Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS)

  •  Students are sitting on a carpet facing a teacher who is sitting next to a white board pointing at a chart.       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 cannot be "the way we do business," it IS the business. A school or a district is a Multi-Tiered System of Supports.

    The constant focus in MTSS is to support each and every stakeholder within the system. A system may be: a classroom, a school, a program, or a district, and a Multi-Tiered System of Supports is a comprehensive, continuous-improvement framework. We know there are many parts to any system, and that is how we think of a school or district, as well. Educational systems have 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.

    Sometimes, we use "MTSS" as an adjective to describe the "framework" we are referring to, as in the phrase: "MTSS framework." The MTSS framework consists of many elements, such as different tiers that help distinguish between the levels of support. We refer to that as a layered continuum of supports. It means that we use tiers, or layers of support, to help match the right supports to the needs and readiness of each individual or group(s) of individuals. Although MTSS is sometimes used as an adjective to describe framework, MTSS is also a noun. Our district is ONE system - and each school within it is ONE system. Each one of us is a part of the "community" of TSD - our SYSTEM. (Download a PDF of this MTSS homepage.)

    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) 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. The district's various resources (like time/scheduling, funding, materials, etc.) should be used strategically to improve outcomes. By setting up systems and structures that reduce or remove learning challenges or barriers, MTSS enables each stakeholder to benefit from a safe and supportive environment. That is the key concept of prevention that is a guiding principle of understanding MTSS. 

    Our school district employs staff or 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) feel they have the knowledge, skills, and opportunities to do their best. And that means we need efficient and effective "operations". The "way we do things" are our Operations, and it includes how we run transportation routes, how technology is updated, how we write policies, how meetings are scheduled and conducted, or how we create and execute plans.

    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 - for college, career, and life

    Because there have been different understandings about MTSS in Colorado and 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 (CO), schools and districts have had different interpretations about how to think about and include RtI and PBIS, which are two responsive learning frameworks. Actually, both RtI and PBIS exist within the MTSS framework, but there is more to MTSS than just thinking of RtI and PBIS coming together as one. In the past, some in Colorado have said that "RtI + PBIS = MTSS", but as we have said, in TSD, we identify MTSS as more than that.

    Screenshot of slide-Why MTSS

    In many ways, it is simple and clear; MTSS is the what and the how. There are key features of MTSS that we can recognize. That means it is the WHAT - as in, it is a batch 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 cannot think of the process of how to complete the puzzle, we may not ever connect the pieces correctly. And the putting together of all the features is the "how"; that is just as important.

    So, MTSS is the parts (of the puzzle) AND the whole!...and it is the "assembly" or implementation that gives it 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 -both help create the MTSS framework "as a whole"!

     Four shiny, interlocking puzzle pieces of various colors


    The chart (below) provides further clarification. Additional webpages provide more details about the MTSS framework. This PDF or MS Word brief overview handout includes basic definitions and the chart below. You may complete this form to request Technical Assistance (TA) regarding MTSS in TSD

This is the logo for the CO-MTSS framework. It's a mountain that has green at bottom, yellow in middle, and red top.