George Lucas Educational Foundation

Schools That Work | Practice

P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School

Grades K-12 | Gainesville, FL

Academic Success for All Students: A Multi-Tiered Approach

At P.K. Yonge, using Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) enables teachers to differentiate and provide each student the right level of instruction to succeed.
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Academic Success for All Students: A Multi-Tiered Approach (Transcript)

Teacher: And so, how are you going to get from there to there?

Student: I think it's south and west.

Teacher: Okay, try it, like take your finger and now follow my finger with me, west. Do we get to our destination?

Student: Yeah.

Teacher: All right, high five.

Lynda: It's a real challenge to educators today to figure out how do you use your available resources so that every child succeeds.

Lynda: Before we started our work, we had what other schools had. There would be a teacher in a classroom. They would teach a curriculum. And if a student needed extra help, out the door they went, down the hallway they went and somebody else pulled out all the tricks that they knew and tried to teach that child. So for us, it was really flipping that whole model upside down and saying, "These are the resources we have available to us. How do we get everybody working together to design a system that is more seamless for students?"

Holly: The system would not work without teacher collaboration.

Mindi: Every decision we make, we have to make as a team.

Ashley: And we problem solve together and look at data together and make decisions about what kids need.

Lynda: If we're going to work collectively to ensure the success of every child, then we had to get on the same page about what we were teaching. So for us, it was an early lesson in identifying a core curriculum in math and reading that was the same no matter who the teacher was.

Ashley: So every single student will receive, you know, universal instruction, core instruction, also known as Tier 1. Some kids will need supplemental instruction. They'll need a little bit more than core. So you'll hear that referred to as Tier 2. And then, some kids may need more intensive intervention and so, you'll hear that referred to as Tier 3.

Teacher: So what did it tell you to do? How are you going to figure it out?

Ashley: Teachers at the very beginning of the block are teaching core instruction to their core 22 students. And then they would move into a time that we call autonomous time where the students will be more self-directed in their learning.

Students: Columbians are--

Ashley: So some teachers may pull Tier 2 at that time. You also may see Tier 3 being pulled at that time in a very small room where kids can really focus.

Teacher: So this book is about the Constitution and the reason…

Dejuan: It's pretty awesome here. My three favorite things are math, writing and reading.

Sophia: It's kind of cool so if you don't just-- aren't just with one teacher and you get to kind of move rooms and move teachers.

Jhett: When you go down into the-- with Mr. Kirby in your small group, then it really stretches your brain in a really good way.

Ashley: The teachers organize themselves in a variety of different ways and it depends on teacher strengths and students needs.

Student: Brushing away the old vine.

Ashley: We may need a specific group just on predicting. And you don't have five kids who need predicting in your 22. You have a whole bunch of them across the learning community. So it's really important that the tiers are connected. Your core instruction could be inferring. If they're receiving Tier 1 with me and Tier 2 with you and Tier 3 with someone else, we all are really teaching inferring. We just may be teaching it with different materials. That requires a lot of trust amongst teachers and that also requires teachers to communicate. They meet every Wednesday in a learning community and they definitely check in with each other about instruction.

Teacher: Like had almost all of their packet already filled out and then there's some groups of kids that don't have anything filled out.

Teacher: We have the same problems with when they come to us, they have to finish up the packet. So if we try to stick to what that core part is…

Ashley: And then we meet as a Student Success Team. That team is made up of myself, the learning community leader, all of the core teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, speech and language pathologists.

Lynda: All of those stakeholders will sit around the table together, take a look at all of the data, have deep conversations about the effectiveness of the core instruction and also monitor the progress of the Tier 2 groups and the Tier 3 and then problem solve together to figure out the ways in which they might make adjustments. And then once they make those major adjustments, then they'll come back together once a month to make sure progress is being made.

Teacher: And then reading, which was mini lessons 45 percent of the time and then 83 percent of the time. And then you also had some really other good details.

Teacher: Maybe her goal sheet is almost like twice as long so she has more space like on Monday. And right before you go into Tier 2, okay, what are the specific things you're going to do.

Mindi: I think that we're meeting the student's needs better.

Holly: The growth that we see in our students is phenomenal. We've had kids go from eighth percentile to thirty, fortieth percentile and sometimes higher.

Ashley: My work is to make sure that all kids get what they need. We have lots of different types of learners and everybody deserves to have instruction that meets their needs.

Holly: That was beautiful, high five.

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Supporting Every Learner

P.K. Yonge’s Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) is the framework used to meet the needs of every student. They've implemented grade-level Student Success Team (SST) meetings with a cross-functional team that plans for, monitors, and evaluates both the academic and behavioral needs of each student, instead of having two separate teams. 

Together, the teachers and support staff collaborate to analyze student data and make action plans. Those in need of additional academic support are identified, and interventions are planned and monitored. Additionally, opportunities for students exceeding benchmarks, or in need of a challenge are also developed.  

Since 2006, P.K. Yonge has used a tiered system, where every student receives core instruction, known as Tier One. Some students need supplemental instruction, which is referred to as Tier Two, and a small cohort of students receive the most intensive intervention and supports, known as Tier Three. 

Academic supports are integrated with behavioral supports in the MTSS framework. See how this school provides behavioral support for every student.

How It's Done

Using Data to Personalize Instruction

The Student Success Team (SST) makes all decisions about tiered instruction. The team is made up of the K-12 MTSS Support Specialist, the Learning Community Leader, all of the core teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, speech and language pathologists and sometimes occupational therapists. Additional people are brought in on an as-needed basis, and parents are consulted on all decisions.The SST meets every four and a half weeks across K-12.

Determining Tiers

For academic instruction, the majority of students get their needs met through core, or Tier One instruction. P.K. Yonge uses a standard measure of 80 percent effectiveness for students hitting targets in core instruction. Tiers Two and Three are seen as deep, meaningful support for students, not as band-aids for what’s not working in Tier One. If less than 80 percent of students are succeeding in Tier One, then Tier One instruction needs to be strengthened. Typically, Tier Two has about 15 percent of students, and Tier Three about 3 to 5 percent.

Each tier builds upon what’s happening in the tier before it. For example, in reading, core instruction could be centered on comprehension strategies and specifically inferring, and then Tier Two, would be supplemental instruction on inferring.

For Tier One, the student-teacher ratio is approximately 22-to-1; for Tier Two, approximately 6-to-1; and for Tier Three, between approximately 3-to-1, and occasionally 1-to-1.

Collecting Data

The SST collects a variety of data that helps determine how students are doing, and what specific supports they need. At the elementary level, the school uses different measures like DIEBELS progress monitoring, Fox in a Box diagnostic measures, and a Gates-MacGinitie reading test. They also analyze the outcomes of the annual state reading test for the third grade on up. For math, they have used different standardized measures including AIMS and GMADE. It is important that measures are valid and reliable and generate some kind of norming or statistical information that will help faculty know how students are doing as compared to students across the classroom, district, or nation.    

In the 6-12th grades, the faculty spend a lot more time looking at students’ grades, attendance and discipline records. They may also look at some district measures or class-made assessments to determine students’ progress in their skill development. All of the conversations in the upper grades include an analysis of state and national testing as appropriate.

Questions Used to Monitor Progress

The SST team looks at all the data for every student in the school. They then determine an action plan based on the following questions:

  • What percentage of students are getting their needs met through core (Tier One) instruction?
  • Which students need supplemental instruction in a Tier Two configuration?
  • How is the supplemental instruction defined?  There can be multiple Tier Two defined support – some students may need to work on a certain set of skills, while other students have a different set of needs.
  • What about students already in a Tier Two – how are they progressing? Are there students in Tier Two who may need to move to Tier Three supports?
  • How are students already in Tier Three doing?

The SST works diligently to have a sustained period of time that students receive the intervention to see if it’s effective. Students are typically in Tier Two for at least four and a half weeks, and in Tier Three from nine to twenty-seven weeks, with progress being monitored on a regular basis.

Students who need Tier Three support for significant periods of time beyond the 27 weeks, may then receive possible placement into exceptional student education, to receive an IEP or an EP or a 504.

Using Individual Strengths

Teachers organize themselves around tiered instruction in a variety of different ways and it depends on teacher strengths and student needs. When Tiers Two and Three are defined, teachers determine who leads particular instruction based on their individual strengths, or students in that tier that respond well to them.

During instruction time, all teachers teach core instruction to their 22 students for about 30 minutes. Then everyone moves into Tier Two, Tier Three or autonomous time for another 30 minutes. Another rotation then occurs, and teachers and students reorganize themselves again. At all times, teachers are either leading a tiered group or supervising autonomous time.

Teacher Collaboration

At P.K. Yonge, all core teachers in each grade level have a common daily planning time. While they may quickly check in during this time, it is really during the weekly learning community meetings where they have time to talk about instruction and students. Collaboration continues in the SST meeting, where the focus is on data assessment and problem solving.

A lot of trust and communication is developed between teachers within the learning community to talk about the students they share, and the work they are doing across the tiers.

Reducing Stigma

One of the things P.K. Yonge has worked hard on is to reduce the labeling and stigmatism that can go with being identified as a student who needs more support. Some of that normalizing and making it safe comes from the ways in which they have organized their personnel, the ways in which faculty try to balance "pushing in" and "pulling out." The staff strive to ensure that there is never a certain cohort of students that are always in the particular tier in all subjects. As Director Lynda Hayes, says, “It can be quite an orchestration. We don’t always accomplish that, but that’s always our goal. How do we make this seamless and as normal for all of our students as possible?"


Comments (6) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

john madlock's picture
john madlock
I enjoy teaching and learning.

Tiers work with students and I can see so much potential in the teachers who collaborate with one another. I am in my first internship as principal. I am wondering if any of you can help me get a sounding timber going on tier learning as a whole school model or a math/literacy department model.

JLeavitt's picture

We are trying to implement MTSS tiers at our school. In all of the articles and discussions that I have read it looks to be an effective plan when there are multiple same grade teachers. Our school is small with only two classrooms per grade level. We are departmentalized so that means we have just one ELA teacher per grade level and one Math teacher per grade level. I believe this would be a great hinderance to implementing such a plan. We would lack the collaboration element. Are there other schools that have done this successfully? How should we best proceed?

Julie's picture

I really love this approach. I currently teach 30 second graders and because of space and not having and aide or any support I do my own tier approach. While Tier 1 and Tier 2 students work independently, I pull out Tier 3 students and work with them for a few minutes. I will talk to my principal and colleagues and see if we can implement this by grade level. That way tier 2 students can benefit from further instruction.

misstbeck's picture

I am a pre service teacher and have learned a lot about the tiered approaches. I think this strategy is amazing and I can't wait to incorporate it into my own classroom. Giving those students who need the extra one on one or small group instruction is vital in their learning and understanding. I think every student deserves to be in an environment where they can succeed as much as they possibly can and unfortunately many do not because they do not get the individual attention that they need.

Jackie's picture

I think that this approach sounds very effective and useful. At my current school I teach kindergarten, there is only one teacher per grade level. We meet once a month with my group, which is k-2. We do not have anything like this approach and I often feel alone because of the lack of support and others to collaborate with. I would like to learn more about this approach and bring it to my school to discuss how we could incorporate it. I think that it is important as a teacher to make sure that we are doing our best to help all our students. Having them grouped the way this approach is designed is only going to benefit the students because their learning will be geared to where they are and their strengths and areas they struggle in.

jkiss2's picture

I am a doctoral adult education student who is not actively teaching; however, I take interest in what is currently happening on the frontlines. It sounds as if the tier method should work, but I wonder how effective is the stigmatism process. For those who are using the tier method, what degree of shyness is shown during the tier breakout sessions?

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