Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS)
Often referred to as the “way we do business" in schools, MTSS is an organizational framework intended to improve outcomes through the effective collaboration of adults.
But a school or a district isn't "the way we do business," it IS the business. A school or a district is a Multi-Tiered System of Supports.
A constant focus with MTSS is to support each and every stakeholder within the system. A system may be: a classroom, a school, a program, or a district. A Multi-Tiered System of Supports is a comprehensive, continuous-improvement framework. In any system - in any field or industry - there are many parts that make up the system. The same is true for schools and districts.
Educational systems include many different roles and responsibilities, activities, projects, grades, programs, etc. With MTSS thinking in mind, schools and districts integrate and align academic standards, behavioral expectations, and adult activities to accelerate growth and reinforce progress.
You may notice that we use MTSS in a couple of different ways. Sometimes, we use "MTSS" as an adjective or a descriptor, as in the phrase: "MTSS framework."
Example: The MTSS framework consists of many elements, such as different support levels or "tiers". We are not talking about the whole framework when we talk about the "tiers", which we refer to as a layered continuum of supports. We use tiers, or layers of support, to help match the right supports to the identified need and the readiness of the individual(s) involved. But the layered continuum of supports is only one Component of MTSS.
And although MTSS may be used as an adjective - to describe the framework, MTSS is also used as a noun. We will say that our district is ONE system - ONE "Multi-Tiered" System of Supports. And each school within our district is its own "Multi-Tiered SYSTEM of Supports". Just like other nouns, it has an identity.
- The Thompson School District is a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), and these webpages explore the meaning of MTSS and its Essential Components.
Within Colorado, there has been an evolution over time to reach the current understanding of MTSS. The Thompson School District (TSD) aligns its implementation of MTSS with the following description from the state.
The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) defines MTSS as:
a prevention-based framework of team-driven data-based problem solving for improving the outcomes of every student through family, school, and community partnering and a layered continuum of evidence-based practices applied at the classroom, school, district, region, and state level. (CDE, 2016)
This definition asks that the district functions as one system, with many "sub-systems" (or smaller systems) within it and many supports (such as instruction and learning practices) also included. That means that a school district's resources, personnel, and operations should all be connected to contribute to the success of each school and each student.
Resources: The district's various resources (like time/scheduling, funding, materials, etc.) should be used strategically. By setting up systems and structures that reduce or remove learning challenges or barriers, MTSS enables each stakeholder to benefit from safe and supportive learning environments. When we say MTSS is prevention-based, we are talking about how it focuses on the pre-conditions; it's what we "put in place" (BEFORE) instead of waiting for losses or failures. We want to support each stakeholder from the start, to avoid feeling "reactive".
Personnel: Our school district employs high-quality staff and collaborates with families and community partners to provide services. The people (staff, family, and community) are all personnel that have an effect on our schools.
We need to be sure that all personnel (staff, family, and community members) feel they have the knowledge, skills, and opportunities to contribute to our system. Each individual adds value and should feel valued.
Operations: That means we need efficient and effective "operations" so that we have faith in our procedures and how we function. The "way we do things" are our Operations. That includes how we run transportation routes, how technology is updated, how we write policies, how meetings are scheduled and conducted, how we create and execute plans, etc.
A primary goal in education is to secure access, opportunity, and educational benefit in each learning experience.
We will need to work together to make that happen. In TSD, the plan is to implement MTSS with intentionality and to sustain MTSS implementation over time, making it the way we "do business" and "who we are". The ideas behind MTSS are represented in Strive 2025 (the TSD strategic plan). Through the use of implementation science and the active engagement of each stakeholder, TSD will prepare students for any pathway in life.
Because there have been varied understandings about MTSS across the country, some confusions may exist about what MTSS is and what value it can offer. For example, MTSS has been described as replacing Response to Intervention (RtI) or Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Or it has been said that MTSS serves as the combination of the two - without clarity about what that means or how things are connected.
In Colorado, schools and districts have had different interpretations about how to think about RtI and PBIS in relation to MTSS. Historically, both have had strong identities as responsive and supportive frameworks. Current definitions of MTSS note that MTSS is not just the coming together of RtI and PBIS. In the past, some people have said that "RtI + PBIS = MTSS", but in TSD, we identify MTSS as being more than that.
To say it simply: MTSS is the what and the how.
- There are core features of MTSS that we can recognize! Identifying those core features is seeing MTSS as "the WHAT". As in, MTSS is a collection of puzzle pieces, each with its own curves, colors, and connectors; those are the parts of the system.
- And MTSS is also the HOW - as in, MTSS helps make sense of each puzzle piece, linking them all together in a pattern where each piece contributes to a complete picture. If we don't think strategically about the process for how to complete the puzzle, we may not ever connect the pieces correctly. Putting together all the core features (or 'puzzle pieces') so that they fit is the "how".
Therefore, MTSS is both the parts (of the puzzle) AND the whole! It is the "assembly" or implementation of those parts that gives the framework real strength and stability. We see the what as the features (or the "parts") that we call MTSS Essential Components and the how is implementation science (the "glue", the solving of the puzzle...) that helps it take shape. Both the WHAT and the HOW help create the MTSS framework "as a whole"!
Use the navigation menu to view other MTSS pages. (You may need to click on the plus sign (+) to expand the options.)
Questions or requests for technical assistance?
You may complete this request form with your interest.
Or Contact: Kim Watchorn, TSD MTSS Coordinator
(Website © 2019, updated 2021)