A Middle School Principal’s Perspective: A Multi-Tier System of Supports for Reading and Literature

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    Most people familiar with any sort of Response to Intervention (RTI) process likely think of it as a reading intervention. While it has branched out into other areas such as Math, most of the success that I have seen has been with helping struggling readers. In previous posts I have discussed the framework we established when I worked at my previous school in order to address the large number of students who were not achieving proficiency in our state reading assessments(around 30-35% non-proficient). In my current school, that percentage is significantly lower (less than 10%), which makes creating and sustaining the multi-tier system of supports (MTSS) an entirely different challenge.

    Currently, we have four different types of reading interventions that operate on Tiers 2 and 3 of our system. As I mentioned before, our Tier 1/core curriculum class is a grade level Literature course in 6th and 7th grade and an English class in 8th grade. Next year, our district is opening a new school just for 6th grade students. We currently have 1,600 kids in our school and around 1,300 in our sister middle school. As we are preparing to become a 7/8 building, we are examining ways to align our programs so there is not the change for students as they move from 7th to 8th grade.

    The Tier 2 support provided in all three grades is our Reading Comprehension class. This class is for students about .5 to 1.5 years below grade level. Students meet every day for this class, which is taught by a certified reading specialist. In order to attend, students must drop one of their two “Encore” class periods in their schedule. Teachers work hard to closely monitor the students’ progress and routinely have them exit the course if they meet the criteria. Basically we look for 3 consecutive assessments above 75% in order to consider a student for exiting. The teachers then administer an Informal Reading Inventory (IRI) to make the final call for movement. If students do exit, then they move right in to an encore class. In the upper grades, this is likely to be a World Language class so the teachers are extra careful before moving the kids out.

    Our Tier 3 offerings differ slightly in each grade level. This is mostly due to a program we started last year in 6th grade that has now moved up in to 6th and 7th grade called “System 44,” I will get back to that in a moment. Within Tier 3 we have a few courses tailored to the specific needs of students. The least intensive intervention is a reading fluency class. This course is open to any students who are two or more years below grade level and is taught by a reading specialist. In exchange for being in the class the students must give up another course from their schedule. In 6th grade they miss Social Studies to go to reading. In 7th grade, the fluency intervention replaces their LA-Literature class. In 8th grade they take this in place of a World Language class. While I am sure this might seem confusing on paper, it works rather well.

    Students in 6th and 7th grade with IEP goals for fluency are scheduled for a direct instruction class called Foundations of Literature with a learning support teacher. Again, Literature is a separate LA class in 6th and 7th grade. These kids take this class in place of the LA Literature course. It is co-taught with a reading specialist and a learning support teacher. Because this replaces the Literature class, many students also will take one of the other Tier 3 courses. In fact, most of them will be in the Reading and Decoding class.

    If a student has IEP goals in the area of decoding, they will be scheduled for our most intensive intervention. In 6th and 7th grade, this is the computer-based System 44 class which will move up to 8th grade next year. Currently, we meet the needs of eighth grade students with decoding issues in a direct instruction reading class taught by the learning support teacher. Last year, we were fortunate to get a program that specifically addresses the needs of students with decoding problems. The System 44 class is taught by a learning support teacher in 7th grade and a reading specialist in 6th grade. So far, we have seen some success with students making gains in their reading ability. As long as you have the opportunity to make laptops available to the classes, I would recommend using them for students with such issues.

    Within all of these classes, our objective is to move students through the tiers using proper progress monitoring. By looking for 3 assessments about 75% before even considering someone for an IRI, I believe we have been effective. Over the past few years, we have been averaging approximately 100 students in our 6th grade reading program. By the end of 8th grade last year, that number was down to 30. Our program certainly is not perfect, but it has proven to be successful. In my next post, I will talk about some of the challenges that we have faced and what we did to overcome them.
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