Understanding & Improving the Universal Tier

August 20th, 2020

The universal tier is the curriculum, instruction, and assessments that we provide to all students in a grade level in school. This is the instruction that’s guaranteed for all students to receive.

Our universal tier instruction typically focuses on grade level standards for our state and school. Schools use universal screening data in order to identify the effectiveness of their universal tier. 

There are two primary questions that schools ask as they’re doing this work. The first is if 80% of their students are successful. Schools typically use 80% criteria because they have resources to intervene with about 20% of students. If they have more than 20% of students who need additional intervention in order to be successful, their resources may be strained and they may not be able to provide intervention to all of those students. 

The second question schools use as they identify the effectiveness of their universal tier is looking at the growth of their students. We want to ensure that students who begin the year on track grow enough throughout the year to stay on track at the end of the year. 

When we look specifically at the progress of students who start the year on track, we’re isolating the universal tier instruction, because those students have likely only received universal tier instruction throughout the year, and these are students who haven’t received intervention. So, you’re really able to evaluate the effectiveness of that universal tier instruction. We recommend using the criteria of 95% for those students—so 95% of students who begin the year on track grow enough to stay on track at the end of the year. 

The second indicator is one that you may want to focus on at the beginning. If we ask teachers, what percentage of their students who start the year on track should grow enough to end the year on track, I have always received the answer “100% of students.” And so when we focus on that indicator of effectiveness for the universal tier, it’s a good way to build consensus around this work. 

When might universal tier improvements be needed?

When we identify that we have needs within the universal tier, most often because we have more students who need intervention than we have intervention resources to provide that intervention, we’re tempted to find more interventions to try to fit more students into intervention. And sometimes, we do some things with the very best of intentions but those won’t get us the results that we need. 

For instance, if I have more students who need intervention than I have space and interventions to provide, I may do something like cut a 40-minute intervention into 20 minutes. That way, I can meet with two different groups of students in that time. While it does allow me to meet with more students, what that does is decrease the instructional time by such a rate that we tend to not see as much student growth. So, students may not be getting as many lessons during the week, or they’re not getting as much instruction and practice in the interventions as they need in order to close the learning gap. 

So, it helps us to focus on the universal tier in those cases, in which we have more students who need intervention than there are intervention resources to provide, because we can isolate and start working on the universal tier so we have fewer students who need those interventions.

How can we improve at the universal tier?

We’re always focused on improving the universal tier. When we notice that we have more students who need intervention than there are resources to provide, there are some things we can do quickly in order to provide help to all students. 

We would recommend using a whole group intervention. This allows us to provide intervention to all students in a grade level, specifically targeted towards skills that they should have already learned. When we do this, we provide students with small learning gaps, and extra practice and learning, in order to prevent large learning gaps and catch them up if they were just a little bit behind. That also saves valuable intervention resources for those students who have more significant learning gaps. 

 

Want to dig into this topic more? Watch our free webinar on demand, Understanding and Improving the Universal Tier: Back-to-School Strategies for Meeting the Needs of All Students.

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