An Albany Middle School teacher works with an ELL student.

Don’t wait and see

How using a multi-tiered system of support works for ELLs 


English language learners (ELLs) are the fastest growing student population group in the U.S. By 2025, 1 out of 4 children in U.S. classrooms will be an English language learner, according to the National Education Association, and many of those students will be over- or under-identified for special education.

In “Helping English Learners Succeed with a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) Framework,” ELT instructor Ashley Redding, a member of the Watervliet Teachers Association, shows educators how to use MTSS to ensure that ELLs have the instruction and interventions they need to be successful.

“One of the things we know is that, now more than ever, teachers are being asked to instruct a diverse group of learners, and they need practical tools for that. MTSS is something teachers can bring back to their classrooms and use right away,” said Redding.

Here, Redding provides a quick overview of the MTSS approach:

1 - Assessment, assessment, assessment.

One of the traps teachers fall into is waiting for students to fail before referring them to support teams. The Multi-tiered System of Support (MTSS) offers a practical and highly structured alternative to that “wait and see” approach that relies on frequent customized assessments to determine whether students are progressing toward goals or need additional supports. 

2 - Instruction is based on a 3-tiered system.

Using an initial assessment, educators assign their students to appropriate support levels. Tier 1 consists of core instruction which is delivered to all students; Tier 2 consists of students who need targeted group interventions; and Tier 3 consists of students that need more intensive intervention – often delivered one-on-one—because they are not at grade level or are struggling. 

3 - Everyone takes math, ELA and science.

All students in Tiers 2 and 3 should have access to all general education curriculum like math, ELA and science. Work with ESL, support staff and special education teachers to make sure interventions take place around core subject areas, not during them. 

4 - Teamwork makes the dream work.

MTSS relies on a multi-disciplinary team to deliver appropriate academic and social support; teams consist of general education teachers, ENL teachers, special ed teachers, social workers and school counselors.  

5 - Develop weekly progress monitoring cycles.

MTSS teams – consisting of general education teachers, ENL teachers, special ed teachers, social workers and counselors – meet at grade-level meetings or during common planning time to discuss Tier 2 and 3 students. Often students are divided into monitoring “cycles” so that every student gets addressed individually on a weekly or monthly basis. 

6 - Modify interventions as needed.

Student progress is measured through short, frequent assessments, called universal screeners, and those assessments help determine whether the intervention plan is working or needs to be modified. They can also add additional supports, including potentially social workers, counselors, or therapists.

ELT coursework is offered year-round and can be used for undergraduate, graduate and in-service credit as well as to fulfill Continuing Teacher and Leader Education requirements. For more information, go to elt.nysut.org.