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. In fact, a school or a district is not just "the way we do business," it IS the business. A school or a district is a Multi-Tiered System of Supports.   

    Because MTSS is a comprehensive, continuous-improvement framework, we use data-based problem solving and decision-making across all the levels - to support each and every stakeholder within our system. Sometimes, we use "MTSS" as an adjective to describe the "framework" we are referring to; the framework utilizes effective practices to provide the level of support needed for each educational stakeholder and for the whole system (i.e., classroom, school, program, or district). The word framework lives in the MTSS definition, but it also sometimes immediately follows MTSS because we are trying to make it clear that it is a framework. And the quality of being a framework based in TIERED LOGIC is important.

    But if we realize that MTSS is also a noun, then we think of how we are living within a Multi-Tiered SYSTEM of Supports. It is one system; each one of us is a part of the "community" of TSD - our SYSTEM. So, any school or district has many supports within it, and within that school or district, different tiers help distinguish between the intensity of support - and to have a continuum of supports means that we are using the "logic" of tiers to help divide and distribute our supports matched to individual or system-wide needs, readiness, and capacity.

    We know there are many parts to a system, and that, too, is how we think of a school or district. We have many different roles and responsbilities, activities, projects, grades, programs, etc. With MTSS thinking in mind, schools and districts integrate and align academic standards, behavioral expectations, and adult activities. (Download this webpage as a PDF)

    Within Colorado, there has been an evolution over time to reach the current understanding of MTSS. An important guiding principle is the focus on prevention. By setting up systems and structures that reduce or remove learning challenges or barriers to how we operate, MTSS enables each stakeholder to benefit from a safe and supportive environment. 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 and contributing to the success within each school. To say that another way, the district has various resources (like time/scheduling, funding, materials, etc.) that should be used wisely. The school district also 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. And we need to be sure that all personnel (staff, family, and community) feel they have the knowledge, skills, and opportunities to do their best. Thirdly, we have "operations", and those are the "how we do things." Operations could include anything from how we run transportation routes or how technology is updated to how we write policies, schedule and run meetings, or create action plans for projects.

    If the district is purposeful in what it does as a Multi-Tiered System of Supports, then schools are able to direct and coordinate all of their resources and strategies. It is a consistent goal in education to secure access, opportunity, and educational benefit in each learning experience, and we need to work together to make that happen. In TSD, the plan is to implement MTSS with fidelity (or 'as it is intended to be done') and to sustain it over time so that it is lasting and becomes "the way we do business" and "who we are". This idea is included in Strive 2025 (the TSD strategic plan). Through the effective application 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, some confusions 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 serving as the combination of the two - without clarity about what that means or how things are connected. In Colorado (CO), these two (RtI and PBIS) have had been introduced differently. Schools and districts have had different interpretations about how to think about and include these two responsive learning frameworks. Actually, both RtI and PBIS exist within the MTSS framework, but as we mentioned above, 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", and in some places (in CO and in other parts of the country), that may still be how some people describe MTSS. In TSD, we identify MTSS as more than that.

    Screenshot of a description of why to implement MTSS many ways, it is simple and clear; MTSS is the what and the how.
    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

    MTSS is the parts AND the whole!
    That is why we have Essential Components (which are the "parts") and implementation science (the how) to help us create the MTSS framework "as a whole"! Four shiny, interlocking puzzle pieces of various colors


    The chart (below) provides further clarification. Additional pages provide more details about the MTSS framework. This short handout is available in PDF or MS Word; it includes basic definitions and the chart below. You may complete this form to request Technical Assistance (TA) regarding MTSS in TSD. Or consult the outside resources linked below, or the TSD MTSS Coordinator. 

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