What is MTSS? The Basics

A Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) is a framework designed to meet the needs of each and every learner in a school district. According to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, 2015), a multi-tiered support system is “a comprehensive continuum of evidence-based, systemic practices to support a rapid response to students’ needs, with regular observation to facilitate data-based instructional decision making.’’ This is accomplished through three tiers of support: universal, targeted intervention, and intensive individual support—each with academic, behavioral, cultural, and SEL components. 

What is the difference between MTSS and RTI?

It is essential to note the difference between MTSS and Response to Intervention (RTI). RTI was a result of the reauthorization of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 and was designed to focus on identifying and supporting students who have specific learning disabilities. MTSS is built upon the belief that systems such as schools and districts themselves have disabilities in their systems that can prevent students from learning. The goal of MTSS is to have supports and resources in place so that they may be seamlessly put into practice as a result of data-based monitoring. MTSS implementation is rooted in a benefit mindset. It uses tools that most schools currently have and views them with a new lens that sees the system as the component that needs to be fixed. This is very different than the traditional support systems which force students to fit into standardized systems. 

Getting started with MTSS

The first step in the implementation of MTSS is to take an inventory of current methods of academic, behavioral, and social-emotional instruction and the current supports available from administration, teachers, counselors, non-academic staff, families, and the community. The identified supports are then divided into tiers.

mtss monitoring tier 1 2 3
MTSS – Continuous Monitoring – Tier 1, 2, and 3.
  • Tier 1: Supports provided in the universal curriculum to all students.
  • Tier 2: Supports available to some students in need of targeted support.
  • Tier 3: Supports provided to students in need of intensified support.

With a current matrix of supports, schools can easily identify gaps in their support for students at various levels. For instance, there may be extensive resources available to some students who are in need of additional behavioral instruction but limited support for the few students in need of intensified support. This may prompt a search for community partners to provide wraparound services. If a school discovers that there are numerous interventions in place for tier 2 targeted academic support in Mathematics and few for universal curriculum, they will be prompted to explore tier 1 measures that can be taken to decrease that need. Decision-makers shift their thinking from deficit thinking “What interventions help students who are unsuccessful?” toward  a benefit mindset “What do students, teachers, and schools need in order to be successful?”  

Benefits of MTSS

When new initiatives are rolled out in schools, there is sometimes an immediate eyeroll from exhausted staff who have seen numerous variations of similar themes roll in and out over the course of their careers. MTSS has the potential to be a transformative system-wide framework that supports students and staff by reimagining existing routines, resources, and interventions. This does not necessarily mean additional work for individuals but may involve a shift in mindset in order to identify and implement high-leverage practices for academic, behavioral, and SEL instruction. It will behoove an administration to approach the implementation of MTSS with care. Build teacher buy-in by ensuring that teachers view it, not as a repackaged version of an earlier, failed initiative, but as a more effective method of putting current valuable resources into practice.

In the coming weeks, I will be diving deeper into methods and resources to integrate MTSS and what it might mean for classroom teachers. I will look into the tier 1 “levers” that indicate the need for tier 2 and 3 support and what those supports might look like.

bonnie nieves

Bonnie Nieves is the author of “Be Awesome on Purpose” and has over a decade of experience as a high school science teacher. She has a Master’s Degree in Curriculum, Instruction, and Educational Leadership. Her passion for creating immersive and authentic experiences that fuel curiosity and creating student-centered, culturally responsive learning spaces that promote equity and inclusion has led her to establish Educate On Purpose Coaching.

In addition to being an award-winning educator, Bonnie works to ensure equitable and engaging education for all through her work as a copy editor at EdReports and Classroom Materials and Media reviewer for The American Biology Teacher journal. She serves on the MassCUE board of directors and enjoys connecting with educators through social media, professional organizations, conferences, Twitter chats, and edcamps. Bonnie is a member of the National Association of Biology Teachers, the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science, and the National Science Teaching Association. She encourages you to connect with her on Twitter @biologygoddess, Instagram @beawesomeonpurpose, Clubhouse @biologygoddess, and LinkedIn.

Please visit www.educateonpurpose.com for information about her current projects.