Column: Ensuring student success in a year of pandemic

Prairie Elementary operates in a multi-tiered system of support for academics.

District 518 brownhouse

WORTHINGTON — At Prairie Elementary, we use a full range of educational services to respond to the individual learning needs of our students. We are devoted to meeting the social, emotional and academic needs of each child. Our teachers and staff members have created a warm and welcoming learning environment, whether in person or online. Through different shifts in learning models, our teachers have remained steadfast in their attempts to meet the learning needs of all students.

We operate in a multi-tiered system of support for academics. At the first level of support, Tier 1, we provide high quality, scientifically validated instructional practices in the core areas of reading, math, science and social studies. Every student receives Minnesota state standards-based instruction every day. The second level of support, or Tier 2, involves small group work within the classroom. Teachers regularly differentiate instruction based on formative assessment data in small groups; this means they tailor the instruction to meet specific learning needs. Students are clustered in groups based on student need so the teacher can provide additional targeted support for students who did not understand or master the grade level content from Tier 1 instruction. Generally, four to six students are in a small group at this level. Progress is monitored at least monthly to determine student mastery of the content.

The third level of support, or Tier 3, is intensive intervention for students who did not meet the grade level content criteria with Tier 1 and Tier 2 level instruction. This level of support requires teachers to analyze data and determine what the student’s skill deficit is and then provide intensive, research-based instruction in groups of three or fewer. Student data is gathered weekly to determine whether the intervention provided is closing the achievement gap.

At minimum, we assess grade level proficiency three times a year. Data is gathered using Fastbridge (a standardized assessment tool), Oral Running Records and grade level summative assessments. This information is analyzed to determine which students require additional instruction and which students are on track to master grade level standards. For English language learners, data from the ACCESS Language proficiency test also guides the type of instruction these learners require to grow in their language proficiency as well as in mastery of grade level standards.

During weekly grade level PLC meetings, now happening on Wednesday afternoons, teachers record their student data in spreadsheets to analyze student performance on grade level standards as a group. Teachers then revise student small groups and plan their instruction based on the needs of their students. During this time, teams collaborate together to answer the 4 big questions of PLCS: What do we want students to learn? How will we know if they have learned? What will we do if they don’t learn? What will we do if they already know it? Our leadership team also uses this collaborative time to address alignment pieces across grade levels.


The EDGE after school program has begun and provides additional instruction in math, reading and writing. Summer school will provide another opportunity for more intensive instruction to close gaps in reading and math for struggling students. Data is used to identify which students are invited to participate in these programs.

Heidi Meyer is principal and Cathy Mrla an assistant principal at Prairie Elementary.

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