Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS)

  • Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) is the practice of providing high-quality instruction and intervention matched to student needs and using learning rate over time and level of performance to make important educational decisions about individual students.

    MTSS represents an important educational strategy to close achievement gaps for all students by preventing smaller learning problems from becoming insurmountable gaps. It has also been shown to lead to more appropriate identification of and interventions with students with learning disabilities.  Each day educators make important decisions about students' educational programs, including decisions as to whether a student who is struggling to meet the standards set for all students might need changes in the nature of early intervention and instruction or might have a learning disability. This decision as to whether a student has a learning disability must be based on extensive and accurate information that leads to the determination that the student's learning difficulties are not the result of the instructional program or approach. MTSS is an effective and instructionally relevant process to inform these decisions.

    MTSS begins with high quality research-based instruction in the general education setting provided by the general education teacher. Instruction is matched to student need through provision of differentiated instruction in the core curriculum and supplemental intervention delivered in a multi-tier format with increasing levels of intensity and targeted focus of instruction using a problem-solving approach. As a result of school-wide screenings of all students and progress monitoring, students who have not mastered critical skills or who are not making satisfactory progress can be identified for supplemental intervention. If the student continues not to make sufficient progress after receiving the most intensive level of instructional intervention, it may be determined that a referral for a comprehensive evaluation to determine eligibility for special education is needed.  

    Reading in the early grades is a primary focus of the MTSS process, as this is the area in which most of the research is available and the curriculum area in which the most students are identified with learning difficulties. However, the process of data-based decision making and the principles of MTSS apply to other content areas as well as to behavioral issues that impact learning.

    What does a “multi-tiered, problem-solving approach” mean?

    Perhaps the best way to answer this is to summarize MTSS’s key principles:

    • Educators can prevent small learning problems from becoming insurmountable ones.
    • Frequent assessment of student progress helps identify small learning problems early on, when action can be more easily taken.
    • Learning problems are best addressed through intervention – teaching explicitly designed to address the absence of a small, specific skill that is building a barrier to student learning. (This is the “problem-solving” part.)
    • Interventions are designed and taught in increasingly intensive way – from a simple plan worked out between a teacher and student to some small program changes and on to the possibility of special settings--fewer students per teacher and perhaps with skills specialists. (This is the “multi-tiered” part)
    • Data are collected and used to determine if, with the intervention, the student has overcome the learning problem. (If s/he hasn’t, the problem-solving continues.)

    What are the Core Elements of our MTSS Plan?

    Our plan is divided up into the elements recognized in research and outlined by the New York State Department of Education. Specifically, these elements include:

    • Appropriate, scientifically-based instruction based on curriculum derived from State, National and/or International standards
    • Periodic screenings applied to all students
    • Instruction matched to student needs
    • Repeated assessments of student achievement and analysis of student information
    • Application of student information to make educational decisions
    • Notification to parents
    • Ongoing professional development and attention to the plan

    Definition of Key Terms

    Benchmark—a specified level of student performance that is expected of students at a paMTSScular grade level. A student’s performance is measured against an established benchmark to determine how they are performing relative to same age or grade level peers.  

    Criterion- vs. Norm-Referenced—tests are either Criterion-Referenced or Norm-Referenced.  Criterion-referenced tests measure the degree to which an individual has mastered the expected content, often including all the expected content at a single level of learning.  These tests are only capable of measuring how well a child has done on the level it is written to measure (most often a single grade level, for part or all of a year). The New York State Testing Program, which includes the grades 3-8 Math and ELA tests, and Regents exams, is exclusively made up of criterion-referenced tests. Alternatively, norm-referenced tests compare one individual to others who took the same test.  Content on norm-referenced tests typically includes only questions that are good at differentiating between various levels of student knowledge. Individual achievement tests (AIMSWeb, SAT, ACT) are always norm-referenced.

    Core Reading Program - any reading program(s), commercial or school-developed, used in the general education classroom for all students, for the purpose of providing foundational and developmental reading instruction.  

    Curriculum Based Measurement (Assessment)—an assessment approach used for the purposes of screening students and monitoring their progress across core subject areas: reading, mathematics, writing, spelling. CBM makes use of short, standardized probes that help school personnel determine a student’s risk status and their response to intervention.  

    Data Analysis Team (DAT) - a collaborative team that includes building administrator(s), instructional leaders, interventionists (literacy, math, speech/language pathologist, school psychologist, ENL teacher) dedicated to the periodic (quarterly or greater) analysis of school-wide screening, achievement and other data in order to assess trends, the needs of groups of students, and to determine how to best utilize the building’s intervention capacity.

    Data-based Decision Making—the process of using student data to determine the efficacy of instruction and/or intervention, and to identify the best, most appropriate next course of action with respect to individuals and groups of students.  

    Diagnostic Assessment—a measure of what a student knows and can do in a specific subject or discipline for the purpose of identifying what to focus on instructionally.  

    Differentiated Instruction—involves adjusting the curriculum, teaching/learning environment, and/or instruction to provide appropriate learning opportunities for all students to meet their needs. When teachers differentiate instruction they typically make adjustments to content, process, product and/or the learning environment.  

    Dual Discrepancy—refers to data showing that a student is performing both well-below average compared to typical peers and exhibits a learning trajectory that is also below typical peers such that existing gaps will not be closed.

    Fidelity of Implementation—refers to how accurately and consistently a prescribed intervention or instruction or assessment is delivered/administered in the way it was intended.  

    Intervention—A strategy used to teach a new skill, build fluency in a skill, or encourage a student to apply an existing skill to new situations or settings. An intervention can be thought of as a set of actions that, when taken, have demonstrated ability to change a fixed educational trajectory.

    National vs. Local Norms—some norm-referenced tests (see above) return two sets of results: scores based on national norms, and scores based on local norms.  National norms are based on the group of students of the same grade who were tested to establish the test's results, during test development.  If the test is well-designed, the children in this normalization population should include a cross-section of gender, race, income, urban-suburban-rural schools, etc.  Local norms are scores generated based on the specific students in this school or district, in this grade, taking this test on this test date. With this kind of scoring, you see not only how your child compares to students across the nation, but also to students in your local district and classrooms.

    Progress Monitoring—an assessment process that entails the collection and analysis of student data to evaluate their academic performance on specific skills or general outcomes. Typically curriculum-based measures are used to quantify level of performance relative to peers and rate of progress.  

    Rate of Progress—student performance across time determined by analyzing multiple points (minimum of three) of data that are graphed. This is also referred to as the rate of improvement.  

    Research-based instruction—involves educational practices, instructional strategies, and interventions that have been validated as effective through well-designed and independent empirical research studies.  

    Response to Intervention— A multi-tiered instructional framework and school-wide approach that identifies students at-risk, monitors the student’s progress, provides evidence-based intervention, and adjusts the intensity and nature of the interventions depending on a student’s responsiveness. The use of MTSS strategies cannot be used to delay or deny the provision of a full and individual evaluation to a child suspected of having a disability under federal and state regulations.

    MTSS Design Team (Elementary & Secondary MTSS Leadership Teams)—a collaborative, multi-disciplinary team whose major function is the planning and development of an MTSS process in their respective district.

    MTSS Problem-Solving Team—a collaborative and multi-disciplinary building-based team that meets on a regular basis for the purposes of (1) evaluating student data, (2) planning interventions, and (3) monitoring student response to intervention.

    Student Support Team (SST) – a collaborative team comprised of building administrator(s), school psychologist, referring teacher (i.e., typically the classroom teacher), literacy interventionist, math interventionist, speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist, and grade-level special education teache

    Teacher Resource Team (TRT)—a collaborative team of teachers and teacher-consultants (specialists, curriculum coordinators, consulting teachers) that meets to discuss specific learning or behavior challenges at the classroom level.

    Tiered Instruction - an instructional delivery model which outlines intensity of instruction within a multi-tiered prevention/intervention system.  

    • Tier 1: Effective, standards-based instruction that occurs in the general education classroom and is delivered by general education teacher. Commonly referred to as “core instruction,” it is designed to meet the needs of a minimum of 80% of all students. At this level, the classroom teacher makes use of scientifically-based instruction or strategies and differentiates instruction to meet the needs of all students and ensure positive outcomes for all.  
    • Tier 2: Supplemental, small group instruction designed for specifically for those students who are not making adequate progress in Tier 1. Tier 2 interventions do not supplant Tier 1 instruction, but are provided in addition to what the student is receiving at Tier 1. Interventions are designed to match the needs of students identified as at-risk through screening and progress monitoring measures and provide a minimum of 20–30 minutes per session a minimum of 3-4 times per week by trained, knowledgeable and skilled school personnel.  
    • Tier 3: Supplemental, individualized and customized intervention provided to students in a smaller group format (ideally 1:1) and delivered with greater frequency and duration (3-5 times per week for 30-60 minutes). Students in Tier 3 continue to receive core instruction at Tier 1. Interventions at Tier 3 are tailored to the student‘s needs and provided by a highly trained, knowledgeable, and skilled educator.  

    Universal Screening—an assessment process used with all children within a given grade, school building or district for the purposes of identifying or predicting students who may be at risk academically. Measures used within this process are brief and typically administered at a minimum of three times per year (fall, winter, spring).