not at all.
In the past (and into the present), the burden of this challenge has too often fallen to teachers. Certainly, teachers differentiate instruction—by providing learning supports within the curriculum for all students. This module, though, is mostly about systematic arrangements for providing learning supports—organizing, managing, and leading the delivery of the learning supports that students need in order to succeed. Providing learning supports systemically and systematically is a big change from business as usual.
Systemically speaking, the plan so far for providing learning supports in many districts has often been to:
- identify and label children with “special” needs and then
- place them outside general education classrooms (Parekh & Brown, 2019).
This business-as-usual “system” damages children (Choi et al., 2019; Cole et al., 2021). It has worked to exclude students from the general education curriculum and from inclusive classrooms. Many districts in Ohio are already working to do better—but by no means all.
The whole system (individual districts, community schools, and the state as a whole) needs to become much more responsive because students deserve better care and more attention. So, what is this change supposed to look like?
This module presents MTSS (multi-tiered system of supports) as a systemic approach—a framework—for organizing learning supports in classrooms, schools, districts, and the state as a whole. Ohio isn’t there yet, but OLAC offers a way for Ohio educators to begin to understand this outlook on MTSS.
The module aligns with Ohio’s Leadership Development Framework in the following areas:
- Area 1: Data and the Decision-Making Process
- Area 2: Focused Goal Setting Process
- Area 3: Instruction and the Learning Process
The wisdom of organizing districts and schools to deliver learning supports better, faster, and as a temporary arrangement should be obvious. And yet, across the nation, it’s rarely been done systemically. So, systemic effort to implement learning supports in a systematic manner remains a major leadership challenge.
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- Perhaps the key idea in MTSS is “student need.” Needs are difficult to specify, however. Teachers often believe they are the best judge. Assessment routines, by contrast, rely on testing—and other formal methods. And parents have their own ideas. Based on the module, how would you define “student need”? What practices does your definition support? What practices does it discourage?
- At its core, MTSS is a systemic approach to addressing the needs of every student via flexible grouping organized in tiers (universal supports, targeted supports, and intensive supports). For targeted and intensive supports, the goal is to accelerate learning—not to slow it down. Have a conversation as a team (e.g., DLT, BLT, TBT) about these two questions: (1) “What systemic barriers exist to this easily stated arrangement in your school or district?” and (2) “What will your school or district need to do systemically to overcome these barriers—and who will provide the leadership?”
- Discuss as a team (e.g., DLT, BLT, TBT) how perceptions of student differences impact the design and delivery of instruction in your district and/or school. Are differences (e.g., ability/disability, race, socio-economic circumstance, cultural and linguistic background) viewed by teachers and administrators as assets (i.e., characteristics to be valued) or are they viewed as deficits (i.e., characteristics to be "fixed")? Consider the frameworks and methods in use or being considered for use in your district or school and how they might support or strengthen an asset-based model or approach.
Scan existing systemic arrangements to address student need. The scope of this activity is systemic: what the system (school or district, whichever applies to your situation) is doing or how it behaves.
- Is the core curriculum regarded systemwide as the academic framework guiding instruction for all students? Why or why not?
- What programs or frameworks organize the system’s response to students’ academic, social-emotional, and behavioral needs?
- Are these frameworks working? How do you know?
- How would the idea of accelerating the learning of students who have experienced learning loss or who have special learning needs be received in your school and/or district? What about accelerating the learning of “rapid learners”?
Research the experience of educators in your system with flexible grouping. Ask these questions of five colleagues and interpret their answers to document what you learned:
- To what extent are student needs subject to change by the actions of educators, in your opinion (there are no “right” answers)?
- What experience have you had with moving students into and out of flexible groups (sometimes called “temporary groups”)?
- If you have experience with this type of grouping, how was the decision made to move students into and out of a group?
Incorporating UDL Strategies
As a DLT or BLT, schedule meeting time to visit the CAST website and review the fundamental principles of UDL. Then, visit the Moving Your Numbers (MYN) website Resources & Links, Downloadable District Resources) and read the feature story of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation (BCSC) and how the district uses UDL to improve student learning for all children.
- Identify how the principles of UDL could be used in your district and school to increase active engagement in learning for all students, skill attainment, and higher performance. If UDL is already being used, identify ways to increase the consistency of its use across the district and within each school.
- Identify how Ohio’s 5-Step Process could help your school or district adopt the UDL framework.
- Identify needed professional development to support your school’s or district’s effective use of UDL strategies and develop a plan for providing such support.
- Identify methods for evaluating the use of UDL strategies by schools (or by separate TBTs) across the district.
This is an activity especially suitable for the DLT, but it could be used by a BLT as well.
Setup: PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) is a version of MTSS that specifically focuses on behavior. The ODE strongly encourages the use of PBIS to help districts convert from a punishment-oriented approach to discipline to a teaching-oriented approach.
Option 1: If your district has already implemented PBIS.
Conduct a survey (or interviews) and use existing data (if available) to answer these questions for a short report to discuss in the team:
- As a result of their use of PBIS, what do educators in the district already know about MTSS?
- What additional professional learning would help educators in the district expand the use of a tiered model to include support for students’ academic learning?
- What steps would the district need to take to expand the focus of its tiered model to include academics and social-emotional learning as well as behavior?
Option 2: If your district is considering PBIS.
Prepare this activity for a DLT (preferably) or BLT.
As a team, complete only the first column (i.e., the status column) of the PBIS district- or school-readiness checklist (depending on whether a DLT or BLT is working on this activity).
Discuss the team’s answers. Be sure to discuss differences of opinion on the items.
But, whatever you find, there’s a dilemma: because whatever you find, PBIS is essentially MTSS—but for behavior only. The dilemma is this: the ODE wants districts to implement PBIS and offers varied supports and incentives—but if the district (or school) is seriously considering PBIS, is it in a position to conceptualize MTSS as including PBIS and roll out the three tiers for both behavior AND academics? And how might the district (or school) address social-emotional learning?
Discuss what the analysis of the responses to item on the readiness checklists tells the team about this dilemma:
- Should the district (or school) immediately implement tiers for both behavior and academics (or for behavior, academics, and social-emotional learning)?
- How should it sequence MTSS adoption: (1) academics first, then behavior, then social-emotional learning or (2) some other sequence?
- Should it delay adoption altogether and work hard to get the district “ready” by focusing on universal supports, universal screening, progress monitoring tools and procedures, and whatever else may needed? Estimate how long this work will take, what it will need to succeed, and how to resource it for success.
You can earn credit and contact hours for modules, webinars, and podcasts completed on the OLAC site.
For more information, visit the Credit Corner. If you’re seeking credit for the Gifted Education Professional Development Course or the Culturally Responsive Practices Program courses, you can find that information on the course overview pages.