The “Who” and “How” of MTSS in Secondary Schools

By Mark R. Shinn, Ph.D., MTSS/RTI Expert, Author*

It is no surprise to secondary educators that implementation of Multi-Tier Systems of Supports (MTSS), still known in some places as Response to Intervention (RTI), lags behind their elementary counterparts. I would attribute this lag to the lack of a clearly articulated model of Who we serve in secondary MTSS, especially at the high school level. It is difficult to determine How you serve students until you determine Who you serve.

In my recent webinar, I argued that the Who we serve is directed to those middle and high school students with severe basic skills discrepancies, and those students who lack Minimum Basic Skills Proficiency (MBSP). Once we clearly establish the Who, we can then focus our attention on How we serve them: by providing the most powerful, direct and explicit instruction using research-based basic skills intervention(s).

To flesh out our secondary MTSS implementation, we would begin with identifying a scientifically sound, time and cost efficient basic skills test to identify those students with MBSP discrepancies (i.e., screening) and to enable us to monitor their progress toward reducing these achievement gaps. Because motivation is one of the five areas of adolescent literacy (Marchand-Martella, Martella, Modderman, Petersen, & Pan, 2013), I also would prefer a test that is authentic, one that requires the tester to observe students’ actual reading to discern if they are giving any effort. Therefore, my secondary screening and progress monitoring test is a short sample of oral reading, Reading Curriculum-Based Measurement (R-CBM) with a long history of research and practice (Jenkins & Fuchs, 2012).

Unlike elementary MTSS where all students are routinely tested multiple times per year in Benchmark Assessment (Shinn, 2010) for progress monitoring, screening at the secondary level occurs less frequently. By high school, we shift to a case x case screening approach. Using R-CBM, I can screen a student for MBSP in reading in less than 10 minutes. I can monitor progress frequently toward reducing the MBSP discrepancy in less than 2 minutes per week. Another advantage to the R-CBM test is that it is a more holistic approach, which becomes useful for students with multiple problem areas.

However, one of the big barriers to using R-CBM at the secondary level is a misunderstanding of what R-CBM measures. Too many people label the test a “fluency” test. As the research knowledge expanded, however, it was clear that this oral reading test measures general reading ability.

It is true that R-CBM scores are less predictive of comprehension as students get older. That’s because reading is necessary, but not sufficient for comprehension, especially as one encounters more complex/informational text. I have graduate students who struggle with some of their content reading — not because of their general reading skills — but because they don’t understand much of what they are reading! And that’s due to the factors that impact comprehension (e.g., language skills, vocabulary and idioms, knowledge, school psychology practice, life experience, and meta-cognitive skills like motivation and engagement.)

It is clear that a simple R-CBM screening of an individual student can enable a professional to discern if there is a severe basic skill reading deficit that requires treatment or intervention, or if the student is a low-performing reader who needs support in content areas courses. It is equally clear that I can monitor the impact of intervention in a simple and seamless way.

Now that you understand the Who of secondary MTSS, check out my webinar on the How, which details the ways MTSS can support secondary ELA and math achievement:

Mark R. Shinn, Ph.D., has provided staff development and MTSS/RtI implementation support to schools, school districts, and state departments of education in 43 states. Mark joined National Louis University in 2003 after 19 years at the University of Oregon where he directed the School Psychology Program. From 1999–2003, he was a professor of Special Education at Oregon. Mark has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology (School Psychology) from the University of Minnesota, with a BA in Psychology from Gustavus Adolphus College. Mark received the Distinguished Alumni Award, University of Minnesota School Psychology Program (2013); is an Elected Member, Society for the Study of School Psychology (SSSP; 2013); received the American Psychological Association (APA) Division 16 (School Psychology) Jack Bardon Award for Distinguished Service (2003); and is a member of the National Advisory Board, Consortium on Reaching Excellence (CORE) since 2002. Mark’s work on progress monitoring and screening using Curriculum-Based Measurement (CBM), and its use in a Problem-Solving, MTSS model has resulted in more than 100 book chapters and journal articles.

For more information on the topic of R-CBM screening and progress monitoring in secondary MTSS, read the following:

Shinn, M. R. (2008). RTI at the secondary level. In S. L. Fernley, S.D., Norlin, J. (Ed.), What do I do when…The answer book on RTI. Horsham, PA: LRP Publications.

Shinn, M. R., Windram, H. S., & Bollman, K. A. (2016). Implementing RtI in Secondary Schools. In S. R. Jimerson, M. K. Burns, & A. M. VanDerHeyden (Eds.), Handbook of Response to Intervention (pp. 563–586). New York: Springer.

For more information on the topic of R-CBM screening and progress monitoring read the following:

Jenkins, J. R., & Fuchs, L. S. (2012). Curriculum-Based Measurement: The paradigm, history, and legacy. In C. A. Espin, K. McMaster, S. Rose, & M. Wayman (Eds.), A measure of success: The influence of Curriculum-Based Measurement on education(pp. 7–23). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Fuchs, L. S., Fuchs, D., Hosp, M. K., & Jenkins, J. R. (2001). Oral Reading Fluency as an Indicator of Reading Competence: A Theoretical, Empirical, and Historical Analysis. Scientific Studies of Reading, 5(3), 239–256.Â

Marchand-Martella, N. E., Martella, R. C., Modderman, S. L., Petersen, H., & Pan, S. (2013). Key areas of effective adolescent literacy programs. Education and Treatment of Children, 36, 161–184.

Shinn, M. R. (2010). Building a scientifically based data system for progress monitoring and universal screening across three tiers including RTI using Curriculum-Based Measurement. In M. R. Shinn & H. M. Walker (Eds.), Interventions for achievement and behavior problems in a three-tier model, including RTI (pp. 259–293). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.

For more information on the topic of adolescent literacy, read the following:

Hirsch, E. (2003). Reading comprehension requires knowledge of words and the world: Scientific insights into the fourth-grade slump and nation’s stagnant comprehension scores. American Educator, Spring, 10–19.

Kamil, M. L., Borman, G. D., Dole, J., Kral, C. C., Salinger, T., & Torgesen, J. K. (2008). Improving Adolescent Literacy: Effective Classroom and Intervention Practices: A Practice Guide. In. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Educational Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

Torgesen, J. K., Houston, D., & Rissman, L. (2007). Improving literacy instruction in middle and high schools: A guide for principals. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center for Instruction.

Torgesen, J. K., Houston, D. D., Rissman, L. M., Decker, S. M., Roberts, G., Vaughn, S., . . . Lesaux, N. (2007). Academic literacy instruction for adolescents: A guidance document from the Center on Instruction. Retrieved from Portsmouth, NH:

Willingham, D. T. (2006/07). The usefulness of Brief instruction in reading comprehension strategies. American Educator, Winter, 39–50.

*Disclosure: I am a consultant for Pearson’s aimsweb that includes the type of authentic, yet scientifically sound oral reading test referred to in this article, Reading Curriculum-Based Measurement (R-CBM). Other test publishers also include their own variation of R-C.

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