I can still hear my students groan every time I announce “pop quiz time!” My countless hours of learning about secondary education had taught me that a solid instructional strategy was rooted in tests, tests, tests. Test the kids before they learn, test the kids while they learn, and test them after they learn. And then again—test the kids the next day, too—just to make sure they remember what we did yesterday.
As a teacher, I always sought to have some form of assessment embedded throughout every lesson because that was the foundation of good teaching, right? However, I was never taught what to do with the results of all that testing. I had all this great data at my fingertips, but I was drowning in data points, multiple-choice scores, and whether or not spelling should count in a short answer. So how did that help me help my students?
A robust Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) relies on a systematic data collection process. We are told to ensure that we have a universal screener and progress monitors, but it’s just as vital that we know what to do with our assessment data after we go through the process of gathering it.
Standardized assessments used to assess a student’s progress towards a SMART goal, and determine the effectiveness of support provided
Students in need of Tier 2 and Tier 3 support
*Dependent on interventions and student’s need
Progress monitor tools embedded into an intervention program. Only assesses a student’s progress in the intervention, not towards a SMART goal (Not a progress monitor)
Students in need of Tier 2 and Tier 3 support
Dependent on an intervention program
Assessments used to measure a student’s standards proficiency
End of unit/year
Periodic “check-in” assessments, such as “pop quizzes” or “exit tickets'' used to guide Tier 1 instruction and measure students’ understanding of standards. Determines if instruction is effective or needs to be adjusted during instructional period
Ongoing throughout instructional period
Roles of Assessments in MTSS
The data we gain from the variety of assessments we utilize during our MTSS process guides our decisions on best serving our students. By referring to the chart above, we can see that each assessment has a specific place in MTSS and allows us the opportunity to make amendments to our instruction and intervention plans. Let’s break down this chart further to add some clarity.
A universal screener is a nationally or state-normed assessment. It is administered to all students two/three times per year to proactively and objectively identify which students are potentially in need of educational support/enhancement to supplement the core curriculum. This is the data utilized to determine which level of MTSS tier support a student will require.
Universal screener data can also evaluate whether the core curriculum results in success for a sufficient percentage of students. For example, suppose the data from a universal screener shows that a more significant percentage of students need intervention or support than is typical in the MTSS pyramid. In that case, educators can use that data to assess the fidelity of the core instruction. If data shows that more than 20% of students require Tier 2 or Tier 3 support, this data can drive a reassessment and adaptation of the core instruction.
However, a universal screener does not take the place of a diagnostic assessment. These assessments can be informal or standardized and take place after a universal screener has occurred. Diagnostic assessments help educators identify a student’s specific area of need. Universal screeners only identify which students require more support, but they do not dive deeper into where specifically a student needs support.
Diagnostic data is used to create SMART goals that will be the foundation of the student’s intervention plan. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-Oriented, Time-Bound) goals identify a specific skill and timeline that will be used to assess whether or not a student is on track to reach grade-level mastery.
Educators can accurately measure a student’s progress with an identified skill area. For example, if educators need help selecting a diagnostic assessment, the National Center of Intensive Intervention has compiled a list of diagnostic tools that can be used in MTSS.
Progress Monitors and Intervention-Embedded Assessments
Throughout intervention plans, progress monitors are utilized to assess whether or not a student is making progress towards an intervention plan’s SMART goal. Since most intervention plans span six weeks, progress monitors should be administered every week or two weeks, depending on the student’s needs.
Progress monitors should be valid and reliable and accurately assess the targeted area of need. This data provides a student’s rate of improvement, the data points required to determine whether an intervention will successfully reach a student’s goal. In addition, educators used progress monitoring data to determine if intervention time should be increased or if the intervention should be changed entirely.
Many intervention programs offer their own form of progress monitors. These assessments have been labeled “intervention-embedded assessments” in the table above. While it’s easy to get these assessments confused with progress monitors, these assessments provide two very different types of data—and one does not replace the other.
For example, while a progress monitor measures a student’s progress towards their SMART goal, an intervention-embedded assessment measures their progress within the intervention. Hopefully, this is the same area as the student’s SMART goal, but this is not always the case. However, these assessments will not provide data specific to the student’s goal but only general data about the student’s progress in the program.
Summative and Class-Based Formative Assessments
Lastly, educators have access to summative and class-based formative assessments. These are the pillars of traditional teaching, and most likely, familiar territory for all teachers. These assessments provide data that assess the efficacy of Tier 1 core instruction during the instructional period. Summative assessments gauge a student’s mastery of a set of standards after the standards were taught in a specific unit.
Class-based formative assessments are the quick “check-in” assessments teachers incorporate during units to gauge whether or not students are mastering the standards. My favorite “pop quizzes” were part of these formative assessments.
Exit tickets and bellringers also fit the bill. Summative and class-based assessments provide educators with data that can be used to adjust their instruction during the instructional period to ensure all students are benefitting from their Tier 1 core instruction.
On-Demand Webinar: Best Practices on Interpreting Assessment Data
Join the Branching Minds team for an hour of learning, as we break down the role of assessments in MTSS, and how to use assessment data as feedback to interventions and instruction.
If we were in a classroom, this is the point where I would give a pop quiz to see if everyone was able to master the different assessments used in MTSS. But don’t worry, we will save those pop quizzes for the students.
Assessments are an invaluable tool that is instrumental to the MTSS cycle. They drive our instruction, interventions, and evaluations on the efficacy of our MTSS practice. While it may come across as test, test, test, these tools are important indicators of where to proceed with our students. This allows us the opportunity to maximize interventions and ensure our instruction is targeted to the current needs of our students.
With a clear understanding of the role of each assessment and how the data should be used, we can continuously improve and adapt—providing our students with data-driven instruction and support.
While this article provided a brief overview of the various types of assessments and practices in interpreting assessment data, there is much more to learn. Branching Minds offers an abundance of free resources to help educators learn more about specific assessment topics, such as measuring rate of improvement (ROI), progress monitoring, interventions, and more.
To summarize in a very cliche manner: this is only the tip of the iceberg. Check out more of our resources, and I promise—there’s no pop quiz at the end. (And if you want to quiz yourself, we have these MTSS Quizzes you can try.)
Bailey, T. R., Colpo, A. & Foley, A. (2020). Assessment Practices Within a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (Document No. IC-18). Retrieved from University of Florida, Collaboration for Effective Educator, Development, Accountability, and Reform Center website: http://ceedar.education.ufl.edu/tools/innovation-configurations/
Library of Hundreds of RTI/MTSS Evidence-Based Learning Supports
Branching Minds has the most comprehensive and instructive library of evidence-based learning supports of any MTSS platform. Our supports include hundreds of paid evidence-based intervention programs, as well as nearly a thousand free evidence-based strategies, activities, and resources. For each of these supports, BRM helps educators understand what the support is, why and for whom it should be used, how it should be delivered, and connects them to the supporting research and additional material.
Our learning science team has curated these resources from the most trusted and respected hubs of evidence-based supports, including the Florida Center for Reading Research, What Works Clearinghouse, Evidence for ESSA, Intervention Central, the IRIS Center from Vanderbilt University, Harmony SEL; and, each one has been reviewed and categorized based on the ESSA tiers of evidence guidelines.
Mollie Breese is the Content Manager at Branching Minds. She helps streamline the support library, so schools can identify and access the interventions they need to support student success. She researches the newest strategies, activities, and programs to add to the robust library, providing a wealth of resources for partner schools. Prior to joining Branching Minds, Mollie worked in the classroom as an English teacher, Reading teacher, and ESL instructor. Mollie earned her B.A. in Political Science from the University of Missouri, and her M.A. in English Literature from the University of Glasgow.