# Evaluating the Strength of Tier 1 Core Instruction in Math

When schools were suddenly forced to close due to COVID-19 in spring 2020, many educators anticipated that the disruption would lead to learning loss. Recent research by Illuminate Education confirms that their assumptions were correct. According to the data, students in grades 5–8 have experienced substantial losses in math. To close these gaps, strong, adaptive Tier I core instruction within a Multi-Tiered System of Support is needed.

The Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) model is a system of academic and behavioral supports that includes four essential components: (1) multi-tiered levels of prevention and support, (2) evidence-based programs and high-quality instruction, (3) ongoing assessment, and (4) data-based decision making and problem-solving (Honig, Diamond, & Gutlohn, 2018).

The model features three hierarchical tiers that represent increasing intensity of prevention and support: Tier 1 (Universal Instruction), Tier 2 (Targeted Instruction), and Tier 3 (Intensive Instruction). It is important to note that these tiers describe the intensity of instructional support, and do not describe specific programs, students, or staff members.

Tier 1 is differentiated, evidence-based core instruction that *all* students receive. Core instruction should meet the needs of the majority of the student population. If the strength of the Tier 1 core program is sufficient for a given population of students, approximately 80% of the student population should achieve grade level goals as a result of participating only in Tier 1 programming (Brown-Chidsey & Bickford, 2016).

The goal of instruction at the Tier 1 level is to prevent the development of academic difficulties and to reduce the need for additional supports at the Tier 2 and Tier 3 levels.

While Tier 1 core instruction should meet the needs of most students, some students (approximately 10-15%) will require Tier 2 targeted interventions as a supplement to the Tier 1 instruction. Tier 2 targeted instruction provides the opportunity to deliver supplemental, short-term, small-group intervention to improve specific academic skills. The goal of instruction at the Tier 2 level is to provide students with targeted support that is aligned with the Tier 1 core curriculum.

For students who do not respond to the targeted interventions at the Tier 2 level, more individualized and intensive intervention is necessary. Tier 3 intensive instruction may be required by approximately 5-10% of a student population. Tier 3 interventions are intensive and highly individualized to meet specific needs of students.

The goal of instruction at the Tier 3 level is to help a small number of students close significant gaps in academic achievement and to overcome notable obstacles that impact academic skill acquisition.

As noted previously, the tiers in an MTSS model describe the intensity of instruction, and do not describe a specific program, group of students, or particular staff members. The differentiated, evidence-based core instruction at the Tier 1 level may vary greatly between districts based on the needs of the student population.

For instance, if a particular school district has a large population of students who enter school at a low readiness level, instruction at the Tier 1 level may need to be more explicit and intensive. Tier 1 instruction that is well-matched to the instructional needs of the student population provides a necessary and strong foundation for an MTSS model.

Universal screening provides a way to assess the strength of Tier 1 core instruction.

**Tier 1 Core Instruction in Math**

In this article, we will explore the ways in which the FastBridge __assessment solution __may be used as a universal screening tool to evaluate the strength of Tier 1 core instruction in math. Effective math instruction at the Tier 1 level provides a pathway for approximately 80% of the student population to achieve grade level goals.

Strong math instruction at the Tier 1 level prevents the development of math difficulties and reduces the need for supports at the Tier 2 and Tier 3 levels.

**Universal Screening of Math Skills**

Universal screening is used as a tool to measure all students’ academic skills at least three times per school year: fall, winter, and spring. Universal screening measures should be relatively brief and simple to administer, as well as be technically adequate (e.g., reliable and valid measures).

The results of a universal screening should be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the Tier 1 core curriculum and also to identify individual students who may be at-risk for learning difficulties and who would likely benefit from additional supports or intervention in order to be successful with the core curriculum (Riccomini & Witzel, 2010).

**FastBridge Assessment Solution Screening Measures**

The FastBridge assessment solution offers several different tools, which may be used as universal screening measures. These universal screening measures provide general information about all students’ current math skills within a given classroom or school (e.g., students’ scores will be categorized as being at “low risk,” “some risk,” and “high risk” for difficulties in mathematics).

This information may be used to identify which students may benefit from supplemental intervention, as well as assess how adequately the Tier 1 core instruction is meeting the needs of the student population. Below, you will find a table that summarizes the screening measures offered by the FastBridge assessment solution.

Using a Group Screening Report to Evaluate Tier I Core Math Instruction

The FastBridge Group Screening Report includes three main components. There are two versions of this report. One is available for school leaders such as principals and superintendents and includes data at the district and/or school levels.

The other is for teachers and specialists and shows data for classrooms and grades. The first part of the report is an infographic that summarizes the percentages of student scores (by class or grade) that fall within normative categories for each screening period (fall, winter, spring).

In the Group Screening Report below, red indicates the percentage of students who scored at the 20th percentile or lower; orange indicates the percentage of students who scored between the 21st and 30th percentile; green indicates the percentage of students who scored between the 31st and 85th percentile; and blue indicates the percentage of students who scored above the 85th percentile.

Image: “Math Group Screening”

The data in the infographic above, suggest that during the fall universal screening period, the Tier 1 core math instruction met the instructional needs of approximately 77% of the student population; however, during the winter and spring universal screening periods, the Tier 1 core math instruction met the needs of only 24% and 13% of the student population, respectively.

These data suggest the need for problem analysis. Problem analysis may aim to answer questions such as the following:

- What type of Tier 1 core mathematics instruction was provided for these students?
- Did other kindergarten classrooms within the school experience a similar pattern of mathematics difficulty?
- Which specific mathematics skills (e.g., decomposing, number sequencing, numeral identification) did the student population demonstrate success and difficulty with?
- How close to the end-of-year mathematics goals are the students now?

The next part of the Group Screening Report includes a list of all of the students in the class or grade with their composite scores and percentile ranks.

In the Group Screening Report below, red indicates the percentage of students who scored at the 20th percentile or lower; orange indicates the percentage of students who scored between the 21st and 30th percentile; green indicates the percentage of students who scored between the 31st and 85th percentile; and blue indicates the percentage of students who scored above the 85th percentile.

In addition, exclamation marks are used to indicate which students are at-risk for math difficulties. A student not meeting the benchmark is either at “some risk” or at “high risk” of not being on track to meet the established goals. Benchmarks are reported with exclamation marks. One exclamation mark (!) means some risk, and two exclamation marks (!!) mean high risk.

Image: “At-Risk Math”

The third component of the Group Screening Report includes information about group data, including the average, median, and standard deviation, as well as the minimum and maximum scores.

**Using a Detailed Group Report to Evaluate Tier 1 Core Math Instruction**

The FastBridge Detailed Group Report is available for the earlyMath and earlyReading assessments only. The Detailed Group Report shows students’ scores on both the subtests and the overall Composite score. This report can be helpful for identifying a student’s strengths and weaknesses across the Composite subtests.

Additionally, analysis of these data could help to pinpoint weaknesses within the Tier 1 core math instruction. The Detailed Group Report below summarizes student performance on the earlyMath composite during the winter universal screening period in Grade 1.

Image: “Tier I Core Math Instruction Report”

During the winter universal screening period, the earlyMath composite for Grade 1 is calculated based on student performance across three subtests: Decomposing Numbers (DC-1), Number Sequence (NS-1), and Place Value (PV-1).

An investigation of the data provided by the Detailed Group Report could help to answer problem analysis questions, such as:

- With which specific mathematics skills (e.g., decomposing, number sequencing, numeral identification) did the student population demonstrate success and difficulty?
- Are we meeting the instructional needs of the majority of our student population when teaching a specific math skill (e.g., grade 1 place value skills)?
- Are there particular strengths and weaknesses within our Tier 1 math core instruction?

**Summary**

The information delivered by both the FastBridge Group Screening Report and the Detailed Group Report provide ways for problem-solving teams at the district and school levels to evaluate the strength of Tier 1 core instruction in math.

First, by evaluating whether or not the current core instruction is providing a pathway for the vast majority of students to achieve grade-level goals, a problem-solving team can analyze whether or not the Tier 1 core program is adequately preventing the development of academic difficulties and reducing the need for support at subsequent tiers.

Additionally, the data provided by the FastBridge reports can help to pinpoint specific math skill areas within the Tier 1 core instruction that may need to be adjusted to be more explicit, direct, and intensive in order to support the needs of a given student population.

Tier 1 math instruction that is well-matched to the instructional needs of the student population provides a necessary and strong foundation for an MTSS model – and the FastBridge assessment solution provides tools that can help schools evaluate just how strong that foundation is.

Curious to learn more? Let’s talk!

**References**

Brown-Chidsey, R. and Bickford, R. (2016). *Practical handbook of multi-tiered systems of support: Building academic and behavioral success in schools. *New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Honig, B., Diamond, L., & Gutlohn, L. (2018). *Teaching Reading Sourcebook: Third Edition. *Berkeley, CA: Consortium on Reading Excellence in Education, Inc. (CORE).

Riccomini, P.J. and Witzel, B.S. (2010). *Response to Intervention in Math*. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.