[The Montana Professor 25.1, Fall 2014 <http://mtprof.msun.edu>]

Partnering for Student Success in the Schoolroom

Submitted by the program directors

Partnerships are the key to maximizing Montana's limited educational resources. In Spring 2013, Dr. Tessie Rose Bailey from the Education faculty at Montana State University-Billings (MSUB) partnered with an elementary school principal and a newly-hired program specialist to identify solutions to declining 3rd grade math and reading scores and a growing population of students with challenging behaviors. Through this partnership, it became clear that Montana's largest school district needed a more comprehensive approach to early intervention. By Summer 2013, Dr. Bailey and a Billings Public Schools (BPS) team embarked on a three-year partnership to develop and implement a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) model in the district's 22 elementary schools.

MTSS is a schoolwide prevention framework shown to increase academic outcomes, reduce behavior problems, and improve services for students with disabilities (Burns, Appleton, & Stehouwer, 2005). At the heart of the framework, schools 1) use screenings to identify at-risk students, 2) provide a tiered system of increasingly intense interventions and supports, 3) conduct progress monitoring to assess students' response to those supports and interventions, and 4) engage in collaborative teaming to make data-informed decisions about student learning (NCRTI, 2010). Until recently, the Office of Public Instruction (OPI) supported implementation of two distinct tiered models: 1) an academic model, referred to as response to intervention (RTI; OPI, 2014a) and 2) a behavior model, known as the Montana Behavioral Initiative (MBI; OPI, 2014b). Efforts to align these models under a single MTSS system have been hampered by perceived competing priorities (e.g., common core, RTI/MBI grant projects) and incompatibility of the current models. The BPS MTSS model is being developed using an ongoing improvement strategy to ensure it meets the unique needs of BPS students.

classroom hands

Although the partnership is still in its infancy, all nine schools in Cohort 1 demonstrated measureable growth in reading outcomes for K-2 students and increased teacher knowledge and skills. Dr. Bailey, in an effort to build capacity, collaborated with district staff to conduct four all-day team level MTSS trainings and provide on-site coaching and technical assistance. In addition, she met quarterly with the MTSS district team to address implementation concerns, develop technical assistance resources, and monitor the effectiveness of the model. Over the next two years, the remaining 11 elementary schools are scheduled to participate in the MTSS project while Cohort 1 will receive ongoing support to refine their implementation.

Effective partnerships must be mutually beneficial…and this partnership is no exception. While BPS is increasing its capacity to address a critical need, MSUB pre-service teachers are benefiting from increased opportunities for authentic field experience. During the first year, undergraduate students participating in assessment courses conducted screening alongside veteran teachers. Not only did students gain practical skills and experiences, they helped fill a resource gap identified through the BPS partnership. Several graduate assistants, seeking leadership opportunities and practical experience, conducted school level trainings for veteran teachers and MSUB students on how to administer MTSS assessments and analyze initial data. As an additional benefit, training opportunities provided through the project were available for free to MSUB students and MSUB College of Education faculty were provided access to authentic data for class assignments.

In the long run, this partnership is expected to provide additional field placement opportunities for MSUB pre-service students. Following a successful first year, four additional MSUB faculty members joined the partnership and are currently seeking external funding to expand the project.


Burns, M.K., Appleton, J.J., & Stehouwer, J.D. (2005). Meta-analysis of response-to-intervention research: Examining field-based and research-implemented models. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 23, 381-394.

National Center on Response to Intervention [NCRTI]. (2010). Essential Components of RTI—A Closer Look at Response to Intervention. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, National Center on Response to Intervention.

Office of Public Instruction. (2014a). Response to Intervention: Montana RTI. Retrieved from http://opi.mt.gov/Programs/SchoolPrograms/RTI/

Office of Public Instruction. (2014b). What is MBI? Retrieved from http://opi.mt.gov/Programs/SchoolPrograms/MBI/#gpm1_2

[The Montana Professor 25.1, Fall 2014 <http://mtprof.msun.edu>]

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