MTSS is the topic of our blog post today!

As educators, our calling extends beyond just imparting knowledge. Our classrooms are diverse tapestries of minds, each with its unique rhythm of learning, challenges, and strengths. Yet, in the cacophony of individual needs, how do we ensure that each voice is heard, that each student receives the tailored support they require?

Part of the answer is Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS)

Born from the passion to provide equitable educational experiences, MTSS stands as a structured, yet fluid, approach to nurturing every student’s potential. Join me as we delve into the heart of MTSS, understanding its essence, and exploring how it can reshape our classrooms into sanctuaries of inclusive learning and growth.

For those keen to delve deeper into the MTSS model and its implications, I’ve included a ‘Further Readings’ section packed with comprehensive research papers that can provide a more in-depth understanding.

What is MTSS?

MTSS stands for “Multi-Tiered System of Supports.” It is a framework used in education to identify and support students with learning and behavior needs [1]. MTSS is a comprehensive approach that includes both academic and behavioral interventions and can be seen as an overarching umbrella under which practices like Response to Intervention (RTI) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) can fit.

Here’s a basic breakdown of the MTSS structure:

Universal Screening: All students in a school are screened to determine their current levels of academic or behavioral performance. This helps educators identify those who may be at risk and need additional support[2].

Multiple Tiers of Support:

Tier 1: This is the universal tier where all students receive high-quality, evidence-based instruction in the general education classroom. It’s designed to meet the needs of most students in the school.

Tier 2: Targeted support for students who did not respond adequately to Tier 1 interventions. This might involve small group interventions that are more intensive than what’s offered in the regular classroom.

Tier 3: Intensive, individualized interventions for students who show minimal response to Tier 2 interventions. This can sometimes involve one-on-one support or specialized programming[3].

Progress Monitoring: Regularly assessing students’ performance to determine whether interventions are effective or if adjustments need to be made.

Data-Based Decision Making: Using data to guide decisions about interventions, supports, and instructional practices. This ensures that the support each student receives is tailored to their unique needs[4].

Family Engagement: Involving families in the decision-making process and ensuring they’re informed and active participants in their child’s education.

The goal of MTSS is to ensure that all students receive the right level of support to succeed academically and behaviorally. It emphasizes prevention, early identification, and evidence-based intervention to help students before they fall too far behind or experience significant behavioral challenges.

How is MTSS used in the classroom?

The MTSS framework is designed to permeate every aspect of the educational environment, ensuring that all students have access to the most effective and accurately targeted instructional and behavioral supports. Here’s how MTSS can be applied in the classroom:

Universal Screening: At the beginning of the school year or periodically throughout, teachers or school staff conduct assessments to gauge students’ academic and behavioral baselines. This helps in identifying students who may need additional supports.

Tiered Instruction and Interventions:

Tier 1: At this level, teachers implement high-quality, evidence-based general instruction for all students. Teachers use differentiated instruction strategies to cater to diverse learners. Classroom routines, expectations, and positive behavioral strategies are established and consistently applied.

Tier 2: For students who do not respond adequately to Tier 1 supports, more targeted interventions are implemented. This might look like small group instruction focusing on specific skills, or additional behavioral strategies like check-in/check-out systems.

Tier 3: Students requiring even more intensive support might receive individualized instruction or interventions. This could be one-on-one time with the teacher, specialized curriculum resources, or more intensive behavioral supports.

Progress Monitoring: Teachers regularly check how students are responding to the interventions. This can be done through weekly or bi-weekly assessments, observations, or other data collection methods. The goal is to determine if the student is making adequate progress or if changes to the intervention are needed.

Data-Based Decision Making: Teachers, often in collaboration with other school professionals (e.g., school psychologists, counselors, special educators), use data to inform their instructional and intervention decisions. For instance, if data shows that a student is not benefiting from a specific reading intervention, adjustments can be made.

Differentiated Instruction: Within the classroom, the teacher adjusts the content, process, and product of instruction based on students’ readiness levels, interests, and learning profiles. This ensures that all students can access and benefit from the curriculum.

Behavioral Supports: MTSS isn’t just academic. In the classroom, teachers use strategies like clear routines, positive reinforcement, structured environments, and social-emotional learning activities to support student behavior. For students who need more targeted behavioral interventions, strategies might include behavior contracts, individualized reward systems, or specific social skills training.

Family Engagement: Teachers communicate regularly with families about their child’s progress, interventions in place, and ways to support learning at home. Parents are seen as crucial partners in the MTSS process.

Collaboration: Implementing MTSS in the classroom often requires collaboration. Teachers might work with special educators, speech therapists, or other professionals to ensure that interventions are effective and that students have access to the resources they need.

The ultimate goal of MTSS in the classroom is to proactively identify and support students’ needs, whether they’re academic, behavioral, social, or emotional. By doing so, the hope is that fewer students will require more intensive services down the line, such as special education.

Research articles on MTSS

For those interested in deepening their understanding of the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), numerous resources provide comprehensive insights, practical applications, and research findings. Here’s a list of recommended further readings:

1. Hart, M. J., Flitner, A. M., Kornbluh, M. E., Thompson, D. C., Davis, A. L., Lanza-Gregory, J., McQuillin, S. D., Gonzalez, J. E., & Strait, G. G. (2021). Combining MTSS and Community-Based Mentoring Programs. School Psychology Review, ahead-of-print(ahead-of-print), 1–15.

Schools in the U.S. are struggling to manage the increasing demand for mental health services for children and adolescents due to resource and workforce limitations. The article suggests an innovative approach: integrating community mentors into the MTSS structure. By combining elements from community and school psychology, the authors discuss the potential benefits and challenges of such an approach. They argue that including community mentors in MTSS can offer both system-level and individual benefits. This approach emphasizes the potential of diversifying school psychology, especially in supporting minoritized students, by expanding and strengthening the school-based mental health workforce.

2. Hines, E. M., Mayes, R. D., Harris, P. C., & Vega, D. (2023). Using a Culturally Responsive MTSS Approach to Prepare Black Males for Postsecondary Opportunities. School Psychology Review, 52(3), 357–371.

Black males often face challenges in achieving postsecondary education, partly due to prevalent deficit perspectives. This article introduces a novel approach to MTSS that is culturally responsive and incorporates Critical Race Theory, aiming to improve postsecondary outcomes for Black males. The role of school psychologists and counselors is emphasized, as they can serve as agents of change in preparing Black males for further education and careers. Given the concerning instances of anti-Black racism and subpar educational outcomes for Black males, this article stresses the urgent need for a culturally tailored approach to ensure better futures for Black boys and men.

3. Braun, G., Kumm, S., Brown, C., Walte, S., Hughes, M. T., & Maggin, D. M. (2020). Living in Tier 2: educators’ perceptions of MTSS in urban schools. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 24(10), 1114–1128.

MTSS has been in place in the U.S. for over a decade, but educators in urban, high-need schools still face challenges in its effective implementation. This qualitative study explores the views of 19 educators on MTSS in urban contexts. Two primary themes arose from the interviews: a) confusion among educators due to frequent changes in school-wide MTSS processes and b) a belief that while Tier 2 interventions work well for students needing minimal support, there’s a struggle to escalate interventions for those who don’t respond. The study highlights the need for further research on employing evidence-based practices tailored for high-need urban settings.

4. Malone, C. M., Wycoff, K., & Turner, E. A. (2022). Applying a MTSS framework to address racism and promote mental health for racial/ethnic minoritized youth. Psychology in the Schools, 59(12), 2438–2452.
Racial and ethnic minoritized (REM) students frequently face racism and discrimination within schools, which can significantly impact their mental health, leading to issues such as depression, anxiety, and lowered self-esteem. To counteract these detrimental effects, the study recommends the implementation of a multitiered system of support (MTSS). This involves tier 1 interventions geared towards promoting a positive racial school climate, and the incorporation of culturally responsive practices in tier 2 and tier 3 interventions. The main goal is to foster a safe, supportive environment and enhance mental health outcomes for REM students.

5.Linan-Thompson, S., Ortiz, A., & Cavazos, L. (2022). An Examination of MTSS Assessment and Decision Making Practices for English Learners. School Psychology Review, 51(4), 484–497.

This study delves into the intricacies of implementing a culturally and linguistically responsive (CLR) MTSS framework in schools with a high population of English Learners (ELs). By analyzing observation data from five such schools, the study evaluates the MTSS/RTI assessment and data-based decision-making practices. The findings pinpoint areas that need refinement and enhancement in terms of CLR policies and practices. Moreover, the study presents recommendations for how school psychologists can team up with educators to craft and execute effective CLR assessment practices within the MTSS/RTI framework for ELs, emphasizing the crucial role of these professionals in promoting equity.

6. Fien, H., Nelson, N. J., Smolkowski, K., Kosty, D., Pilger, M., Baker, S. K., & Smith, J. L. M. (2021). A Conceptual Replication Study of the Enhanced Core Reading Instruction MTSS-Reading Model. Exceptional Children, 87(3), 265–288.

With the increasing emphasis on MTSS to boost reading outcomes, the study focuses on the Enhanced Core Reading Instruction (ECRI MTSS) model, known to significantly improve foundational reading skills. Aiming to replicate the impact study by Smith et al. (2016), this research involved 44 schools participating in a cluster-randomized controlled trial. The schools were categorized into ECRI MTSS treatment groups and business-as-usual MTSS control groups. The results from the treatment group showed moderate to strong improvements in student decoding, word reading, and fluency skills. These findings affirm the potential of ECRI MTSS in benefiting early struggling readers, especially those at risk for word-level reading disabilities, such as dyslexia.

7. Gonzalez, J. E., Durán, L., Linan-Thompson, S., & Jimerson, S. R. (2022). Unlocking the Promise of Multitiered Systems of Support (MTSS) for Linguistically Diverse Students: Advancing Science, Practice, and Equity. School Psychology Review, 51(4), 387–391.

Multitiered systems of support (MTSS) present a progressive alternative to traditional remedial approaches, particularly in early identification, high-quality instruction, interventions for struggling students, and data-driven decision-making. For the model to reach its full potential, it’s crucial that its benefits are equitably distributed, especially among culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students. The featured articles emphasize understanding CLD contexts and promoting culturally responsive assessment and instruction. Themes from the studies include the need for validated tools for CLD students, the significant role of English language proficiency in determining intervention success, and the influence of the language of instruction on student performance. Notably, instruction in English did not hinder performance. The synthesis advances understanding and prompts further exploration of MTSS challenges and opportunities with CLD students.

8.Frank Webb, A., & Michalopoulou, L. E. (2021). School psychologists as agents of change: Implementing MTSS in a rural school district. Psychology in the Schools, 58(8), 1642–1654.

In a rural school district setting, this case study delves into the transformational role of school psychologists in transitioning to and establishing a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS). The research provides a roadmap for school psychologists in comparable settings, detailing how they can influence systemic change across different levels within a district. The study underscores the changing dynamics of the role of school psychologists within the MTSS paradigm and the hurdles successfully navigated by the district. Importantly, it advocates that school psychologists are instrumental in spearheading change. The research wraps up by shedding light on pivotal elements for seamless MTSS adoption at the district level and anticipates MTSS evolutions in light of the extended school closures from the pandemic.

9. Fallon, L. M., Veiga, M., & Sugai, G. (2021). Strengthening MTSS for Behavior (MTSS-B) to Promote Racial Equity. School Psychology Review, ahead-of-print(ahead-of-print), 1–16.

Even with the prevalent adoption of multitiered systems of support for behavior (MTSS-B), racial discrepancies in disciplinary measures remain. The authors assert that the system must foreground racial equity and rejuvenation within the educational milieu. The article first illuminates the historical and sociopolitical contexts that have entrenched racially biased disciplinary measures, especially against Black students. Through counter-storytelling, the paper captures the adverse effects of such disciplinary measures on the Black community. Recommendations are made to fortify MTSS-B for racial equity, including empowering student and community engagement, advocating to school leaders, facilitating transformative staff training, and aiding teachers in fostering inclusive, healing-focused classrooms. The proposals are rooted in an ecological-behavioral paradigm, emphasizing the need to address the root causes of disciplinary disparities.

Final thoughts

The Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) stands as a testament to the evolving landscape of education, where every student’s unique needs are recognized and addressed. It underscores the importance of early identification, prevention, and the use of evidence-based practices to promote success for all. Through its tiered approach, MTSS ensures that no child is left behind, offering various degrees of support tailored to individual needs.

Beyond its technical facets, MTSS promotes a collaborative school environment. It bridges the gap between educators, specialists, families, and students, creating a cohesive network all aiming for the shared goal of student achievement. Furthermore, it emphasizes the importance of data in shaping effective instructional and intervention strategies. This focus on data ensures that decisions are rooted in tangible evidence, fostering a more objective and responsive educational system.

As educators and school systems continue to adopt and refine MTSS, we are reminded of a fundamental truth in education: the diversity of student needs requires a flexible and dynamic approach. By embracing MTSS, schools reaffirm their commitment to adjust, adapt, and always strive for the best possible outcomes for every student.

In the ever-changing world of education, MTSS stands as a beacon, guiding educators to ensure that all students, regardless of their challenges or starting points, are given the best possible chance to succeed and flourish.


1. Definition of MTSS, California Department of Education

2. MTSS Component Summary: Universal Screening, Wyoming

3. Multi-Tiered System of Supports: A Quick Guide, Ednet

4. Data-based Decision Making, Center on Multi-tiered System of Suports

1. Books on MTSS

Check out this collection of MTSS Books I curated and I shared in my second blog Selected Reads.

Online Resources:

The National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII): This site provides tools charts, training materials, and videos on various components of MTSS, especially Tier 3 interventions.

“Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions (JPBI): Many articles here focus on the behavioral aspect of MTSS, offering research-backed strategies.

Center on Multi-Tiered System of Supports: A comprehensive resource hub with guides, research papers, and webinars all centered around MTSS.

Council for Exceptional Children (CEC): While its primary focus is on special education, CEC also covers topics and resources related to MTSS, given the framework’s role in early intervention.

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