Multi-Tiered System of Supports
In many public schools in Massachusetts, there is a system in place to ensure that all students make progress in their academic, organizational, and social emotional programs. This system involves different tiers of support, which could mean different programming, differentiated instruction in the classroom, supplemental instruction, or, ultimately, very small group tailored support. This tiered system, or Multi-Tiered System of Supports, came out of Response to Intervention models, follows Universal Design for Learning principles, and was implemented in 2015 and updated in 2018 in Massachusetts. According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, MTSS “is designed to support schools with proactively identifying and addressing the strengths and needs of all students by optimizing data-driven decision-making, progress monitoring, and the use of evidence-based supports and strategies with increasing intensity to sustain student growth.”
Why are we even talking about this MTSS system at LPS? Well, because, starting this year, we are implementing MTSS at LPS, which takes 2-5 years to become fully implemented. This is exciting! By the time most students reach Learning Prep, they have “tiered out” of the services offered in their previous school. Our students’ learning needs are unique enough that they require a different placement where they can be with peers having similar learning styles. In this way, Learning Prep offers the final tier of support for our students. So why offer further tiers of support in a system that was not designed to be implemented in schools for students with special needs?
That’s a great question! When I came to Learning Prep last year, I was struck by how much differentiation was happening in every classroom. A teacher would have 8 students doing 8 different things, or a speech therapist would have 3 students working on 3 different goals. It was amazing. However, it also wasn’t codified, structured, or as defined by hard data as it could be. This is not a critique. Our amazing teachers would tailor their instruction to their students because, well, that's just what they always did. That’s the only way they knew how to teach - by giving each student the instruction they needed.
Enter MTSS. By collecting measurable data, by examining the support structures that every student who comes through our doors receives, and by defining what would lead us to further differentiate our instruction at a new tier, we are able to better support and challenge our students. In some ways, LPS has always been doing MTSS. On the other hand, codifying our practices, collecting data, and systematically responding to our students' needs makes a Learning Prep education that much better.