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What is MTSS?

By Peg Rosen

At a Glance

  • MTSS is a framework many schools use to provide targeted support to struggling students.

  • The goal of MTSS is to intervene early so students can catch up with their peers.

  • It screens all students and aims to address academic and behavior challenges.

MTSS stands for multi-tiered system of supports. It’s a framework many schools use to give targeted support to struggling students. You may also hear it called the MTSS framework, the MTSS process, or the MTSS model. 

MTSS is designed to help schools identify struggling students early and intervene quickly. It focuses on the “whole child.” That means it supports academic growth, but many other areas, too. These include behavior, social and emotional needs, and absenteeism (not attending school).

The tiers of support are a huge part of MTSS. They get more intense from one level to the next. For example, a child getting small group interventions may need to “move up” to one-on-one help.

MTSS supports the adults at the school, too. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) — the main education law for public schools — cites MTSS as a way to increase teacher effectiveness. ESSA gives states funding that can be used for professional development to help teachers use MTSS.

MTSS isn’t the same thing as response to intervention (RTI). MTSS is more comprehensive. But it may include the three tiers of RTI.

Dive deeper

Key elements of MTSS

MTSS isn’t a specific curriculum. It’s a proactive approach that has key elements:

  • Universal screening for all students early in each school year

  • Increasing levels of targeted support for those who are struggling

  • Integrated plans that address students’ academic, behavioral, social, and emotional needs

  • A schoolwide approach to student support, with teachers, counselors, psychologists, and other specialists working as a team to assess students and plan interventions.

  • Professional development so staff can provide interventions and monitor progress effectively

  • Family involvement so parents and caregivers can understand the interventions and give support at home

  • Frequent monitoring of students’ progress to help decide if they need more interventions

  • The use of evidence-based strategies at every tier of support

Learn more about:

How the multi-tiered supports work

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

Tier 1: The whole class. All students in the general education classroom are in this tier. Teachers use instruction that’s proven to work. Students may work in small groups based on their strengths and areas of need. The school monitors all kids’ progress. A student who is struggling may move to Tier 2.

Tier 2: Small group interventions. Students in Tier 2 still attend Tier 1 lessons with the rest of the class. But they get more targeted support through small group lessons. It can also mean special teaching, called interventions . A student who isn’t making progress may stay in Tier 2 or move to Tier 3.

Tier 3: Intensive individualized support. This tier can mean small group work or individual lessons. Most kids in Tier 3 still spend a lot of the day in the general education classroom. But they may spend more time in a resource room than before.

If your school uses RTI, learn about the three tiers of RTI support .

Examples of MTSS

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

Response to intervention (RTI) helps students who are struggling with academics. It provides increasing levels of support to help them catch up. Learn more about RTI

Positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) is an approach schools use to promote school safety and good behavior. All students are taught how they’re expected to behave. These expectations are described in a positive way. (“Be respectful” instead of “Don’t talk back.”) Learn more about PBIS .

MTSS and special education

The goal of MTSS is to screen early and to give support quickly. It can also help schools tell the difference between kids who haven’t had good instruction in the past and those who truly need special education .

A special education evaluation is usually the next step if students don’t make enough progress in Tier 3. Students reach this point with lots of documentation. This data can be helpful when developing an .

Parents and caregivers don’t have to wait for kids to go through all phases of MTSS before requesting an evaluation, though. They can ask for an evaluation at any point.

Parents and caregivers: Learn how to request an evaluation and your legal rights during the evaluation process

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom