Instituting MTSS Leadership in MTSS

    Long before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered our nation’s schools in mid-March 2020, many districts across the country had been working to transition to MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports). Schools were “ditching” their more traditional models to evaluate students for special education and instead began moving towards a more holistic approach to consider the needs of all students.

    Many chose to transition to MTSS as it uses a multi-tiered support foundation that wraps around a school’s entire student body and uses data-driven problem-solving to address academic and non-academic (attendance, social-emotional, etc.) needs. Schools and districts making this shift found that they improved education for all students, gained efficiencies, and prevented students from “slipping through the cracks.”

    Fast forward to mid-March 2020 as the nation's schools found themselves suddenly pivoting to an unprecedented, expansive distance learning experience.  Students, parents, and teachers were immediately inundated with a massive learning curve to master technologies they had not experienced before.

    Current research shows that this pivot impacted all students' academics and sadly created an academic loss after the suspension of in-person learning. Year-over-year formative universal screeners demonstrate this loss, and not surprisingly, "...those who came into the pandemic with the fewest academic opportunities are on track to exit with the greatest learning loss." (Dorn, Hancock, Sarakatsannis, & Viruleg, 2021).

    Researchers will continue to analyze the academic and social-emotional impact of closing our schools/pivoting to remote instruction for many, many years to come. 

    As we wind down this unimaginable school year and look to the future, it will now be critical once again for all schools to look to MTSS as an organizational foundation for meeting student’s needs during the 2021-2022 school year. All students must "catch up;" specific groups of students more than others.

    To ensure all students can regain ground, we must urgently begin next year with a deep understanding of our student's current areas of academic performance, instruct with a robust core curriculum, provide and monitor data-driven interventions, strengthen attendance, and provide social-emotional support, or in other words, use MTSS as a guiding principle to organize the 2021-2022 school year.

    What Does MTSS Include? 

    When MTSS is adopted with fidelity, it becomes a framework to align general education, special education, supplemental supports, attendance, and social-emotional support. MTSS includes the following: 

    • Robust core curriculum and differentiated instruction that meets the needs of 80% or more of students;
    • The use of valid and reliable universal screeners for all students;
    • The creation of student support plans based upon universal screening data; 
    • The frequent use of reliable progress monitoring; 
    • The creation of "student support/decision teams" to consistently review student progress and make adjustments to the duration and intensity of planned intervention, based upon data; and
    • Support from leadership to ensure MTSS processes are incorporated into daily school life.




    MTSS Cycle of Support


    🔗Related Resource: Demystifying MTSS

    🔗A strong core is the foundation of a healthy RTI/MTSS practice. Download this Core Workout Worksheet

    What Does Using the MTSS Cycle of Support as an Organizing Principle Look Like in School This Fall?

    Organizing Core Instruction

    The instructional strategies used routinely with all students in a general-education setting are considered "core instruction." With a strong core instruction, it's expected that 80% of students have their needs met by the core curriculum, as research clearly states that "teachers who follow evidence-based best practices in curriculum and pedagogy are most likely to foster academic progression." (Dorn, Hancock, Sarakatsannis, & Viruleg, 2021)

    However, core instruction is used to support all students. While 80% of students may not require additional intervention support with strong core instruction, all students should be supported with core instruction. This can be accomplished through implementing an evidence-based, differentiated Tier 1, which utilizes learning supports to support all students. 

    Looking back to the 2020-2021 school year, we already understand there has been an academic impact for all students and an "...observable, differential impact on some student groups...specifically:

    • Black, Hispanic, and Native American students
    • Students who attend schools that serve high-poverty populations
    • Students who attend public rather than private schools
    • Students in rural or small towns as opposed to suburban or urban schools." (McClarty & McClarty, 2021)

    It is well known that a large percentage of students struggled greatly during remote learning and lacked access to the technology, and/or suffered from stress, trauma, fatigue, and personal loss related to COVID-19. Some students were not comfortable engaging in class at a deep level/turning cameras on due to privacy concerns or parents/guardians not being able to guide instruction at home.

    Additionally, many English language learners often did not have ELL-accessible content online. As a result of the above factors (and many more), there may be a higher prevalence of academic risk in nearly all schools as we move towards the 2021-2022 school year. (National Association of School Psychologists, 2021) 

    It has always been essential to ensure a robust core curriculum is in place; however, never more so than while emerging from the pandemic into this new school year. If our universal screening data indicates our core is not supporting 80% of students to reach their benchmark goals and 100% of our students to show progress in our schools, it becomes our urgent duty to investigate if the core is taught with fidelity and that differentiated instructional best practices are utilized in each classroom.

    Gone are the days of educators saying, "We covered this content in our core last year...students are expected to have mastered this concept by now...". We must shift our paradigm and ask instead, "Does my current core curriculum meet the needs of the students I have in front of me?".

    When using MTSS as an organizing principle for the entire school the tiered framework below can be used, beginning with utilizing a robust core curriculum and differentiating instruction: 

    • Tier 1: Whole class core and differentiated instruction for all students;
    • Tier 2: Whole class core instruction + additional targeted instruction (often small group);
    • Tier 3: Whole class core instruction + additional targeted instruction (often small group) + intensive intervention (often 1:1). The intensity/frequency and duration of the intervention are considered based upon data.

    Grade-level content is always provided during core instruction while scaffolding students with "just-in-time support" so they can access such content.

    BrM slides template elements (53)

    Using Universal Screeners

    Universal screeners provide valuable data about each student’s areas of strength and need, and some screeners offer a snapshot of historical progress. Universal screeners should be easy to administer and indicate students’ areas of need to monitor progress as well as provide insight into the fidelity of tier 1, core instruction. All students must be screened three times a year (beginning, middle, and end of year) to keep our fingers on the pulse of any changes in student learning. Universal screening this fall will take on even more importance-we must accurately gauge the immediate needs of students that may have missed a significant amount of content since March of 2020. One recent study estimated that as many as “...approximately 3 million of the “...most educationally marginalized students in the country” may have been missing from school since March 2020”.  (Korman, O'Keefe, & Repka, 2021)

    Organizing Student Support Team Meetings

    As we close out this historic school year, it may feel as if school personnel is increasingly called upon to address students' academic and social/emotional needs. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, "Decision teams can use the resulting performance data of students to determine who really needs a diagnostic assessment, individualized instruction, and potentially an eligibility evaluation." (National Association of School Psychologists, 2021)

    To ensure we are addressing all student’s needs and avoid being overwhelmed, schools can organize collaboration around the following meeting types:


    Meeting Type


    Meeting Goals


    Meeting Frequency

    School Level MTSS Meeting

    Evaluate tier movement, growth, and equity across school 

    3x a year (after each screening period)

    Grade/Content Team MTSS Meeting

    Create group plans, identify patterns of need, and monitor student progress

    1 planning period a month for each grade or content team

    Student Support Team MTSS Meeting

    Create and evaluate plans for individual students 

    ½ or full day, every other week or weekly (depending on population need)

    "How can we make our RTI/MTSS meetings work better?" Download our MTSS Meetings Guide

    When shifting to the MTSS meeting types listed, extraneous meetings from the past can be eliminated and all meeting topics can be shifted to one of the meetings above. 

    🔗Related Resource: Data-Driven School Culture Through MTSS

    Selecting Targeted Intervention and Progress Monitoring

    Once students are identified with specific needs based upon multiple factors (universal screening data, observations, collaboration in team meetings, etc.), evidence-based intervention can be applied to areas of need and closely monitored. For intervention support to be successful:

    • A specific area of need is targeted with a research-based intervention;
    • It is carried out for a specific number of weeks, based upon the evidence of its' success; and, 
    • It's frequently monitored for progress.

    Progress monitoring should be administered weekly or biweekly, depending upon the student's needs, during small group or intervention time. 

    Selecting an evidence-based intervention and monitoring for progress frequently is critical so that we do not waste any time on interventions that have not yet been proven to be effective.

    Final Thoughts

    By using the MTSS Cycle of Support as an organizing principle for next school year, we have the opportunity to comprehensively ensure ALL students receive the support they need to address the impact of academic and social/emotional loss caused by the pandemic. As educators, we have an urgent responsibility to our students, their families, and the community to strengthen these practices.

    We must develop a deep understanding of our student’s needs, evaluate our core curriculum, differentiate instruction, create, implement and monitor data-driven interventions, and provide social/emotional support, so we can begin to bridge gaps and foster equity. 

    Post-Pandemic Insights from Dr. George Batsche: Lessons learned from a career supporting school reform through RTI/MTSS, with Dr. George M. Batsche



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    Dorn, E., Hancock, B., Sarakatsannis, J., & Viruleg, E. (2021, March 01). COVID-19 and learning loss--disparities grow and students need help. Retrieved May 05, 2021, from

    McClarty, D., & McClarty, E. (2021, February 18). Has the pandemic widened the achievement gap? Retrieved May 05, 2021, from

    National Association of School Psychologists. (2020). Considerations for academic screening upon the return to school [handout]. Author.


    McClarty, D., & McClarty, E. (2021, February 18). Has the pandemic widened the achievement gap? Retrieved May 05, 2021, from

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    Tagged: Instituting MTSS, Leadership in MTSS

    May 26, 2021

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