Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) is a framework that helps educators provide every student with the support they need. Its focus is on equity – that is, giving every student access to resources and opportunities that meet their unique needs. MTSS includes the academic supports of RTI (Response to Intervention), with PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports) behavioral interventions, social emotional supports, and more.
This can truly be an effective model, but it comes with some challenges. First, let’s break down the tiered model within MTSS.
The MTSS Pyramid
MTSS itself does not describe groups of students or resources. Again, it is a framework that is intended to help schools reach the whole student, and help each one get what they need. However, part of MTSS is a tiered system of supports – something that many educators may recognize as being similar to RTI. These tiers do not represent students. MTSS is not about students being labeled and grouped by ability. Those tiers represent the resources available to students.
These supports are in place for students to receive help academically, mentally, emotionally, and behaviorally. As with RTI, there are 3 tiers in the MTSS triangle, or pyramid. Tier 1 represents instruction and support that is given to all students. Even though this is for the general student population, it is still differentiated, and intended to meet individual student needs. The second tier represents supports that are made available to a smaller student population, who need more than what was made available to them in Tier 1. Some states may set a student percentage target for Tier 2, for example that 12% of the student population may need Tier 2. If this number is much higher than the target, it may indicate that adjustments need to be made to tier 1.
And then, Tier 3 is even more intensive. If Tier 1 and Tier 2 are effective, very few students should need Tier 3 supports.
What are the Challenges of MTSS?
Two challenges were defined in an article by We Are Teachers. It states:
“MTSS is the current “gold standard,” but there are still challenges.
- Personnel: MTSS takes personnel (interventionists, instructional coaches) to implement well.
- Data-Driven Decision-Making: Just having data doesn’t mean that it will be used in the best way to support students. Teachers have to know how to use data and be able to collect and monitor data regularly.”
When looking to adopt an MTSS approach, or improve an existing one, school leaders have likely experienced these challenges. Schools need trained staff to fill needed roles, and data needs to be measured and used effectively. How can existing school staff be supported to manage interventions? What kind of data can, and should, be collected, and how can it be used to help make decisions about student progress?
Meeting the Challenges of MTSS
Tech cannot replace qualified teachers and support staff. But, it can help simplify processes, and track student progress. When processes are simplified, staff are able to fill their roles more effectively. One way to meet some of the challenges of MTSS is by collecting data that matters, and using it well, and tech tools can help with this.
Attendance and Engagement
Enriching Students is a tool that schools can use to schedule students for interventions. It helps them know where students are, and take attendance with values that reflect their engagement level. For example, a student may be present, but not actively engaged in their intervention. Choosing a value ‘Present/Inactive’ for their attendance can help provide a bigger picture of what is holding them back.
Attendance may be one of the leading factors that determine a students’ academic health. It can be an indicator for a student who is at risk in other ways as well – such as struggling with their mental health, instability at home, to name just a couple.
Tracking Types of Interventions and Support
It could also be helpful to pay attention to the types of support a student is receiving, and how they are responding. This may shed light on what is working. For example, perhaps a student is meeting with a school counselor during their school flex period once a month. But their teachers notice that they are still struggling. They may be receiving academic interventions at the same time, but maybe they need more support from their counselor. If it’s possible to compare the amount of time spent in different areas of support, in this example, it may be determined that the student needs to meet with their counselor once a week or more to get the help they need.
Enriching Students enables users to create reports that show how a student’s intervention time is being used. Teachers and school leaders could identify how many minutes/hours the student has spent in a specific type of appointment (ex. Math Intervention, SEL, Advisory), their grade progress, and their attendance values across a range of dates.
This type of data provides a bigger picture than grades alone, and can be extremely valuable in managing MTSS. Of course, there is far more to a successful MTSS than this. One more important factor to consider is teams.
MTSS is a Team-Based System
Like so many school-wide approaches, a school can’t successfully implement MTSS without teams who are committed to what’s best for students. For example, looking at the framework of MTSS, teams are necessary to create systems of support, analyze data, and make decisions based on the date they find. The Professional Learning Community (PLC) process can be a great way to get there.
But what if your whole school isn’t on board? Maybe you are an individual teacher who has examined research behind MTSS, but doesn’t have school and district leaders backing them? Is it possible to still try to implement an MTSS framework? While you won’t be able to implement the framework, as this requires teamwork, you can still adapt some of the principles of MTSS to your classroom, and your view of students.
The bottom line? MTSS is a tested, research-backed framework for creating an equitable school environment. It helps support students’ academic, social-emotional, and behavioral well-being. The tiers in MTSS do not represent groups of students, but rather the resources they need. While there are challenges for implementing MTSS, the benefits are that it can help every student to reach their maximum potential.
An Overview of MTSS
How UDL Creates an Equitable Environment for Students