Equal Opportunities for All Students: How ESSA is expanding access for MTSS in Schools

It was December 10, 2015, when President Obama signed The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This act would reauthorize the 50-year old Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA), which was signed by President Lyndon B Johnson. ESSA was promised to be good news for many schools around the country. ESSA meant a re-commitment to equal opportunity for all students. The signing of ESSA meant a chance to build on the advancements that had been made in recent years in education. ESSA includes many provisions that will help ensure success for students and schools. Here are just a few: (1) all students in America are to be taught to high academic standards to prepare them for college and careers (2) ensure vital information is provided to educators, families, students, and communities through annual statewide assessments (3) sustain and expand on the administration's investment in increasing access to high-quality preschool.

The signing of ESSA will support and grow local innovations including evidence based interventions developed by local educators. ESSA will allow schools to use these improvements to expand the services of Multi-Tier Systems of Support (MTSS), a framework that is dedicated to every student succeeding by using better assessments, innovations, and interventions. MTSS is systemic continuous improvement framework in which data based problem solving and decision making is practiced across all levels of the educational system to support all students. MTSS is an integration of Response to Intervention (RTI) and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS).

In the MTSS framework, student support is considered as a being layered, similar to the same way you would layer a cake. Tier 1, which is the bottom layer of the cake, is “universal” which all students receive.  An example of universal would be the core instruction taught by the teacher to all students and the behavioral expectations of the classroom. The middle layer of the cake is Tier 2, which some students receive who may not be successful in Tier 1. An example of Tier 2 would be small group instruction on a particular subject where students receive different tools to learn the instruction. The top layer of the cake is Tier 3, which is the most intensive support provided. An example of Tier 3 would be daily check-ins and weekly meetings with the guidance counselor.

This year, I have the opportunity to usher in the improvements ESSA is providing in schools through the use of MTSS. I work for a high performing network of charter schools located on the east side of Indianapolis, which predominately serves African American students, has a high number of students on free and reduced lunch, and has a high number of special education students. Our CEO has decided that we need to take the approach to meet all students at their needs. This year we will be rolling out a formal MTSS framework across all 6 of our schools. After serving a year as a principal; I have have been tasked with a new opportunity to develop the MTSS framework, which will allow us to continue providing a quality education for all students. I am really excited about the undertaking of this role and I recognize the importance.

Far too long schools, especially our schools, have been teaching to the needs of only some students. School, at its core, is to provide students with a quality education no matter their ability. The best education comes when students can partake in the learning experience in a classroom that is inclusive to all regardless of their ability or lack of ability. My job will be to provide our schools with a framework for inclusive education centered around supports for academically and behaviorally for all students. We will attend to the ripe apples (high performing students) and our unready apples (low performing students).

The passing of ESSA allows for expansion and use of MTSS, which enables the integration of multiple school improvement efforts and represents strategies that are evidence based and proven effective. Let’s use ESSA and its improvements in education to build awareness and the capacity for schools to adopt MTSS to ensure their proving supports to all students. We have to remember as educators that all students can learn and succeed; however, not all students can learn and succeed the same way.



David McGuire

Mr. McGuire is a middle school teacher in Indianapolis, Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana State University for Educational Leadership. Driven by the lack of having an African American male teacher in his classrooms growing up, David helped launched the Educate ME Foundation, which is geared towards increasing the number of African American male teachers in the classroom. A born and raised Hoosier, he is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all students in Indianapolis. He describes his educational beliefs as a reformer grounded in the best practices of traditional public schools, where he was mentored by strong leaders. David graduated from Central State University with a degree in English and also holds an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.