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MTSS: More Than Alphabet Soup

What the Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) means for educators and students
Published: April 6, 2023

Key Takeaways

A Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) is designed to keep students out of special education.
MTSS framework helps provide instructional support for teachers and students.
MTSS is for more than just K-12 education.

What is MTSS?

Education has become an alphabet soup of acronyms. A Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) adds to the already-lengthy list of alphabet soup. You often hear about a “new” program or framework and think this too will pass; however, MTSS is something we should hope is here to stay.  

The MTSS framework is a proactive approach to identifying students with academic or behavioral needs. It provides multi-tiered, targeted interventions and supports to help struggling students remain in general education, with each tier offering increasingly intense interventions and prevention. MTSS is not a pathway to special education placement.  

When the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) became law, we witnessed a resurgence of MTSS in school districts across the country in an effort to ensure each and every student receives a high-quality education that meets their individual needs. By combining Response to Intervention (RtI) and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), MTSS is the method of organization that systematically addresses support for all students.

This framework provides a team approach to tiered interventions for academic and behavioral concerns that arise in the classroom or within individual students. Because MTSS requires a team approach, when an individual educator brings forward concerns about a student, many different educators then have the opportunity to respond and provide suggestions on how to help the student succeed in the general education setting.   

In addition to serving as a tool that provides interventions for struggling students, MTSS is also a framework that can help students accelerate their learning and prepare for life beyond K–12 education. The potential of the MTSS framework is limitless: It can become a “think tank” for your school-based teams to help all students grow.  

What is needed to implement MTSS?

The MTSS framework requires a time commitment and consists of four key elements: universal screening of all students early in the school year; multi-level interventions in response to level of need; ongoing progress monitoring; and data-based decision-making. As educators, you and your colleagues are already given more requirements than time in the day. To conduct the MTSS framework with fidelity, you and your team need to be given time to hear the data related to each referral, provide feedback and suggestions for interventions, and implement the interventions.   

For your school to effectively implement MTSS, your local education agencies (LEA) need to provide job-embedded training and time to implement the framework. When the MTSS framework works, both students and educators benefit, and when that happens, MTSS becomes more than a part of the alphabet soup.  

For More Information 

“A Framework for Coherence: College and Career Readiness Standards, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, and Educator Effectiveness.”  (2015). American Institutes for Research.

Additional Resources 

“Welcome to the MTSS Center.”  Center on Multi-Tiered System of Supports at the American Institutes for Research. 

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