Much of our knowledge of the components of MTSS and their successful implementation is based on experiences in elementary schools. However, given the structural and organizational differences between elementary schools and secondary schools, this evidence has its limitations when implementing MTSS at higher grade levels. The essential components of MTSS may be the same, regardless of grade level or context, but how they are translated into effective practice and integrated into a middle or high school’s processes may differ from elementary school models.
Implementing an early warning system to identify students who may be at risk for poor educational outcomes and providing targeted supports is one way that secondary schools may consider implementing MTSS. AIR’s Early Warning Intervention and Monitoring System (EWIMS) is an evidence-based process for identifying and monitoring students who are likely to miss key education milestones and provide supports to help get them back on track (Faria et al., 2017). It is important to emphasize that students are not identified based on their demographics (e.g., race/ethnicity, gender, status as an English learner) or other unchangeable factors (e.g., students with disability, socioeconomic status, member of a single-parent household). Rather, students are identified for demonstrating one or more mutable early warning indicators (e.g., attendance rate, inappropriate behaviors, or poor course performance).
EWIMS is a systematic approach used by dedicated teams of school staff to identify students displaying symptoms of at risk of not graduating on time, assign students to interventions, and monitor their progress. Schools use data every day—the challenge is to turn the data into meaningful actions and positive student outcomes. By following the 7 steps of the EWIMS process, educators can turn their data into action. The EWIMS process helps educators in early identification of students who are not on track for on-time high school graduation, postsecondary readiness, or other milestones, and then guides educators through evidence-based steps to get those students back on track. By acting early, and then continuously gauging and fine-tuning support, educators following the EWIMS process can efficiently help more students succeed.
- Step 1—Establish roles and responsibilities. Schools establish a team to lead and carry out the EWIMS process, determine the frequency and duration of meetings, and develop a shared vision for the team’s work.
- Step 2—Use the tool. The EWIMS team uses the tool to update lists of available interventions and strategies to support students and run automated or customized reports.
- Step 3—Review the early warning data. The EWIMS team focuses their attention on student- and school-level data, using a combination of research-based and locally validated indicators available in the tool. This data review process is intended to identify areas of focus and further investigation and this step is revisited any time new data become available.
- Step 4—Interpret the early warning data. The EWIMS team seeks out additional data (besides the indicators) to better understand the needs of individual students or groups of students. This step focuses on the underlying causes that might lead students to be identified as at risk on one or more indicators, using additional formal data (administrative records) and informal input (from teachers, family, and students).
- Step 5—Assign and provide interventions. The EWIMS team members make decisions about assigning individual students to specific interventions in the school, district, and community. The EWIMS model does not prescribe specific interventions for schools to implement. Rather, the model provides schools flexibility to decide which interventions are best suited to their students’ needs.
- Step 6—Monitor student progress. The EWIMS team examines the student risk indicators on an ongoing basis to monitor the progress of students who have already been assigned to interventions. If students continue to be identified as off track, the team may consider assigning them to different interventions; if some students are no longer at risk, the team may consider ramping down services. Over time, schools may refine their catalog of interventions based on their effectiveness, adding new interventions and dropping those that do not help students get back on track.
- Step 7—Evaluate and refine the EWIMS process. Through active and structured reflection, EWIMS team members revise specific strategies or their general approach as needed and determine how best to allocate resources to support at-risk students. This step encourages EWIMS teams to make course corrections to any aspect of implementation.
To learn more about our early warning intervention and monitoring system (EWIMS) process and MTSS, please visit: https://www.air.org/resource/early-warning-systems-education.