• MTSS established at district to support student learning needs

    mtssA new program at Bellefonte Area School District is aiming to help about a quarter of elementary school students improve literacy skills based on individual needs. Through the MTSS program that was established in the fall, the goal, according to its organizers, is to focus on kindergarten through second-grade reading fluency, comprehension, sound and letter identification, and more.

    MTSS – Multi-Tiered System of Supports – is a three-tiered practice of providing high-quality instruction and intervention matched to individual student needs. At the district, it’s being rolled out in phases, starting with K-2 English/language arts, and has a goal within the next few years to add grade levels through fifth grade, and also instill math.

    “We started with K-2 because that’s the most crucial age in affecting change with students,” Pleasant Gap Elementary School Principal Duffy Besch said. “It allows us to look at where students are academically and give them support that will help them grow.”

    The data-driven approach allows educators to study the information and progress monitoring of students, and then make decisions that are in the best interest of the student based on that data.

    Last school year at Pleasant Gap, about 35 students were identified as needing reading intervention support. Calling it a broad approach to helping students in the past, Besch said that this school year, nearly 60 students have been identified as needing Tier 2 and 3 support under MTSS, which allows more individualized support to target specific needs. It’s a similar statistic at Bellefonte, Benner and Marion-Walker elementary schools.

    • Tier 1 is the core instruction that every student receives. Three times a year, a student undergoes an assessment that helps with the screening process to see if he or she needs additional services that could lead them to Tier 2 or Tier 3 interventions.
    • Tier 2 is the next level of support that allows students to work with reading intervention aides and paraeducators.
    • Tier 3 is the final layer that allows students to get direct services with reading specialists such as Nicole Kohlhepp.

    Kohlhepp, who’s also an MTSS coach, said the different tiers are based on frequency and intensity of instruction students get with targeted support to help close the identified learning gap, and works as an additional evaluation tool to identify if students need extra services beyond MTSS.

    “It’s a better way to find instructional learning gaps and target them,” Kohlhepp said. “We can’t create more time for what we lost, but we can target it and focus on those needs by helping more kids than we've done in the past.”

    The ultimate goal, Besch added, is to cycle students out of interventions as they improve academically, and continue to use data to improve services to students as they grow academically.

    *By Brit Milazzo, public relations director, BASD. Photos provided by Besch and used with permission.