Hand drawing of a poke bowl, with a base, choice of protein, and toppings.

MTSS in Alternative, Community, and Correctional Education

During a recent professional development event at Orange County (CA) Alternative, Community, and Correctional Education Schools and Services (ACCESS), teams created definitions and analogies for Multitiered System of Support (MTSS) that fit their unique context and student needs.  MTSS is broadly defined throughout California schools as a tiered system of support for students’ academic, behavioral and social emotional learning. This system is sustainable when supported by strong administrative leadership; integrated educational framework; student, family and community partnerships; and inclusive policy structure and practices.

We asked the ACCESS teams to create an analogy to help explain MTSS to their colleagues and community. We shared an example of MTSS as an organizing system like a library. In a public library we can know and learn where things are: many books by many authors on various topics intended for many audiences. Everyone has access to what they need, which can be different things at different times. Strategic decision making occurs around book choices and pages to read based on information about the purpose, reading level, and other “data”. Importantly, everyone is welcome to use the library system, where each person can check out the right book at the right time. In this imagery, the shelves represent an overall MTSS framework, books represent the components of the system, and the pages in the books represent practices, strategies, and research-based interventions from among which they can select based on data they gather.

ACCESS teams created their own analogies for MTSS, which included department store analogies ranging from Nordstrom’s to Target; MTSS Mine Craft, which starts off basic with many levels and challenges and no limit on exploration; an ecosystem with students, families, community stakeholders, teachers, administrators; and an all-inclusive MTSS universe.

Many teams chose to make food analogies! Examples of these included a custom designed multi-layer cake, an ice cream sundae with lots of individualized sprinkles, a “whole enchilada”, individualized pizzas, a potluck dinner, and an MTSS Poke.  If you aren’t familiar with Poke, see the photo posted with this blog, which shows a universal base of rice/salad/chips, a next tier of protein based on support needs, a more intensive tier of toppings with intensive flavor options, and specialized support that includes “extras.”

With these analogies fresh in their minds, the teams set to work taking a closer look at available resources across their system.  They began considering ways to maximize personnel and resources to create a system that supports all students’ academic, behavior, and social-emotional needs.

I am excited to return to see all the “ingredients” they find and how they put them together for a “delicious” MTSS for alternative education in Orange County, CA!

-Dr. Melinda Mitchiner

Photo of blog authorAs Research Programs Director at SWIFT Education Center, University of Kansas, I work closely with state and district teams to provide technical assistance and support to guide their work to install equity based multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) using the Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation (SWIFT).

Five Reasons to Continue Literacy Instruction at Any Age

My family loves to read.  My husband reads classic novels and mysteries for relaxation.  Our son reads history and sci-fi fantasy with a passion.  I like to read history as well as non-fiction about culture and life around the globe.  I simply cannot imagine a life without reading.  Yet, “a national survey found that 43% of U.S. adults (an estimated 56 million people) do not possess the necessary literacy skills to fully participate in contemporary society” (Mellard, 2013, p. 13).

Did you catch that phrase, “to fully participate”?

Literacy is vital to inclusion. In fact, five research-based reasons for continuing literacy instruction among adolescent and young adult students with special needs are:

  1. Literacy can increase social interactions, leading to a greater sense of belonging (Forts & Luckasson, 2011)
  2. Literacy facilitates knowledge about healthy choices for physical well-being (Taggart & McKendry, 2009)
  3. Literacy creates access to recreation and leisure activities (van Kraayenoord, 1994)
  4. Literacy opens up opportunities for more education and employment, which can lead to economic stability (deFur & Runnells, 2014)
  5. Literacy empowers active citizen participation in the democratic process (deFur & Runnells, 2014)

While not comprehensive, this list is a pretty good description of what it means to fully participate, which is what inclusive education is all about.

The challenge for educators, however, is how to support literacy acquisition among adolescents and young adults who thus far have not reached this goal.  To state the obvious, giving up on literacy instruction is NOT the way to achieve this goal. A good beginning is an educational system that persists across all grade levels to provide literacy instruction to students who struggle to read as well as those who need extensive support. Adult literacy research highlights the importance of differentiated instruction matched to student needs and motivations for learning (Mellard, 2013)—like one might see in a middle and high school multi-tiered system of support.

If you aren’t quite sold on the idea that literacy instruction can and should continue for adolescent and young adult students who need the most extensive support, I recommend listening to Drs. Kinas-Jerome and Ainsworth’s recent SWIFT Unscripted podcast.  Their conversation about why and how they support literacy acquisition inspired me to look again at the research, and to reaffirm the importance of continuing literacy instruction for students of any age or need for support.

 

References

deFur, S. H., & Runnells, M. M. (2014). Validation of the adolescent literacy and academic behavior self-efficacy survey. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 40(3), 255-266.

Forts, A. M., & Luckasson, R. (2011). Reading, writing, and friendship: Adult implications of effective literacy instruction for students with intellectual disability. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 36(3-4), 121-125.

Mellard, D. (2013). Observations on providing effective instructon for adults with low literacy.  Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Spring, 13-16.

Taggart, L., & McKendry, L. (2009). Developing a mental health promotion booklet for young people with learning disabilities. Learning Disability Practice, 12(10), 27.

van Kraayenoord, C. E. (1994). Literacy for adults with an intellectual disability in Australia. Journal of Reading, 37(7), 608-610.

 

By Kari Woods

Photo of blog authorMs. Woods manages communications and product development for SWIFT Education Center in the Life Span Institute at the University of Kansas.

Six Successes and Ten Strategies: Students on Alternate Assessments in Equity-Based Inclusive Education

The Cecil County team of committed educators are continually asking the question, “How do we promote membership, participation, and learning for all students in general education classrooms?”  We are seeing positive results by way of increased socialization, communication, decreases in behaviors, and evidence that students are accessing and learning grade-level curriculum!  Consider the following examples:

A first-grade student with autism (formerly on track for alternate assessment) is now doing grade-level work and the paraprofessional is supporting the class as a whole, rather than acting solely as a 1:1 support for this student.  What made the difference? Educators hold high expectations for the student and ensure she is a fully participating member in the general education instruction.

A breakthrough moment occurred for a sixth-grade student with challenging behavior when the teachers created alternative pathways to the regular curriculum instead of an alternate curriculum taught with different materials in a separate part of the room.  The student was treated as a full-time member and felt a sense of belonging, and the challenging behaviors decreased.

In a kindergarten class, a five-year-old who does not speak with his voice is in general education 100% of the time.  As a full-time member of the class, his peers provide support for him to participate in whole-group instruction, and he has moved from running around the room to participating in classroom routines without paraeducator support.

Another student in kindergarten who did not use her voice to communicate, and whose behaviors challenged the educators, is now fully included and using augmentative and alternative communication  with core vocabulary connected to the classroom curriculum and routines.  She is now also beginning to use her voice to express herself.

In fifth grade, an 11-year-old boy with significant disabilities who does not speak with his voice was in a general education class, but existed as an “island in the back of the room,” working on alternate activities.  Educators now adapt materials to grade-level standards and he is included in general education classroom routines. The special education teacher and general education teacher collaborate to address the student’s needs and the student is successfully learning grade level curriculum.

A third-grade student with autism was receiving all of his education—except science and social studies—outside of the classroom.  He moved from part-time participation in general education with expectations for alternative outcomes to full time-membership in the general education curriculum.  He is now following a general diploma track!

Cecil County strives to achieve membership, participation, and learning for students with significant disabilities in many ways. Here are ten strategies related to the student successes described above:

  • Students attend the school ordinarily attended by children in their local community.
  • Student are members of age-appropriate general education classrooms, which includes their names on class lists, job lists, and so forth.
  • The school delivers related services to the students primarily in general education classrooms and/or during times of the day that coincide with the emphasized skills.
  • Natural supports such as peers, classroom teachers, and other members of the school community are available to provide assistance, scaffold interactions, give encouragement, and develop social relationships/friendships.
  • Communication materials and instruction, including AAC devices, are provided to students who need them to communicate content and messages that are similar to their classmates’.
  • Students participate in the same instructional routines as their classmates: whole-class, small group, partners, one-on-one, etc.
  • In small group activities, students are supported to share information, take notes, and socialize. In whole-class discussions, students are supported to brainstorm, call out answers, take notes, and engage in social side talk.
  • Students transition between classes with other students, arriving and leaving at the same time.
  • Students are supported to complete assignments and other work products commensurate with their peers and aligned with the grade-level curriculum.
  • Students demonstrate classroom-based learning through a variety of methods monitored by the classroom teacher and based on high expectations of all class members.

These successes are the direct result of administrative support for equity-based inclusion, collaboration among educators, partnerships with the families, and attention to full-time membership, participation, and learning.

-Michael McSheehan, SWIFT Technical Assistance Coordinator 

Photo of blog author.Michael McSheehan serves as the Coordinator of Technical Assistance for the School-wide Integrated Framework for Transformation (SWIFT) Center, which was established in 2012. He is a Project Director at the University of New Hampshire, Institute on Disability and National Center on Inclusive Education. Prior to working with the SWIFT Center, Michael led a variety of state and federally funded initiatives to advance research, policy, and practice in inclusive education, alternate assessment, collaborative teaming, and Response to Intervention (RtI). For example, he was a developer, researcher, and co-author of The Beyond Access Model, an intensive supports planning model for teams working with students with significant disabilities. Michael also helped lead a five-year, state-wide project to develop and implement a Response-to-Intervention model for academic and behavioral supports with seven elementary schools and five school districts in New Hampshire.

The Impact of SWIFT Technical Assistance

Recently, we had an opportunity to look back at the outcomes of this technical assistance, publishing our findings in a special issue of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disability (AAIDD) journal ‘Inclusion.’  To complete this special issue, researchers culled through SWIFT data in each domain (i.e., policy, administrative leadership, family and community engagement, integrated education, and multi-tiered systems of support).

SWIFT Education Center began providing technical assistance to schools, districts, and states in providing equitable, inclusive supports to all students in 2012.  The initial funding for SWIFT, provided by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) occurred at about the same time the U.S. was celebrating the 40th anniversary of the landmark education law, P.L. 94-142, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA).  The law was groundbreaking in that it prioritized educating students with disabilities in inclusive, general education settings, with the supplementary aids and services they need to succeed in these settings.  Since then, research overwhelming supported the effectiveness of inclusive education for students with and without disabilities (see SWIFT Shelf for a bibliography of supporting research).

Yet progress in transforming schools, which traditionally separate and segregate learners with disabilities from general education settings, to deliver inclusive support and education has been slow.  As a consequence, millions of students are taught outside of general education settings for at least part of their school day on a regular basis.  In light of these trends, SWIFT Education Center works to provide sustainable, systemic change across state, local, and school levels towards inclusive education for all students.

Recently, we had an opportunity to look back at the outcomes of this technical assistance, publishing our findings in a special issue of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disability (AAIDD) journal ‘Inclusion.’  To complete this special issue, researchers culled through SWIFT data in each domain (i.e., policy, administrative leadership, family and community engagement, integrated education, and multi-tiered systems of support).

Findings across these domains showed a positive impact of SWIFT technical assistance on all measured outcomes.  In the policy domain, Mary Schuh, Kimberly Knackstedt, Jake Cornett, Jeong Hoon Choi, Dan Pollitt, and Allyson Satter found participating states, districts, and schools made progress in implementing inclusive policy that aligns across federal, state, and local levels.  In the administrative leadership domain, Elizabeth Kozleski and Jeong Hoon Choi examined how implementation of the administrative leadership domain of SWIFT impacts leadership performance and educator support systems implementing within schools.  The family and community engagement domain was equally promising, with Judith Gross, Jeong Hoon Choi, and Grace Francis finding positive family perceptions of engagement and partnership with schools following implementation of SWIFT.

Wayne Sailor, Amy McCart, and Jeong Hoon Choi, studied the impact of a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS), and found preliminary evidence of the effectiveness of this model on student academic and behavioral outcomes, as well as the impact of SWIFT implementation on rates of inclusive education.  Similarly, I found, along with colleagues Mary Morningstar, Tyler Hicks, and Jonathan Templin, that rates of school inclusion increased over the years of implementation of the SWIFT model.

Together, the research findings present a detailed account of the many positive impacts of SWIFT implementation on students and families, and provide directions for further areas of research and support for promoting equitable inclusive school services for all students.

Photo of blog author.Jennifer Kurth is an Assistant Professor in the Special Education Department at the University of Kansas. Her research focuses on inclusive education for learners with low-incidence disabilities who have extensive and complex support needs.

Cover of FIA

Where do you even begin? Begin with SWIFT-FIA

Recently, I was having a conversation with a local school district representative about the SWIFT Education Center and the services we provide to support equity-based inclusive education. As usual, I got a little caught up in my impassioned plea about why all students should participate in and make progress in the general education curriculum. I started rambling on about the research to support inclusive educational practices and the inherent inequity of segregation for students with disabilities. Suddenly, the representative stopped me and said, I understand “why”, but I don’t know “where” to start. She asked me, “what do you do to support districts who believe in inclusive education, but aren’t there yet? Where do you even begin?”

This conversation reminded me that just believing inclusive education is the right thing to do is not enough to make it happen. State, district, and school leaders may want to, and even believe they should, implement inclusive practices but knowing where to start can seem daunting.

Implementing equity-based inclusive education is not as easy as just moving students from one placement to another. Moving students from a segregated classroom to a general education setting does not ensure students are meaningfully participating in and making progress in the general education curriculum with their peers. Too often I see students with disabilities moved from a segregated classroom just to be segregated again within a general education classroom. When a student is sitting in the back corner of a classroom with a paraeducator working on something totally unrelated to the work his or her peers are doing, then the student is not really experiencing the full benefits of inclusion. But, if moving students out of segregated settings isn’t enough, then how do school leaders know what supports need to be in place to ensure true equity-based inclusion is achieved?

The SWIFT framework helps answer this question with ten research-based features that compose the building blocks of inclusive education. SWIFT provides technical assistance and resources to guide implementation of each of the features—but even the most efficient school teams would be hard pressed to tackle all of the features at once. Therefore, schools need guidance on which components of each feature to prioritize during the transformation process.  Luckily, SWIFT has a tool for that.

The SWIFT Fidelity Integrity Assessment (SWIFT-FIA) is a self-assessment used by school leadership teams to examine their implementation of SWIFT framework features. SWIFT-FIA helps school-based teams engage in conversations about what components of each feature they currently have in place. These conversations help teams pinpoint where they are in the stages of implementation for each item. SWIFT-FIA is scored on a 0-3 scale representing these stages: 0 = laying the foundation, 1 = installing, 2 = implementing, and 3 = sustaining schoolwide implementation. To score a SWIFT-FIA, a school leadership team reviews the components of each item and reaches consensus about which elements of the item are currently in place. If the school has not started installing any components of the item, they can begin laying the foundation by discussing the degree to which the item meets the needs of their school and exploring options for implementation. If the school has action plans in place and is implementing some components of the item, they are in the installing stage of actively putting the item in place. Installing may include action items such as identifying key personnel responsible for carrying out the task. If a school has all of the item components in place and is actively working to refine and improve them, the school is in the implementing stage. When a school has all of the item components in place and is actively monitoring implementation to continuously improve practices, they are in the stage of sustaining schoolwide implementation.

By self-assessing stage of implementation across SWIFT features, school leadership teams gather valuable data to guide implementation of inclusive practices. SWIFT-FIA provides a roadmap to teams that feel overwhelmed with where to begin. The results of SWIFT-FIA can be used to identify and prioritize practices for transformation or continuous improvement, develop action plans needed to install and implement practices, and to reflect on the effects of action plans on practices. Teams may choose to use the data to identify strengths in items they are currently installing. They can then leverage their strengths to refine and improve their current practices. On the other hand, teams may choose to use the data to identify the next steps needed to install items that are priorities but not yet in place. SWIFT-FIA gives teams the information they need to guide these implementation decisions.

Even though school transformation can be complicated, my answer to the question of “where you even begin?” is simple: You begin with SWIFT-FIA.

SWIFT-FIA is available at swiftschools.org/shelf. A SWIFT-FIA tracking tool may be used to capture results and graph changes over time and is also available at swiftschools.org/shelf.

If you are interested in learning more about how SWIFT-FIA can be used by your school or district to guide implementation of equity-based MTSS, contact SWIFT at swift@ku.edu.

Photo of blog author.Allyson Satter currently works as a Project Coordinator for SWIFT. Previously, she worked as a special educator, which is where she first learned the value of equity-based inclusion.

How a SWIFT-FIT assessment benefits your school

Hi, I am Dan Pollitt and I work at SWIFT Education Center. I’d like to introduce you to a tool that can help your school and district leadership teams make well informed decisions about how they implement equity-based Multi-Tiered System of Support, or MTSS, for inclusive education.

SWIFT-FIT—which is short for SWIFT Fidelity Implementation Tool—is an assessment organized by SWIFT domains and features and composed of 58 items that are each scored as 0-1-2-3. To date, more than 100 trained assessors have conducted more than 350 of these assessments to help teams measure the degree to which they implement practices that promote equity and excellence for all students.

I am excited to announce that we are launching SWIFT-FIT Version 2.0, updated to reflect the most current research and practices in the field and applicable to PK-12 settings.

A SWIFT-FIT assessment is conducted by a trained, external assessor who visits your school during typical school hours. Throughout the day, this assessor interviews administrators, classroom teachers, school staff, district leaders, students, and family and community members. The assessor asks a range of questions about such topics as how you use Universal Design for Learning (UDL), ways teams collect and use student data, how students are included with peers, and whether family and community members are involved in school governance decisions. To award a high score on each the assessor looks for evidence of the practice implemented across the whole system, without “siloes” that limit access to general education curriculum and activities for any student subgroup.

Because SWIFT-FIT is a system-levelassessment, it measures the degree to which practices are structured, formalized, and in place throughout the school system, rather than haphazard, unstructured, or ad-hoc. Let’s use an example: Take the practice of using universal screeners to collect student data. What is a universal screener? Even if you are not an educator, you are probably familiar with universal screeners! For instance, when you visit the eye doctor, you are asked to read a chart to briefly test for poor eye sight or areas of need. Schools use universal screeners in a very similar fashion: All students are asked to complete them multiple times per year, they are relatively short and unobtrusive, and teams use academic and behavioral screening data to make more-informed instructional decisions. When conducting a SWIFT-FIT assessment, the assessor is looking for evidence that the school has the system-level practice of using universal screeners to collect student data and make decisions about which students may need additional or intensified support. Thanks to this system-level approach, the tool is not measuring one individual classroom teacher or one individual administrator, but instead measuring the whole system.

How can assessments help your school and district leadership teams? A baseline assessment can provide a sense of your “current reality” from an independent perspective. This perspective can be used in important conversations about what steps your school and district might take be more equitable and support all students. As your teams make decisions about the advances they plan to make, subsequent assessments are helpful for tracking progress at an item-by-item level. This objective measure can be used in communicating with school boards or other governance bodies, family and community members, and with school educators and staff.

If your team is considering adopting the SWIFT framework for equitable and excellent teaching and learning for all students, I recommend you consider scheduling a SWIFT-FIT assessment with one of our trained assessors as a way to measure your school’s current reality and progress toward your goal for equity and excellence for all your students. Contact us at swift@ku.edu.

 

Photo of blog author.Dan Pollitt is a research project manager at the SWIFT Education Center and oversees the training and implementation of SWIFT-FIT and SWIFT-FIA fidelity tools. He is a former elementary and middle school classroom teacher and as an adjunct graduate faculty in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas, teaches undergraduate and graduate students. He can be reached @danpollittphd on Twitter.

Wondering about MTSS?

Recently we were asked some thought provoking questions about MTSS.  We wanted to respond as well as invite you to join the conversation here on SWIFT Talk.

Here are the questions and our responses.

1.  Some schools claim to use MTSS for planning, but it doesn’t seem to result in changes in practices at the school level. What makes equity-based MTSS different? 

We agree that implementing equity-based MTSS involves complex transformations of culture, systems, policies, and practices that require detailed plans over several years. To avoid the risk of MTSS becoming an empty planning convenience, SWIFT offers MTSS tools and resources along with a proven, detail method for whole systems—SEA, LEAs and Schools—transformation for sustainable change (see our Transformation Playbook at swiftschools.org).

2. With limited resources, how can schools meet the needs of students who require the most intensive supports?

Equity-based MTSS incorporates the principles and practices of subsystems, such as community mental health wraparound services, into the continuum of services and supports for all students.  Our MTSS design helps schools intentionally include community-based service providers who can help to meet the complex needs of students across home, school and community settings.  School teams use a Resource Inventory process in which they identify intervention and support available in the community, school, district, state and national agencies; and a Tiered Intervention Matrix with data-based decision rules to match resources from this Resource Inventory to evident student needs (see the MTSS Starter Kit on swiftschools.org/shelf).

3. Is the goal of MTSS to eliminate special education?

From our vantage point, the goal of equity-based MTSS is to give all students access to special assistance when needed for as long as needed.  Indeed, equity-based MTSS prevents some students’ need for special assistance through such techniques as universally designed curriculum, differentiated instruction, and schoolwide positive behavioral expectations and support.  Support is distributed to students using screening and progress monitoring data with entry and exit decision rules; and these rules generally start a student in the least intensive support and include exit criteria for removing support when a student no longer needs it and for intensifying support if needed.

4. Does MTSS replace the good curriculum and practices we already have in place to support our students?

Our approach is to support schools as they use as much as possible of their existing resources and deploy these resources through an organized system using Resource Inventories, Tiered Intervention Matrices, Master Schedules, and Intervention Planning Tools (see the MTSS Starter Kit on swiftschools.org/shelf).  SWIFT Guide (guide.swiftschools.org) also makes available “the best of the best” free content for schools to use in their MTSS.

We appreciate the questions that raised these points of discussion.  We are interested in what you think.  Comment here on SWIFT Talk to continue the conversation.

Words of Gratitude

In October 2012, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) funded a center to provide technical assistance to urban, rural, and high-need school districts to improve outcomes for students with disabilities (OSEP, 2012). The OSEP-funded SWIFT Center partnered with 64 schools in 17 districts across five states—Maryland, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Vermont. Five years later, the partners in each of these states worked to continuously improve implementation of SWIFT features in their districts and schools.  We would like to thank OSEP for providing the funding that launched this work, which ultimately led to improved outcomes for students with disabilities in these schools.  We are grateful for the opportunity to play a role in supporting the educators, administrators, and personnel who are dedicated to SWIFT’s mission of equity-based inclusive education. We are proud of partner state as they built their capacity and now take steps to continue, sustain, and scale-up the work beyond the scope of the original grant’s funding.

As of October 16th, 2017, SWIFT Education Center will continue to pursue the mission that the OSEP-funded SWIFT Center embodied for five years.  As part of this endeavor, SWIFT Education Center will continue to make available on our website www.swiftschools.org all the free resources produced through the OSEP funding.  Additionally, SWIFT Education Center remains committed to producing future SWIFT Unscripted Podcasts, SWIFT Talk blogs, monthly newsletters, briefs, and products to keep you informed of the latest developments in equity-based MTSS research and services.  You can find these products and many more on www.swiftschools.org along with information about how SWIFT Education Center can support your state education agency, school, or district.

We believe that together we can transform education so that it benefits each and every student, their families, and ultimately the communities in which they live. Our partners in Maryland, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oregon and Vermont are testament to what can be accomplished when we work together to support the needs of all students.  It is with great excitement that SWIFT Education Center looks forward to continuing to transform education with additional partners from coast to coast.  To learn more visit www.swiftschools.org or contact us at swift@ku.edu.

 

Photo of blog author.Amy McCart, Ph.D. is an Associate Research Professor with Special Graduate Faculty Status at the University of Kansas. Dr. McCart is the director of technical assistance for the SWIFT Center. Additionally, she is the principal investigator for multiple federal projects through the U.S. Department of Education to support urban schools implementing school-wide positive behavior support. As part of her work with school-wide positive behavior support, she serves as a collaborating partner in the National Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavior Intervention and Support. Dr. McCart worked in a number of urban schools, including the Recovery School District in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, and the District of Columbia, Washington Public Schools. She was the site director at an agency supporting individuals with low incidence disabilities working to improve quality of life. She is also focused on utilizing agency-focused multi-tiered prevention to support families with mental health needs in poverty and their young children.

SWIFT Family and Community Engagement in the Pendleton (OR) School District

About the same time SWIFT began its partnership with the Pendleton School District in eastern Oregon, the district passed a large bond that allowed them to build two new elementary schools and an early learning center designed to welcome and support all students. Washington Elementary School, in particular, shifted geographical boundaries yet remained a neighborhood school for much of the area’s Native American population, which makes up 13% of students in the district and 36% of Washington Elementary’s total student population. Additionally, many of Washington’s students live at or below the poverty level.

Guided by the SWIFT framework’s emphasis on family and community engagement, the district set two important goals: (1) improve attendance of Native American students at Washington Elementary and the Pendleton Early Learning Center; and (2) reduce disruptive behaviors through implementing Conscious Discipline’s Trauma-Informed Practices. The district hired a Native American Family Advocate, who works on improving attendance among the Native American population. In order to create a welcoming sense of community, through this collaborative effort, signs in the building were printed in English as well as two of the tribes’ languages, Umatilla and Weyilletpuu.

The school shifted their response to absences to align with Conscious Discipline routines. Instead of sending a letter warning parents that they were in violation of attendance statutes, the district now sends a postcard “Wishing them well” and then a care basket to the student’s home when they are absent multiple days. Rather than assuming the parents want to keep their child out of school, this approach recognizes the family may be experiencing stressors that make it difficult for the student to get to school. The district also recognizes cultural practices as “off campus learning activities” instead of unexcused absences.

Recognizing the traumatic effects of marginalization and poverty, the school district adopted trauma-informed practices of Conscious Discipline for all K-5 staff, including teachers, paraprofessionals, school counselors, principals, and even bus drivers.

The district works closely with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and facilitated a connection to a Conscious Discipline trainer. Tribal HeadStart and YellowHawk Health Center now use this trainer. At the first trainings, parents in these programs recognized the practices their school age children had been learning at school and using at home. This increased the school to home connection for our families from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

As a result of these intentional efforts, the school experienced significant reduction in Office Discipline Referrals (ODRs) – the lowest in seven years. From the 2014–2015 school year to the 2016–2017 school year, Out-of-School Suspensions (OSS) dropped from 72.5 total days to 11.5 days, and the total number of incidents that resulted in OSS dropped from 64 to 10. During the same timeframe, the number of incidents that resulted in In-School Suspensions (ISS) dropped from 41 to 5.

-Julie Smith and Laura Miltenberger

Photo of blog post author.Julie Smith’s educational career spans 18 years. Ms. Smith worked as an instructional assistant in special education after obtaining her Bachelor’s Degree in Music Performance. This sparked a lifelong passion for serving students with disabilities in public education. After becoming a licensed special education teacher with a focus on behavioral intervention, Ms. Smith taught in the Beaverton and then Pendleton school districts for nine years. She completed her Master’s of Science in Special Education at Portland State University in 2004 and obtained her National Board for Professional Teaching Certificate in 2007. Ms. Smith worked as a Teacher on Special Assignment, instructional coaching, before starting her career as Special Programs Director at the district office in 2012. Through her career, she has focused on partnering with general educators and administrators to develop an inclusive comprehensive support system for all students. She recently completed her Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership through Lewis & Clark College.

Supporting Schoolwide Transformation

My previous experience in the Kansas City, KS School District and the New Orleans Recovery School District post-Hurricane Katrina showed me how many students, particularly students who were African-American, were deeply affected by either challenging circumstances or ineffective supports in their schooling.

But Stanton Elementary School in Washington, DC turned my training upside down.  Most of the parents at Stanton were under 23 years old, and many of the students at the school exhibited at-risk and problem behavior.  The principal was working hard to turn that school around, and if Stanton closed, the consequences would have been dramatic for the community.

Many of the behavior problems were not even specific to the classroom.  For instance, I was walking down the halls of Stanton Elementary helping with some hallway supervision and passed the boys’ restroom. A boy was sitting barefoot in a concrete sink with the water running. Worried for his safety, I stepped into the bathroom and said, “Hey, let’s move out of the sink.”  He jumped with his wet feet out of the sink into my arms.  As someone studying inclusive education, my goal was to intellectualize and create an idea of what education can be for all kids, but each and every day teachers are in classes dealing with things like this that we can’t even imagine.

My experience at Stanton Elementary made me realize how much I still had to learn about inclusive education. How do you provide support to students with the most significant needs?  The traditional Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) model requires us to think about efficiencies around three levels: universal instruction, additional support, and intensified support. But what do you do when most of the school needs intensive support? Stanton clarified for me that it was time to think about Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) in a different way, as a framework to meet the needs of every single student in the building, not just the kids with IEPs.

MTSS originally emerged from Response to Intervention, which entails looking at how a student is responding to an intervention and asking what changes need to be made in order for that student to be successful.  At SWIFT, we apply MTSS to the whole school.

From the very beginning of a partnership with a state, district, or school, we ask, “Who are the children in this building? Who are the teachers and the staff and the resources in the building? What is the space that we have? How can we set up a master schedule, course curriculum, and tiered interventions to meet the needs of all kids?” MTSS in the SWIFT framework is a transformative way of thinking about education for all, instead of meeting the needs of one individual to the exclusion of others in the system.

MTSS works. Stanton Elementary was slated to close, but after implementing whole school reform, students began to excel and their grades improved. We took a whole year just to focus on behavior, and layered in academics to get that school out of crisis. The same thing happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina—the adults and children in the school needed time to heal.  Then of course, SWIFT’s 64 schools in 17 districts in five states gave us lots of exemplars of effective, equitable education for all kids, including those with very significant needs.

My ideal school is one where students’ supports aren’t based on a label, or a predetermined space, slot, or funding. Instead, teachers and administrators ask themselves and each other how to best support every child who walks in those school doors. SWIFT has the tools to help make this vision a reality—the resource inventory, master schedule, tiered intervention matrix, and intervention planning are all available on our website in the SWIFT MTSS Starter Kit.

As a framework for whole school transformation, SWIFT ensures that every child and educator has the support they need to be successful in the general education classroom. Equity-based inclusion is truly a team effort, and whatever stage of implementation you are in—from visioning to sustaining—SWIFT is committed to supporting you every step of the way.

-Dr. Amy McCart

Photo of blog author.Amy McCart, Ph.D. is an Associate Research Professor with Special Graduate Faculty Status at the University of Kansas. Dr. McCart is the director of technical assistance for the SWIFT Center. Additionally, she is the principal investigator for multiple federal projects through the U.S. Department of Education to support urban schools implementing school-wide positive behavior support. As part of her work with school-wide positive behavior support, she serves as a collaborating partner in the National Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavior Intervention and Support. Dr. McCart worked in a number of urban schools, including the Recovery School District in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, and the District of Columbia, Washington Public Schools. She was the site director at an agency supporting individuals with low incidence disabilities working to improve quality of life. She is also focused on utilizing agency-focused multi-tiered prevention to support families with mental health needs in poverty and their young children.