Fisher Elementary works to keep all students on track

ARLINGTON — Fisher Elementary School has made great strides in implementing an education model that uses staff collaboration and data-based intervention to help students who may otherwise fall through the cracks.

During the last year and over the summer, a group of teachers at the school has worked on laying the foundations for introducing a Multi-Tiered System of Support model for students. The MTSS model is based on the idea that the majority of students will understand a concept with only tier one, or standard classroom instruction, which can include small group or one-on-one instruction with a teacher. If teachers find that a student is not understanding a concept after the classroom instruction, they are put into tier two, which is a more personalized lesson, usually with an interventionist who specializes in the subject being discussed, be it reading, mathematics, etc. Tier two intervention focuses on the skills the student may be missing that can help them better understand the subject.

If the student is still not having success after tier two intervention, the teachers and specialists work together to come up with a more intensive plan to get the student back on track, or tier three instruction.

The State of Vermont's field guide for MTSS describes it as, "A multi-tiered approach to instruction and intervention... a comprehensive and systematic process for assessing and the maximizing the opportunities to learn for all students within any content area. It emphasizes the importance of effective, culturally responsive, and differentiated first (tier) teaching and effective early intervening support for both academics and behavior for all students, prior to making a referral for a special education evaluation. The (Vermont Department of Education) has identified a multi-tiered system... as a major component of school improvement and effectiveness."

Three Fisher instructors, reading interventionist Donna Bazyk and kindergarten teachers Meghan Knight and Jennifer McKeighan, gave a presentation to the Arlington School Board last Wednesday on what progress had been made in adopting the education model. The teachers attended an MTSS conference in Burlington in May, and have since put together an action plan for making the model more effective at Fisher.

"In order for us to be making sure students are getting what they need and learning what they need," said Bazyk, "we have to be meeting as teachers and talking about how we can make things better for them. At Fisher we've been doing a lot of this work for the past couple years. We used to be EST (Education Support Team), we were RTI (Response to Intervention), now its MTSS."

"When we have a student that is struggling in any area, it could be literacy or math, it could even be with their behavior in a classroom," said McKeighan, "as teachers, built into our instruction, we have ways that we help all kids. When we see that those things aren't working and the children aren't making adequate progress, we need help in our classrooms. The MTSS process has allowed us to get more help from other teachers, whether its working with your partner teacher or having a literacy interventionist or specialist come in or having special ed staff come in and support you, you are able to give kids more."

"We keep track of how kids are doing by taking data through assessment," she said. "We keep checking in with groups and checking in with kids, and as they make progress or don't make progress we meet again and we change those groupings. It's very flexible and its been very successful for us at the kindergarten level to see kids grow and get extra support for them before it would go to a special education referral process."

Arlington's neighbor to the south, the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, has used the MTSS model in its elementary schools for the past several years, and teachers there have reported great success.

"This year we really made a lot of progress in identifying how (students) learn and what they need," said Bazyk, "but the only way that we were able to do that was because we had a lot of support from the administration. They gave us time to meet weekly."

"It's great to sit down together and, instead of having just one classroom instructor, which is one point of view, being able to collaborate with specialists, special educators, the other classroom teachers, and bounce ideas off each other and hear different points of view," said Knight.

Reach staff writer Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122 or @DerekCarsonBB


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