MTSS Framework

A Framework for Supporting All Students

A multi-tiered system of supports, or MTSS for short, is a framework for school improvement. This framework ensures that all students are supported for meeting academic, behavioral, and social-emotional outcomes, and this responsibility belongs to everyone. All students means all students, including multilingual learners and students with disabilities. 

Education systems have a responsibility to identify and dismantle the root causes of educational inequity so that all students regardless of race, language, socioeconomic status, ability, or other identities have access to equitable opportunities.

RIDE Strategic Plan, 2021-2025

In a multi-tiered system of supports, all students have equitable access to strong, effective core instruction using high quality curriculum and differentiated instructional practices at Tier 1, evidence-based group interventions at Tier 2, and intensive, evidence-based interventions at Tier 3.  

Equity is a Tier 1 issue. Teams cannot address inequitable student outcomes (e.g., disproportionate rates of referrals and suspensions, chronic absenteeism, and achievement gaps) by providing only Tier 2 and 3 supports to students without addressing Tier 1 school improvement. 

Equity for all students at Tier 1 includes:

  • Inclusive curriculum and instruction that is matched to the student population(s) of the school and learning materials that mirror students' diverse backgrounds, including neurodiversity 
  • Culturally and linguistically responsive practices that are evidence-based for the student population(s)
  • A focus on assets and the funds of knowledge that students and their families bring to the school community, as well as collaborative partnerships between families and school
  • High expectations and shared responsibility for all students
  • Valid assessment tools for the student population(s) being assessed
  • Acknowledgement of biases and inequities in curriculum, learning materials, discipline policies, and educator actions, and professional learning focused on addressing inequities
  • Persistent examination of and relentless efforts to address inequities in student data

At Tier 2, targeted group interventions should be matched to student need, available to any student in need regardless of background, and examined systemically for access barriers for specific populations, e.g., scheduling. "In equitable Tier 2 systems, interventions increase instructional opportunities, feedback, and positive home communication with students’ families."2 

At Tier 3, intensive interventions (whether academic, behavioral, or social-emotional in nature) are individualized and contextualized, and like Tier 2 interventions, are matched to the student receiving the intervention. Families and students have voice throughout the data-based individualization (DBI) process, including goal setting, intervention design, progress monitoring, and frequent meetings. Effective family-school partnerships are critical to the success of the data-based individualization process. 

Practices, Data, and Systems

In the MTSS framework, we make frequent reference to Practices, Data, and Systems.  

are what the adults in the building do to help students be successful. Practices are evidence-based and culturally and linguistically responsive for the students you serve.

Data guide decision-making in the MTSS framework. Data are frequently collected and reviewed to assess the effectiveness of Tiers 1, 2, and 3 supports. From data, we can answer questions such as:
  • "What problem behaviors are we seeing most frequently, and where are they happening?" 
  • "Are we seeing higher rates of chronic absenteeism in particular subgroups?"
  • "Are our core math and reading curriculum and instruction helping our students meet benchmarks?"
  • "Are particular subgroups of students disproportionately less proficient on school-wide screening?"

Systems should be in place to support the adults in the building so that they can change their practices as needed in order to do the right thing for students. Adults need time, training, coaching, and materials to "do the right thing," and a MTSS framework ensures that they're getting what they need, as well as time to use the data for guidance. 
mtss "tattoo" of practices, data, and systems interlocking to support outcomes for all students

Not a Program

MTSS is not a program that you can buy. It's not a "one size fits all" solution to school improvement, like a list of practices that schools must do to be successful. It's not a child-by-child problem solving process. It is a framework for thinking about how schools and districts can best support their students for success, and how they can support the adults to do their jobs well. It's a focus on continual improvement and problem solving guided by data. When a school or district begins developing their MTSS framework, it doesn't mean that schools and districts have to throw out what they're currently doing if it's working. It does mean taking a closer look at the areas that need improvement, and using that framework for adding evidence-based supports in those areas of need and continually monitoring improvement using data as our guide.

Has the information here challenged your current understanding of MTSS?

We encourage you to deepen your understanding of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports by enrolling in BRIDGE-RI's MTSS Overview course. This two hour course goes into depth to establish common language and a conceptual understanding of MTSS so that all Rhode Island educators are on the same page. 

1 Oregon Response to Intervention. (2021, January 21).  “Instructional Improvement and Intervention Delivery: Equity, Inclusion, and Behavior/SEL” [webinar]. 

2 Center on PBIS Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports. (n.d.). Equity

Last modified: Friday, September 23, 2022, 3:15 PM