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Mass Literacy

Data-Based Decision Making

The use of data is central to the MTSS model (Harlacher et al., 2014). Teams of teachers use data from multiple assessments to plan tiered instruction that meets the needs of students.

Formative and summative evaluation procedures are necessary to make decisions about student intervention/instruction using scientifically validated assessments for screening, diagnostic, and progress monitoring purposes. These teams engage in a strategic problem-solving process to identify student needs and plan for intervention and progress monitoring. The Literacy Leadership Team will also use student assessments to evaluate school-wide outcomes, make programmatic decisions based on those outcomes, and use this data to inform the MTSS action plan (MTSS Blueprint ).

Assessments Used in Early Reading

Universal Screening

Universal Screening is conducted to identify or predict students who may be at risk for poor learning outcomes. Universal screening assessments are typically brief, conducted with all students at a grade level, and followed by additional testing or short-term progress monitoring to corroborate students' risk status (Center on Multi-Tiered System of Supports).

Diagnostic Assessments

Diagnostic assessments are the next logical step if a student is identified as at-risk by a screening assessment. Diagnostic assessments allow a teacher to determine students' individual strengths, weaknesses, knowledge, and skills prior to instruction and are primarily used to guide instructional planning (National Center on Intensive Intervention).

Progress Monitoring

Progress monitoring is used to assess students' academic performance, to quantify a student rate of improvement or responsiveness to instruction, and to evaluate the effectiveness of instruction (Center on Multi-Tiered System of Supports).

Formative Assessments

Formative assessments are used instructionally to help educators adapt instruction to meet students' needs by identifying students' strengths and weaknesses in an area.

Screening Assessments: Early Identification and Prevention of Difficulty

MTSS is rooted in proactivity and prevention. Early identification of students at risk for difficulty is a central goal of MTSS (Leonard et al., 2019). This approach seeks to avoid what has been termed the "wait to fail" response, or the identification of a learning difficulty only after a student has struggled unnecessarily for some time, despite early indicators of its existence (Gaab, 2017). Early identification requires the use of screening assessment.

Early literacy screening assessment provides data to identify students at risk for reading difficulty. Screening in grades K–3 is a practice supported by evidence, according to the Institute for Education Sciences .

Organizing for Tiered Instruction

After initial screening, teaching teams (the team of educators who serve the same group of students, including classroom teachers, inclusion or special educators, EL/ESL teachers, literacy coaches, and administrators) then meet to make instructional and grouping decisions based on the data. The information yielded by screening can be used to:

  • Inform teachers' decisions about differentiation in Tier 1/core instruction
  • Identify students who may need additional support

These resources offer additional information for organizing instruction

Tier 2 intervention, or additional support, may be provided to students identified as at risk (Gersten et. al., 2009). Identification is just the first step, however. Educators should use multiple sources of data to get a clear picture of the child's strengths as well as the underlying issue(s) causing reading difficulty. Instruction in Tier 2 must be targeted to the underlying problem(s) impacting the students' progress in literacy. Thus, children in the same intervention group should demonstrate similar instructional needs (e.g., phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, advanced phonics, fluency, automaticity, vocabulary, etc.).

In addition to being targeted, Tier 2 support can vary by group size, duration, and intensity. Interventions can also offer more explicit instruction and varied ways of practicing.

Use Progress Monitoring for Students Who Receive Intervention

Educators monitor the progress of students receiving Tier 2 support periodically using valid evidence-based assessments. Teaching teams meet to review progress monitoring data after it is gathered and make rapid adjustments, including adjustments to groupings, intensity of instruction, and/or focus of the instruction. When a student does not make adequate progress despite receiving high-quality Tier 1 instruction and additional targeted support in Tier 2, the teaching team should arrange for additional (or different) Tier 3 support and may consider further diagnostic assessment for the student.

Additional Information About Data-Based Decision Making in a Multi-Tiered System of Support

Data-Based Decision Making Package


Connor, C. M., Morrison, F. J., Fishman, B. J., Schatschneider, C., & Underwood, P. (2007). The early years: algorithm guided individualized reading instruction. Science, 315(5811), 464–465.

Coyne, M. D., Oldham, A., Leonard, K., Burns, D., & Gage, N. (2016). Delving into the details: implementing multi-tiered K–3 reading supports in high priority schools. In B. Foorman (Ed.), Challenges and solutions to implementing effective reading intervention in schools. New directions in child and adolescent development, Number 154 (pp. 67–85). New York: Wiley.

Coyne, M. D., Oldham, A., Dougherty, S. M., Leonard, K., Koriakin, T., Gage, N. A., Gillis, M. (2018). Evaluating the effects of supplemental reading intervention within an MTSS or RTI reading reform initiative using a regression discontinuity design. Exceptional Children, 84(4), 350–367.

Gersten, R., Compton, D., Connor, C. M., Dimino, J., Santoro, L., Linan-Thompson, S., & Tilly, W. D. (2009). Assisting students struggling with reading: response to intervention and multi-tier intervention for reading in the primary grades. A practice guide (NCEE 20094045). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

Harlacher, J. E., Sakelaris, T. L., & Kattelman, N. M. (2014). Practitioner's guide to curriculum-based evaluation in reading. New York, NY: Springer.

Last Updated: October 17, 2022

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