Some students struggle with academics. Others struggle with behavioral challenges. Still others struggle with both. How do schools respond to students with challenges or struggles that interfere with their ability to learn?
Many schools use a framework of interventions and supports designed to address these behavioral and academic challenges. This framework, known as MTSS, helps schools to identify struggling students early so that they may receive assistance quickly. But what is MTSS?
Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) is a framework that helps educators provide academic and behavioral strategies for students with various needs. MTSS grew out of the integration of two other intervention-based frameworks: Response to Intervention (RtI) and PBIS.
As part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) updated by Congress in 2004, the Response to Intervention model of assessment originally sought to identify students who would benefit from more intensive supports. From these beginnings as a tool to help improve educational outcomes for students in special education, MTSS has grown to encompass all students at every level.
Key Components of MTSS
Instead of the “waiting for failure” assessment model of pre-IDEA days, MTSS takes a proactive approach to identifying students with academic or behavioral needs. Early assessment and intervention for these students can help them catch up with their peers sooner. The key components of MTSS include:
- Universal screening of all students early in the school year
- Tiers of interventions that can be amplified in response to levels of need
- Ongoing data collection and continual assessment
- Schoolwide approach to expectations and supports
- Parent involvement
The integrated instruction model of MTSS uses collected data to assess student needs and provide them with interventions in appropriate tiers.
Three Tiers of Support
MTSS provides a method of early identification and intervention that can help struggling students to catch up with their peers. As such, MTSS uses three tiers of support to assist all students at various levels. These three tiers include:
Tier 1 – Universal or primary – Majority of students (75-90%)
As the largest tier, and the foundation for the entire framework, Tier 1 encompasses the entire school with core instructions and basic interventions. This structure helps to build positive relationships between staff and students. It includes proactive classroom management strategies aimed at creating a supportive atmosphere. Students who do not respond to these interventions may move into Tier 2.
Tier 2 – Secondary – Small groups of students (10-25%)
Some students need a little extra assistance in meeting academic and behavioral goals, and it is in Tier 2 that these individuals receive that help. Often these interventions and supports are delivered in small group settings, such as reading groups. Check-In/Check-Out (CICO) interventions are often a part of Tier 2, as well. This targeted support allows students to work toward catching up with their peers.
Tier 3 – Tertiary – Individual students (< 10%)
A subset of students has significant challenges that do not respond to the interventions and supports in Tier 1 or Tier 2. Tier 3 gives these students individualized supports and can include assistance from outside agencies such as behavioral counselors or family therapists.
MTSS tiers help schools to organize levels of supports based on intensity so that students receive necessary instruction, support, and interventions based on need. As such, student identities are not based on tier levels. Instead, individuals are identified as students in need of supports. This helps educators to respond appropriately and provide students with the assistance they need to prosper in the classroom.
Employing the MTSS Framework
Schools using MTSS seek successful educational and behavioral outcomes for all students, regardless of challenges. This may involve significant interventions for a segment of the student population, with the goal of moving these individuals into reduced interventions as they progress. The flexibility of this framework allows students to move from tier to tier as needed, without prescribed timelines. The elements of MTSS include:
- Multiple tiers of instruction, intervention, and support
- Includes learning standards and behavioral expectations
- Increasing levels of intensity
- Problem-solving process
- Collaborative and team-based decision making to determine which students need interventions
- Data evaluation
- Interpretation of data to determine student progress and action steps
- Communication and collaboration
- Teamwork focused on building relationships and using data to improve those relationships
- Capacity building infrastructure
- Professional development and coaching along with written plans
- Active involvement and administration of practices
School Climate and MTSS
MTSS creates a positive environment for all students which in turn impacts school climate. Positive school climate is the leading indicator for such outcomes as increased academic achievement, increased teacher retention, and reduced discipline referrals.
The interventions and supports found in MTSS help in relationship building, which is a key factor in student success. Additionally, a supportive school environment allows each student to work through their challenges and catch up with their peers. Defined tiers of intervention for both academic and behavioral challenges enables educators to address student needs, both as a group and individually.
It’s important to note that MTSS tiers may look quite different from school to school. MTSS focuses on the overall needs of individual students, and what may be a Tier 2 intervention in one school might be a Tier 1 in another. It is up to each school to develop an MTSS framework that addresses challenges specific to that school community.
PBIS as a Part of MTSS
As part of an MTSS framework, PBIS can help educators build an awesome school culture and address behavioral challenges in a positive way. These interventions, when paired with the academic assistance found in RtI, can help students to improve in all areas. The tiered structure of a PBIS initiative helps educators to provide students with the help they need to develop the behavioral skills necessary for success. This social-emotional learning coincides with academics, and each can help strengthen the other.
Schoolwide expectations, tiered systems of supports, and consistent data analysis are all hallmarks of PBIS. These factors are critical to the success of MTSS, as well. Employing the MTSS framework helps to focus educators and students alike on positive interactions, creating a school climate focused on student success.