As a former special education teacher/case manager and now a special education university supervisor, I have spent many an hour discussing MTSS (Multi-Tier System of Supports). My university students and I have reviewed the countless interventions and supports they are exposed to during their required observations, practicums, and culminating student teaching experiences. After conducting an informal poll with my most recent cohort, I found that many students felt that MTSS has a confusing reputation in the field. Further, I noticed that some students were using the term MTSS interchangeably with terms such as RTI, PBIS, and even pre-referral screening. As a result, I decided to take a moment to clear up what MTSS is, and what it is not.
The MTSS Umbrella
What is MTSS?
MTSS is an umbrella term for a structured multi-tiered system of supports that include the following:
Core instruction meeting the needs of 80% of students
The use of valid and reliable universal screeners for all students; used to help identify those at risk and also to provide differentiation to diverse learners (during core instruction)
The creation of student support plans based upon multiple sources of data and key indicators of success
The implementation of regular problem-solving meetings to conduct progress monitoring of student data
Adjustments made to the intervention plan of support, based upon data
Why is MTSS Confusing?
MTSS can be a clear, straightforward system and does not require a long list of extraneous protocols. MTSS is often confused with RTI and PBIS (or other disparate protocols) as many schools already incorporate components of MTSS, such as the use of academic tiering. This can result in silos of information and confused or frustrated teachers. MTSS, however, also includes regular progress monitoring, support for behavior concerns and social-emotional wellness, attendance monitoring, and family/community engagement. In addition, MTSS necessitates teacher training and a genuine evaluation of school culture. As a result, MTSS can be considered an umbrella or structure that RTI and other such supports fall under.
What is MTSS not?
MTSS is not:
A single response or an intervention program. It IS a system that includes responses and interventions, among other elements.
Only for students at risk. It IS for all staff and students and takes into account academic and emotional support, teacher preparedness and school culture.
Only for one school point person to facilitate. It IS for multi-disciplinary problem-solving teams to be created and meet regularly.
Based upon single points of data. It DOES rely upon the equitable use of multiple data points to make decisions about levels of support needed, and the effect supports/interventions are having on remediating or enriching student learning.
Only for students at risk academically. It IS for all students, and incorporates academics, social-emotional wellness, attendance monitoring, enrichment and differentiation for diverse learners, and family/community engagement. The graphic organizer below can help one to visualize the components of MTSS.
How do schools transition to MTSS?
Transitioning to MTSS does not have to be overwhelming or daunting. There are many resources available to help schools and districts transition to MTSS. Implementation rubrics can help schools and districts assess where they are in the MTSS implementation continuum and recommended next steps.
With all the available resources, there are a lot of things you can do on your own. But you don’t have to!
Branching Minds works with districts, as-well-as individual schools, to effectively personalize learning through the implementation of, or enhancements to, their RTI/MTSS practice. We are a system-level solution. We partner with school and district leaders to tailor our solution to their needs. We are more than a service or a software provider. We are partners who will walk the journey together with our educators. Having worked with hundreds of districts across the country, we bring deep expertise in learning sciences, data management and analysis, software design expertise and the spirit of collaboration; combined with our extensive toolkit of resources, PD and technology, we deliver sustainable results for educators, while delivering a path to success for every learner.
Already implemented MTSS/RTI, and curious about how you're doing? At Branching Minds, we have developed the Roots Report, an MTSS/RTI fidelity survey that gauges the health of a schools' and districts' intervention systems. It helps school and/or district leaders track their implementation progress and narrow their focus for future investments of time and resources to create the right infrastructure upon which to build an effective MTSS.
Deanne Rotfeld Levy is a consultant for Branching Minds regarding MTSS best practices. Deanne is also a University Supervisor at the National College of Education at National Louis University. Deanne previously served as Vice President of Customer Success for Discovery Education and was a Chicago Public Schools special education teacher and case manager. Deanne holds a Master of Arts in Teaching Special Education from National Louis University.