MTSS

Multi-tier System of Support




What is Multi-tiered System of Support (MTSS)?

Multi-tiered System of Support (MTSS), formerly known as RTI grew from efforts to improve identification practices in special education. Simply put, it is a process of systematically documenting the performance of students as evidence of the need for additional services after making changes in classroom instruction. MTSS promises to change the way schools support students with learning and behavior problems by systematically delivering a range of interventions based on demonstrated levels of need.

MTSS is defined as "the practice of providing high-quality instruction and interventions matched to student need, monitoring progress frequently to make decisions about changes in instruction or goals, and applying child response data to important educational decisions" (Batsche et al., 2005). Based on a problem-solving model, the MTSS approach considers environmental factors as they might apply to an individual student's difficulty, and provides services/intervention as soon as the student demonstrates a need. Focused primarily on addressing academic problems, MTSS has emerged as the new way to think about both disability identification and early intervention assistance for the "most vulnerable, academically unresponsive children" in schools and school districts (Fuchs & Deshler, 2007, p. 131, emphasis added).

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is based on a problem-solving model and aims to prevent inappropriate behavior through teaching and reinforcing appropriate behaviors (OSEP Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports, 2007). Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a process that is consistent with the core principles of MTSS. PBIS offers a range of interventions that are systematically applied to students based on their demonstrated level of need, and addresses the role of the environment as it applies to development and improvement of behavior problems.

Both MTSS and PBIS are grounded in differentiated instruction. Each approach delimits critical factors and components to be in place at the universal (Tier 1), targeted group (Tier 2), and individual (Tier 3) levels. Our goal is to describe the shared (identified in bold) characteristics of these approaches as a basis for highlighting how best to meet the needs of children experiencing academic and social difficulties in school.

Some school districts use a system with four tiers of support. But it’s more common for districts to use three tiers. Here is a basic outline of how a three-tiered system works.

  • Tier 1: The Whole Class.  All students are taught with methods that research has shown to be effective. All students are screened to see who is and isn’t responding to these strategies. Kids may be broken into small groups that address different strengths and areas of need.
  • Tier 2: Small Group Interventions. Some students receive more targeted support in small groups. The scheduling of these interventions is important. The goal is to keep students from missing any core instruction or other Tier 1 activities that might make it harder to catch up.
  • Tier 3: Intensive, Individualized Support. A few students who move up to this most intensive level of support continue with Tier 1 activities. Their break-out groups are smaller than in Tier 2. And these sessions last longer and are more narrowly focused.
  • Data Tracking.  Progress monitoring is used to assess students’ academic performance, to quantify a student rate of improvement or responsiveness to instruction, and to evaluate the effectiveness of instruction. Progress monitoring can be implemented with individual students or an entire class. In progress monitoring, attention should focus on fidelity of implementation and selection of evidence-based tools, with consideration for cultural and linguistic responsiveness and recognition of student strengths.

Examples of MTSS

MTSS is an “umbrella” term. It includes some multi-tier systems of support you may know already:

  • Response to Intervention (RTI) focuses on academics. It identifies kids who are struggling. And it provides increasing levels of support to help them catch up. Tier 1 is class-wide instruction and support. Ideally Tier 2 interventions are scheduled so students won’t miss any core instruction. The same is true for Tier 3.
  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a school-wide system. All students are taught how they are expected to behave. And these expectations are described in a positive way. (“Be respectful” instead of “Don’t talk back.”)

There may be incentives or rewards for good behavior. And a tiered system supports struggling students. The focus overall is not on punishing kids. It’s on helping them meet expectations and contribute to a positive learning environment.

MTSS and Special Education

special education evaluation is usually the next step if students don’t make enough progress in Tier 3. But they reach this point with lots of documentation. And data from the MTSS process can be helpful when developing an IEP. The goal of MTSS is to screen early and to deliver targeted support quickly. It can also help schools tell the difference between kids who have not had good instruction in the past and those who truly need special education. 

MTSS and ESSA

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) mentions MTSS by name. It’s cited as a way to increase student achievement and teacher effectiveness. ESSA provides states with funding that can be used for professional development to help teachers use MTSS. You can learn more about systems of supports by getting answers to common questions about RTI

MTSS and North Carolina Professional Teaching Standards

STANDARD 1: Teachers Demonstrate Leadership

STANDARD 2: Teachers Establish a Respectful Environment for a Diverse Population of Students

STANDARD 4: Teachers Facilitate Learning for Their Students


Implementation Features



Tier One:

Additional Resources

Related Tools

Case Examples




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