A Manual for Implementing a Multitiered Instructional Model for English Learners

Many schools use a multitiered system of supports, or MTSS, to deliver targeted instruction and interventions based on students’ needs. Specifically, MTSS refers to a framework that organizes instruction and interventions in a data-informed, tiered system of supports. When schools implement MTSS, it helps ensure all students receive the instruction and interventions needed to be successful. It also improves special education identification and referral practices, which is especially important for English learners (ELs) whose varying English proficiency makes identification of learning disabilities more challenging.

When planning MTSS implementation for ELs, it is important to consider the following:

  • The amount of native language and/or English as a second language (ESL) instruction students receive (either through a bilingual or ESL program)
  • How students’ native language is assessed and monitored
  • How the core literacy program students receive develops their native language and/or English literacy skills
  • How to determine students’ knowledge and skills in their first language and their performance in their second language (e.g., English language proficiency)
  • The extent to which a student’s first language can be supported by instructional resources (e.g., print materials) and by personnel, especially if no other students speak that language

Though there are no set rules, formulae, or procedures involved in implementing MTSS with ELs that can be easily adopted by all schools, the Project ELITE Implementation Manual offers helpful guidelines to encourage educators to promote effective practices related to MTSS for ELs.

An Implementation Manual

Project ELITE (funded by the Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education and housed at The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at The University of Texas at Austin) developed, tested, and adapted an MTSS in schools that serve high numbers of ELs. Based on their work in those schools, they have developed a manual with guidance for implementing MTSS with populations of ELs.

As described in the manual, the MTSS model has five key components:

  • High-quality, culturally and linguistically responsive core language and literacy instruction
  • High-quality, culturally and linguistically responsive supplemental instruction (Tier II and Tier III) that is valid for ELs with or at risk for literacy-related learning disabilities
  • Linguistically aligned assessment practices
  • Systematic use of assessment data in the design and delivery of instruction and in educational decision-making
  • Educator capacity building for sustained quality and services for ELs at risk for and with learning disabilities

Through Project ELITE’s iterative process of model development, key needs of the district were identified, collaboratively ad­dressed, and embedded into the MTSS model. For example, Project ELITE strengthened core instruction for ELs and set up structured data-analysis meetings.

  • Core instruction for ELs: Due to the large number of students in need of supplemental reading intervention, Project ELITE worked to strengthen core instruction through principles of culturally responsive pedagogy and strategies that promote second-language acquisition. A Read Aloud Routine for Building Vocabulary and Comprehension was developed, refined, and implemented in all kindergarten to third-grade classrooms. 
  • Structured data-analysis meetings: To improve the efficiency of providing services within MTSS to students, structured data meeting protocols were developed to ensure teachers reviewed student literacy data against established benchmarks, identified and discussed students’ language and literacy needs, grouped students according to need, and selected appropriate research-based instructional practices to meet students’ needs.

Helpful Tools and Resources

All the materials used to support educators in implementing the model, including all professional development materials, instructional guides, sample lessons, train­ing-of-trainers modules, structured data meeting protocols, and research briefs, are available either within the implementation manual or on the project website: www.elitetexas.org.

A series of guidance booklets, Effective Practices for English Learners, have also been developed.

Other helpful websites:

Final Thoughts

Useful guidance for implementing MTSS for ELs is available to schools, and educators are encouraged to use the resources described in this article to learn more. By using MTSS to carefully examine students’ needs, the instruction and interventions being provided, and how students respond, greater numbers of students can achieve higher levels of success and reach their potential.

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