By Melisa Rewold-Thuon
Assistant Superintendent of Student Support Services
What happens when an Eagle County Schools’ student struggles or excels with some aspect of school? The simple answer is strengths and needs are identified and supports are put in place. The more complex aspects are how these unique needs are identified, how the right supports are designed and implemented and how those supports are monitored for effectiveness.
Eagle County Schools has always been engaged in these types of processes, but for the 2019-20 school year and beyond we have prioritized a more systematic approach to serving our students’ needs referred to in our strategic plan as Multi-Tiered System of Supports.
What is MTSS?
In Colorado, MTSS is defined as a prevention-based framework of team-driven data-based problem solving for improving the outcomes of every student through family, school, and community partnering and a layered continuum of evidence-based practices applied at the classroom, school, district, region, and state level.
What this means in Eagle County Schools is that we have building-level teams and a district-level team working to best systematically meet the needs of all of our students using both internal and external resources. We start with problem-solving to help meet the needs of our learners in the regular classroom, then as needed we intensify supports by layering other services. The intensity of our supports are referred to as Universal (Tier 1), Targeted (Tier 2) or Intensive (Tier 3).
Universal instruction is curriculum and pacing that works for the majority of students in each grade level. Because every child is a unique learner, even those able to thrive with this core education may need some level of tailored supports. Our MTSS teams will examine trends in classrooms and provide supports such as staff coaching on strategies like differentiation and small group instruction or resources to improve the overall outcomes for all students. Teachers will communicate at parent-teacher conferences if they are working on any specific skills with a child outside of the grade-level curriculum.
Targeted supports can happen in the student’s regular classroom or in a pull-out classroom. This could look like working for a few months in an evidence-based reading or math intervention program, participating in a counseling group, working with a gifted and talented specialist, or really anything that is targeted to developing a specific skill or set of skills. This skill development is monitored and revised as needed. Teachers will communicate with parents prior to the start of any of these types of targeted supports.
Intensive supports are put into place when a student needs very specific support. Generally, these supports apply to students with very unique situations or students who are considered exceptional in one or more areas. About 20% of ECS students qualify as exceptional students in the areas of special education or gifted.
It is important to note that all of our students have areas where they excel and they struggle. Getting an intensive intervention or support does not necessarily mean that a child would qualify for special education or gifted. MTSS allows us more flexibility to create a unique picture of each learner and meet their needs without a specific program designation. A parent will be asked to be present at any meetings that would lead to a student receiving an intensive support.
A systems approach
As a district, each school has historically supported the students in their schools. Moving forward, we want to ensure that each school in the district follows the same systems approach to supports. A systems approach helps us know that data is used uniformly across the district to provide the supports students need. It also allows for student mobility between schools without a change in the level of support the student and parent are accustomed to receiving.
What happens when an Eagle County Schools’ student struggles or excels with some aspect of school? A Multi-Tiered System of Supports. We look forward to working with our families and community partners to continue to improve our support services for our students to assure all students have what they need to get the most out of their PreK-12 education in Eagle County Schools.
Melisa Rewold-Thuon is the assistant superintendent of student support services for Eagle County Schools. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.