Selecting an MTSS Software Platform To Empower Teachers
Student needs for academic, social, emotional, and behavioral intervention are acute and growing, and so is the frustration that comes with an exponential increase in teacher requirements for finding and providing interventions, time-consuming meetings, cumbersome documentation, and accountability with little support. The conversation has moved from making the job of the teacher easier to making it even possible. Is it any wonder that many teachers are fleeing the profession that they once loved? We want each student to thrive — and we also want teachers to thrive, to have the tools they need to reach struggling students without sacrificing their own well-being. We have to do better in supporting students and teachers.
As a district administrator, it was my job to curate resources and develop systems that smoothed the path for teachers. In conversations about MTSS in the district I served, we realized that an online platform that supported the entire intervention process would make all the difference for our teachers. Not just a compliance and reporting tool, not a document and data warehouse, but an actual live, interactive MTSS software platform that would reveal student learning needs, streamline communication and collaboration, point to the right interventions, make documentation simpler, and increase clarity and accountability in actionable ways.
I learned some things about the MTSS platform selection process along the way — my hope is that this Buyer’s Guide will smooth your path as you lead your district in selecting a software system that empowers your teachers to support all students and make the promise of MTSS a reality.
- Trudy Bender, MTSS Content Manager, Branching Minds
1. Before You Start
When leaders are making decisions that impact stakeholders across an entire district, like selecting an MTSS software platform, the decision-making process itself is critical to the eventual buy-in and success of the decision. Although it can be tempting to push through a system that is already familiar or seems at first glance to be the biggest or “best,” this can short-circuit the success of your MTSS implementation in the long run. Instead, invest the time needed for a truly inclusive process of gathering input, exploring options, answering questions, and considering drawbacks. When you invite the active participation of stakeholders in the decision-making process, you will have advocates throughout the district that:
Can communicate the “why” of MTSS (beyond compliance with state requirements)
Understand why a particular MTSS platform was selected
Take personal ownership in the success of the MTSS platform implementation
Prioritize continued funding and professional development for MTSS
Ensure that MTSS implementation is at the systems level, and is not tied to one person
The “best” option, if it truly is best, will hold up to close scrutiny and comparison, and in the process, you and your colleagues will gain a more comprehensive understanding of why this choice was the right one for your district. This guide provides step-by-step directions and resources for the entire MTSS platform selection process, from building a task force to securing funding to communicating with stakeholders.
One last note
You may notice that we prioritize the teacher experience throughout this buyer’s guide. This is intentional, because we believe that it’s the teachers on the ground, doing the day-to-day work of MTSS intervention with students, that need the highest consideration in the selection of an MTSS software platform. Compliance, documentation, and district-level MTSS analysis tools are all vital, but if the MTSS platform does not ease the lift for teachers, it is unlikely that MTSS will be effective or sustainable over time, especially in districts where a high percentage of students are in need of intervention.
2. Building an MTSS Platform Task Force
The selection of an MTSS software platform intersects with almost every aspect of district work, from finance, to technology, to curriculum and instruction, to behavior support, to professional development, to teacher retention, and more. Although you may not have each department or role physically represented on your task force, the concerns of each area must be addressed, and you need people with the authority and influence to make and implement the selection decision.
The following is a list of departments and roles to consider for your task force. When inviting participation, highlight the importance and long-lasting impact of this decision for teachers and students. Remember that even if you do not have a direct representative, it is imperative to elicit feedback from each role, especially teachers.
District Representative(s): MTSS and/or Curriculum & Instruction
Campus Representative(s): MTSS and/or Curriculum & Instruction
Cabinet Member such as Superintendent/Asst. Superintendent
Special Programs (SPED, ELL, Gifted, etc.)
Behavior and SEL
WORKBOOK: MTSS Task Force Worksheet
3. Examining Your Needs
MTSS is big. It encompasses, connects, and drives the work that schools are doing to support all students. Your task force needs an understanding of the MTSS framework in order to make a good decision, so take the time to provide an overview of MTSS along with the current needs and challenges faced by your district. Do not assume that participants already understand MTSS. This can be one of the most powerful steps in ensuring the success of your MTSS task force. In my own experience with our MTSS task force, we had a breakthrough when our funding and technology representatives understood the scope and importance of this work. They became MTSS champions and prioritized launching and sustaining the new system.
Examine your unique needs and challenges in MTSS implementation:
Alignment with district improvement plan/strategic goals
Current level of MTSS infrastructure and practice
Staffing and scheduling
SURVEY: Examine Your Needs - Stakeholders SurveyGoogle Survey format (make a copy)
Google Doc format (make a copy)
|What Is MTSS? The Multi-Tiered System of Supports Ultimate Guide|
|Branching Minds MTSS 101: An Introduction to MTSS - A video|
|Introducing MTSS to your Team - A slide deck|
|Interventions and Learning Supports Overview|
4. Comparing MTSS Platform Features
The MTSS and RTI software space has grown significantly over the past decade as districts seek to deepen their MTSS practice and need solutions to save their educators time and effort in this important work. You will find several platforms to choose from, with a wide variety of features. The following questions can help your task force discern whether a particular platform’s set of features supports MTSS best practices and creates a workflow and a user experience that fits your context:
Is the software built to make MTSS as practical and efficient as possible for busy teachers? Avoid systems with MTSS features added on to a platform created for a different purpose. A positive user experience for teachers occurs by design when a platform is built from the ground up to support MTSS implementation in the classroom.
Does the software bring data together in a way that promotes understanding and action? It is easy to become data-rich but information-poor. Data from student information systems, universal screeners, benchmarks, and progress-monitoring assessments should be seamlessly ingested and translated into actionable insights. Good MTSS software supports the data-driven decision-making process by helping users see and understand which students are struggling and why, as well as the best intervention options.
Does the software increase collaboration and transparency between systems and stakeholders? From general education to special education to gifted to ELL; from academics to behavior to wellness; from class to class, grade to grade, school to school, and district-wide — stakeholders should be able to easily document and access assessments, intervention plans, progress monitoring, student support meetings, and family communication so that everyone in the ecosystem has insight into how best to support their students.
Will the software company act as a partner in MTSS implementation? When considering customer service, data ingestion, and professional development options, look for companies with accessible user support and a solid sequence of training and coaching in using the software platform and in MTSS best practices.
MTSS Platform Features
Centralized Student Overview
- Securely ingest student data from other district platforms:
- Assessment scores
- Course failures
- IEP/504 status
- Demographic information
- Testing accommodations
- View all students with up-to-date recommended level of support:
- Behavior and SEL
- Special Education
- Allows teachers and support team members to collaboratively view all individual and historical student data in real-time
- View all documented meetings and family communications for each student
- View relevant documents uploaded to student profile
Academic, Behavioral, and SEL Support
- Easily create student learning plans across subject areas
- Easily create groups with common intervention and progress monitoring plans
- View academic and behavior/SEL universal screening and benchmark data
- Identify students in need of intervention using universal screener data
- Administer competency-based SEL screening surveys
- Document SMART goals, related progress monitoring data, and status
- Monitor drop-out risk factors
- Meet state requirements for documentation and accountability (For example, Texas HB4545)
- Allow for external service providers, such as tutors, to document interventions without accessing sensitive student data
Intervention & Support Library
- Robust, ready-to-use library of research-based interventions and supports:
- Reading and Math
- Social-Emotional Learning
- Instantly find evidence-based learning supports interventions matched to student needs
- Customize intervention & support library to district requirements
- Find appropriate interventions with detailed instructions and ready-to-use progress monitoring, including differentiated academic supports based on ELL levels and grade performance levels
- View a dashboard personalized to consolidate the weekly tasks awaiting documentation
- Quickly filter for students who require and are missing plans or documentation
- Easily log intervention & progress monitoring data and notes
- Receive notifications when:
- Insights into student skills are requested
- Major behavior incidents reviews are needed
- Students’ EWI risk levels have increased and need to be addressed
- Receive weekly reminder emails regarding intervention task completion
Behavior Incident Logging and Reporting
- Allow users to log major & minor behavior incidents observed of any student in their school
- Customize behavior incident to district language and data collection needs
- Require the notification of school or district administrators for review when documenting major behavior incidents
- Visualize and filter behavior incident data by location, time of day, type, and demographic factors
- Export behavior incident data for ingestion into another platform
Meetings, Services, and Family Communication
- Collect and consolidate insights on student skills in a survey format
- Log student-centered support plan meetings & notes
- Log information related to services a student has received
- Log details of family communication outreach, including letters, emails, and calls
- Generate family communication letters in bulk using pre-populated variables
- Log completion of state-required meetings (For example, ALC meetings per Texas HB4545)
Data Analysis and Reporting
- Reports are visually pleasing and user-friendly, with features to aid decision-making
- Easily generate and save a report of all individual student information
- Visualize tier distribution at the district, school, and grade level
- Visualize student tier movement between universal screener periods
- View student performance level and growth for nationally normed assessments
- View data related to usage of interventions at the school, grade, and topic level
- View and download family communications made across the campus/district
- Access implementation reports of platform adoption accessible to key stakeholders
- Aggregate and disaggregate MTSS data to understand practice fidelity & effectiveness
- Analyze and report on state-specific requirements (for example, Texas STAAR results, ALC Meeting completion, and intervention minutes documented in compliance with Texas HB4545)
- Export testing accommodations data for ingestion into another platform
Professional Development & Infrastructure Support
- PD offering customized to target unique district goals and objectives
- Training sessions available in-person, virtual, and asynchronous formats
- PD is tailored to each district stakeholder and addresses system-level change work
- Professional development to support the creation of practices and protocols needed to co-exist with a technology platform
- Supports the creation of a customized district MTSS Handbook
- Supportive annual review of school/district MTSS infrastructure health
Technical & User Support
- Robust tutorial library and knowledge base accessible by all users on demand
- Live chat in-app support for all users with an average response time <10 minutes
- Regular stakeholder check-ins with a dedicated Customer Success Manager
- Responsive technical support with a track record of accessibility, flexibility, and engagement with customer concerns
5. Considering Funding Sources and Costs
Without a sustainable source of funding and a long-term plan for MTSS implementation, the work done by your task force to select a great MTSS platform can unravel in a short time due to administrative turn-over, shifting budget priorities, the latest emergency, or even the latest educational “shiny object” that promises fast and easy results. Recognize that many funding sources are available for school districts to implement specific components of MTSS—either across the school/district or for targeted populations of students, so you may need to draw from several sources.
A long-term mindset will also help your team estimate costs more accurately. There is far more to consider than simply the initial set-up fee and price-per-student. Ongoing professional development and customer service are essential to MTSS implementation, and costs can vary widely for the support needed as state requirements change, technology is updated, and your district faces unique challenges unforeseen at the time of purchase.
A final note about costs…although easy to overlook, consider the cost of not implementing an MTSS platform that supports teachers in their intervention work. Effective MTSS practice helps address issues that directly impact the bottom line.
A teacher-friendly MTSS platform:
Provides the infrastructure necessary for collaboration and increased collective efficacy among teachers, critical to teacher satisfaction and retention. By retaining effective teachers, districts save thousands of dollars every year — up to $21,000 per teacher in some areas (Learning Policy Institute, 2017).
Helps with early identification and intervention in academic/behavioral needs, preventing unnecessary and costly special education referrals. When a disability is suspected, a robust history of MTSS intervention data strengthens and streamlines the special education evaluation process.
Enables intervention for students struggling with behavior, social or emotional needs, and/or chronic absenteeism, reducing loss of funding due to out-of-school suspensions and low daily attendance.
State and Federal Funding
Coordinated Early Intervening Services
Price per student
WORKBOOK: Cost Comparison Worksheet
6. Vetting Your Options
Everything looks good on paper (and on-screen), but you need information about whether an MTSS platform can actually deliver on its many promises. Product certifications from neutral third-party evaluating organizations provide quality assurance and a framework of measurement when reviewing products in the education technology industry. Data security is a particularly important concern.
Verify that the product your task force is considering is certified in the following areas. In addition, check with other districts for information about their experience with the software platform and customer support:
Data Interoperability and Security
Certifications and Awards
Recommendations from other districts
WORKBOOK: Rubric for Certifications and Digital Security
7. Making Your Choice
You may have a formal RFP process to follow, or you may have more latitude in how you make your selection. Many districts have a rubric for scoring different options. Depending on the cost of the platform, the funding source(s), and your district’s guidelines, you may need approval from your superintendent, district cabinet, and school board. Whatever your context, a thoughtful, clear presentation of your selection will increase buy-in from your stakeholders.
Share the Process
Create a one-page wonder or brief slide deck that provides a high-level overview of the MTSS platform selection.
Provide basic information about the planned timeline for implementation.
Schedule time for task force members to communicate with stakeholder groups. For example, have your principal representative share the platform selection at a principal meeting.
Welcome feedback and questions — you’ve done your homework!
Technology Set Up: Let your technology task force representative take the lead in bringing technology staff up to date on MTSS and how this software platform will make a difference in the lives of students and teachers. Give the WHY along with the WHAT.
Campus Roll-Out: Hand over details to the appropriate person or departments. Task force members may be directly responsible for implementation, such as district MTSS and professional development staff, and they will have all the context they need to plan the next steps.
Congratulations on selecting an MTSS platform that will empower your teachers to meet the needs of students with learning challenges! Implementing the right MTSS software platform can be a transformative step in your district’s journey toward equity in supporting students and providing real relief for overwhelmed teachers — it certainly was for mine. Whatever system you choose, we at Branching Minds are here to provide practical, research-based MTSS resources to support you along the way. Our mission is to create a path to academic and personal success for every learner. We take that mission seriously, and hope to partner with you in this work.
About the Author
Trudy Bender is the MTSS Content Manager at Branching Minds. She previously served as the Coordinator of District Behavior Intervention for the Waco Independent School District, where she facilitated the implementation of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports, including initiatives to address disproportionality in discipline, improve school climate, and build teacher capacity in classroom management through peer coaching.
About The Branching Minds Platform
The Branching Minds platform provides the infrastructure, data, and practice needed to equitably improve student academic, behavioral, and SEL outcomes in a Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework.