Getting Started with Tier 3 Math Intervention

My first year teaching math intervention I was in over my head by the second week of school. Funny thing is, by the second week of school I really hadn’t done anything other than assessing students and starting to form groups.

I was given the advice to look at the (overwhelming) amount of data I had on these students and to choose intervention groups for tier 3 pull-out services.
Ask how that went…
I felt confident in the groupings I had determined but the grade-level teams I was working with weren’t so sure! They had students sitting in their classroom with a variety of needs and they were so confused about how “Billy” didn’t get picked up for math. 
So I spent the next week in off-the-records individual meetings with teachers trying to explain that while Billy did have a number of needs that there were 16 other students who had needs that were much greater than Billy and that I would be happy to help with Billy’s tier 2 needs.
Ask how that went…
YUCK. I hadn’t even serviced my first group and already there was a teacher vs. interventionist dynamic that I absolutely hated. I was absolutely NEVER going into another round of groupings using this method. In the future, I promised myself and my teachers that we would always determine tier 3 groupings together.
After that first grouping, I formed a new strategy for student groupings and was so pleased that it yielded: 
  • Stronger teacher/interventionist relationships
  • More fluid and successful intervention groups
  • Methods for keeping students “on the radar” so teachers didn’t feel alone
  • Outside of the box thinking about math intervention groupings.
Let’s dive in.

5 Steps for Creating Tier 3 Math Intervention Groups

1) Determine your caseload capabilities
For me, I had an hour per day devoted to each grade level. I could see up to 4 students in a group for 30-minute groups. This meant that each day I could see a maximum of 8 students daily.
Going to school Monday-Friday gave us a nice 5 day outline that we could work from but our school ran on a 6-day schedule. This is where the outside the box thinking comes in! Rather than having a caseload of 8 kids at a grade level for 5 days a week and 30 minutes a day, what if I saw groups for 4×30 and then saw a separate caseload of 8 more students who had the next highest needs for 2×30 to target specific skills and number sense?
I DID NOT make this decision on my own! I presented each team with the option of 5×30 for the 8 most struggling learners or 4×30 and 2×30 for a wider variety of learners and let them choose.
2) Have Your Data Ready
Before beginning grade level meetings I made a spreadsheet of every piece of math data I had on our students.
Yes. I used Excel.
No. Not everyone loves Excel.
Yes. I recommend you get comfortable with at least the very basics. It will make your life 100x easier and your groupings 100x more effective.
This will absolutely vary from school to school but, for me, this included AIMS Web data, end of year math grades from the previous year, state test scores, any beginning of the year screeners we had conducted and any end of year assessments from the previous year.
I broke the data into “green” on level scores, “yellow” approaching level scores and “red” below grade level scores and color-coded the spreadsheet.
This helped to be sure that we were looking at the grade level as a whole and that everyone was (literally) on the same page about the needs of the grade level- not just their students. Billy’s teacher could now see that even though Billy had the highest needs in their class that he was nowhere near the highest needs in the grade level!
3) Start Sorting
At this point, we choose priorities and started sorting students. In first grade, for example, maybe we started by looking at the students’ computational assessments. Assuming that teachers chose the 4×30 and 2×30 schedule, we have 16 spots for students. We see that 24 of the students scored below grade level on the computational assessment. Looking at the end of year data we see that 5 of these students were on grade level at the end of last year and 3 more were approaching grade level. We look farther into the data from those students and see that the rest of their data doesn’t paint the picture of a tier 3 student and so we take them off the list for consideration.
No, it won’t be this clean and easy but you get the idea. Choose a starting point and then consider the bigger picture to widdle down your list.
It is important that you preview the data and do a bit of pre-sorting yourself before the meeting just to be sure that this meeting doesn’t last too long! Be flexible and ready to listen to the teachers and change your initial findings but also come prepared so you aren’t all starting from scratch! 
4) Have a Plan to Monitor Students
One of the biggest game-changers for both me and the teachers I was working with was in having a plan to monitor and discuss their tier 2 students. There will absolutely still be students, like Billy, who you and the teams will want to keep “on the radar” have a plan for making sure these students don’t fall through the cracks! This might include:
  • A weekly meeting to consult on progress
  • A progress monitoring probe that you use with tier 3 students that will also be used with select tier 2 students
  • A plan to collect and review classroom data on these students on a regular basis
5) Stay In Contact!! 
It can be so easy to form your groups, start teaching and then turn the intervention room into Vegas. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Here’s the problem. In 10 weeks you may want to revisit your intervention groupings. Maybe you are feeling very confident that the work that Lydia is doing and you are ready to release her from intervention and pick-up Billy (he’s falling further and further behind in class!)
Billy’s teacher is thrilled to get Billy the support he needs but Lydia’s teacher is dumbfounded because in the classroom she is absolutely NOT keeping up. What do you mean she is being released from intervention!? 
This whole problem could have been avoided by close weekly contact with Lydia’s teacher throughout the semester. Whether it be a face to face meeting or a weekly email, be sure that your teachers know exactly what you are working on and exactly how their students are doing. This way, when you say a student is performing really well on “x” skill and the teacher is surprised by that, you can dive into work in both settings and find the discrepancy and the reason carryover isn’t happening right off the bat. Not 10 weeks later.
I can tell you with confidence that after that very first grouping my very first year I started this system and absolutely never looked back. I had stronger relationships with my teams, stronger groupings, met the needs of more students and worked as a team to be sure that no student fell through the cracks.

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