Driven by a mission to challenge and support every student, every step of the way, Upper Arlington Schools is taking the lead in education nationwide by implementing a new multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) so that every student is able to maximize their academic, social and emotional growth.
“The MTSS framework expands on existing structures and practices within our schools to ensure that every student is able to access learning through whatever interventions, supports, or extensions they need to succeed or continue to stretch,” said Andy Hatton, Ed.D., associate superintendent of learning and leadership. “This supports our mission and is a key part of the academic focus of our strategic plan and our commitment to continuous improvement throughout our district.”
MTSS, put simply, is a systematic and collaborative team process that is responsive to meet the needs of all students through differentiated and individualized instruction with a focus on the whole child.
“It pushes us to better meet the needs not only of students who may be struggling but also those who are above where they should be according to the learning standards — and everyone in between,” said Michelle Banks, Ed.D., director of curriculum and instruction.
The implementation of the MTSS framework is starting this school year at the elementary level and will be expanding to the middle and high school levels thereafter. An important part of the framework is equipping teachers through professional learning and collaborative work time to successfully implement these strategies.
At the elementary level, staff members are spending the 2021-2022 school year engaging in MTSS-focused professional learning after school, and grade-level teams of teachers at each building are meeting every other week for student support meetings in collaboration with the building’s MTSS lead teacher. The grade level team meetings are made possible through the implementation of the Elementary Explorations across the district for all elementary students. Through Explorations sessions, the veteran teachers on the Explorations team are providing all elementary students with opportunities to engage and explore cross-curricular content while increasing student voice, improving well-being and creating engaged learners through whole child, project-based learning.
With the MTSS framework in place, teachers will be able to utilize actionable data to respond to the unique learning needs of every student.
“The framework is built on a strengths-based model,” Banks said. “We start with identifying the strengths for each student and then use that data to determine what extra instruction, extension or support a student would need, whether it’s in the short term — say, 4 to 6 weeks only in literacy — or in the longer term. Because the system is set up to meet with grade level teachers every other week during their students’ Explorations time, those teachers have the opportunity every 4 to 6 weeks to work together to monitor students’ progress and see what kind of shifts they need to make in their teaching or in the small learning groups that they’ve set up within their classrooms.”
At the middle and high school levels, work teams are in place and meeting to reflect on the resources and structures needed to scale MTSS to grades 6 through 12.
“We are very passionate about having the continuity of communication, K-12, of what interventions, what supports, what stretches worked for a child in K-5,” Hatton said. “We’ve heard from parents in our community that they feel like they have to start all over again when they transition from elementary to middle school, or middle to high school, and we don’t want to do that.”
While personalizing learning through individualized instruction is not new to Upper Arlington, the MTSS framework will help refine teaching methods to better support students in their learning journey.
“Yes, MTSS has tiers and steps and processes, but what it boils down to is great teaching,” Hatton said. “We don’t have a ‘tier 3’ kid — we have a student who needs a specific set of services in order to access their learning and maximize their growth.”
An important part of the MTSS process will be collaborating not only with parents and guardians but also students.
“Students are going to become more a part of this process. That’s the idea — to take a little more ownership and self-awareness of where they are as a learner,” Hatton said.
And parents and guardians will also be there, every step of the process, and they will find that the MTSS framework will also provide them with a clearer understanding of where their child is as a learner and what they need.
Upper Arlington Schools strives for continuous improvement. MTSS will help further their mission to challenge and support every student, every step of the way.