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An Educator’s Guide to MTSS

Guides | 25 minutes

The Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) has become a vital framework in classrooms nationwide, addressing the diverse needs of students. By seamlessly blending academic and behavioral strategies, MTSS ensures personalized support for every student’s journey to success. Built upon the integration of Response to Intervention (RTI) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), MTSS offers a unified system that caters to various aspects of a student’s educational experience. In this guide, we do a deep dive into MTSS with the goal of equipping educators and school leaders with a clear understanding of its core components and the tools for effective implementation.

What is MTSS?

MTSS is a proactive and integrated framework aimed at addressing the full range of student needs in an educational setting. By combining academic and behavioral strategies, MTSS ensures that every student, from those who excel to those who struggle, receives the right level of support.


Brief History

The concept of MTSS emerged from the amalgamation of two significant educational movements: RTI and PBIS. While RTI focused on academic interventions, PBIS emphasized behavioral supports. Over time, educators saw the value in merging these two approaches, leading to the birth of MTSS.

Why is MTSS Important?

In a diverse classroom, students come with varied backgrounds, abilities, and challenges. MTSS ensures that no student falls through the cracks. By providing timely interventions and supports, schools can prevent minor challenges from becoming significant obstacles, promoting a positive and inclusive learning environment.

The 5 Essential Components of Every MTSS Framework

Universal Screening

This is the first line of defense in MTSS. Through universal screenings, educators can:

  • Identify Students at Risk: Universal screening helps educators proactively identify students who may be struggling academically or behaviorally. This enables timely intervention to provide the necessary support before difficulties escalate.
  • Spot Patterns: By analyzing the data gathered from universal screenings, educators can discern trends and patterns that may be indicative of broader issues within a specific grade or subject area. This insight is invaluable for targeted intervention planning.
  • Tailor Interventions: Universal screening data equips educators with valuable information about individual student needs. This allows for the customization of interventions, ensuring that support is provided precisely where it’s most needed, optimizing the chances of success for each student.

Tiered Level of Support

The tiered level of support is a cornerstone of MTSS, offering a structured approach to addressing students’ varying needs. Each tier represents a different level of support:

  • Tier 1: At this foundational level, all students receive high-quality instruction designed to meet diverse learning styles and needs. The emphasis is on providing effective teaching strategies that cater to the majority of students within the general classroom environment.
  • Tier 2: For students who may require additional support beyond what Tier 1 offers, Tier 2 interventions come into play. This tier involves targeted strategies, often delivered in small group settings. Frequent progress monitoring ensures that interventions are effective and that students are making meaningful progress.
  • Tier 3: This tier provides the most intensive level of support, typically on a one-on-one basis. It is tailored to students facing significant academic or behavioral challenges. Interventions at Tier 3 are highly individualized and may involve specialized resources and personnel to address specific needs comprehensively.

Data-based Decision Making

Data is the backbone of MTSS. By continuously collecting and analyzing data, schools can:

  • Adjust Interventions: Regularly collecting and analyzing data allows educators to gauge the effectiveness of interventions. If a particular strategy is not yielding the expected results, data provides clear evidence of this. Consequently, educators can make informed adjustments to interventions, tailoring them to better meet the needs of individual students.
  • Allocate Resources: Data guides the allocation of resources within the MTSS framework. By identifying specific areas or student groups that require additional support, schools can strategically direct resources, such as personnel, materials, and time, to where they are most needed. This targeted allocation enhances the impact of interventions.
  • Celebrate Successes: Data not only highlights areas of improvement but also shines a light on students and strategies that excel. Recognizing these successes is crucial for motivating students and acknowledging the effectiveness of certain interventions. It reinforces the value of data-driven decision-making in the MTSS process.
Historical Assessment Tracking in Otus
Using a robust student data tool like Otus can empower administrators to answer critical questions about student performance while efficiently navigating the complex process of data collection, analysis, and interpretation. Otus brings all of a school district’s student data into a single location so educational teams can make ongoing data-driven decisions.

Family and Community Involvement

An often-overlooked component, but crucial for success. When families and communities are involved:

  • Students Feel Supported: When families and communities actively engage in a student’s educational journey, it creates a strong sense of support and belonging. Knowing that everyone, both at home and in the community, is invested in their success, students are more likely to feel motivated and confident in their learning.
  • Educators Gain Allies: Collaborating with families transforms them into valuable allies in a student’s education. By sharing strategies and reinforcing learning at home, families complement the efforts of educators. This partnership strengthens the overall support system and increases the likelihood of positive outcomes for the student.
  • Fostering Community Connections: When communities actively participate in a student’s educational journey, it creates a network of support that extends beyond the classroom. This involvement helps bridge the gap between the school environment and the broader community, reinforcing the idea that education is a shared responsibility.
Plans with Third-Party Data in Otus
Students and their families can view progress monitoring plans for any goals, from academic to executive functioning or social-emotional, all right in Otus. This transparency is key to keeping students on track toward their goals and furthers the home-to-school connection.

Leadership in MTSS

Effective MTSS implementation requires strong leadership at every level of the educational institution. Here’s how leadership plays a crucial role:

  • Setting the Vision and Mission: Leaders articulate a clear vision for MTSS and ensure it aligns with the school’s overall mission. They communicate the importance of MTSS in achieving equitable educational outcomes for all students.
  • Building a Collaborative Culture: Leaders foster a culture of collaboration among staff, emphasizing the collective responsibility for student success. This includes regular communication, team-building activities, and opportunities for shared decision-making.
  • Allocating Resources Strategically: Leaders allocate resources—such as time, personnel, and materials—based on data and priorities identified through the MTSS framework. They ensure that interventions and supports are adequately funded and staffed.
  • Providing Ongoing Professional Development: Leaders offer continuous training and development opportunities for educators to deepen their understanding of MTSS principles and refine their instructional practices. This ensures that staff are equipped with the necessary skills to implement MTSS effectively.
  • Monitoring Progress and Celebrating Successes: Leaders track the progress of MTSS implementation, using data to measure the impact on student outcomes. They celebrate successes and acknowledge the efforts of educators and students in achieving positive results.

Professional Development

Professional development is a cornerstone of successful MTSS implementation. It empowers educators with the knowledge, skills, and tools needed to meet the diverse needs of students. Here’s how professional development supports MTSS:

  • Understanding MTSS Principles: Professional development sessions provide educators with a deep understanding of MTSS components, ensuring they can implement strategies effectively.
  • Differentiated Instruction Training: Educators receive training in differentiated instruction techniques, enabling them to tailor teaching methods to meet the individual needs of students at every tier.
  • Data-Driven Decision Making: Professional development emphasizes the importance of using data to inform instructional decisions. Educators learn how to interpret assessments and adjust interventions accordingly.
  • Behavioral Support Strategies: Training equips educators with evidence-based strategies for managing classroom behavior and providing targeted supports to students with behavioral challenges.
  • Cultivating a Growth Mindset: Professional development fosters a growth mindset among educators, encouraging them to view challenges as opportunities for learning and improvement within the MTSS framework.
    Download the MTSS Toolkit

    Download the MTSS Toolkit

    MTSS in Action

    High-Impact Instructional Strategies for Tier 1

    At the heart of Tier 1 are strategies that benefit all students:

    Differentiated Instruction

    • Flexible Grouping Strategies: Implementing flexible grouping allows educators to regroup students based on their current learning needs and interests. This ensures that students receive instruction tailored to their readiness levels.
    • Providing Varied Learning Materials: Offering a range of materials, including texts, multimedia resources, and hands-on activities, accommodates diverse learning styles. This approach acknowledges that students may have different preferences for accessing information.
    • Adapting Content Complexity: Modifying the depth and complexity of content helps to challenge advanced learners while providing additional support for those who may benefit from more scaffolded instruction. This approach ensures that all students are appropriately challenged.

    Cooperative Learning

    • Developing Effective Group Norms and Roles: Establishing clear expectations and roles within cooperative learning groups promotes a productive and inclusive environment. This ensures that each student has a defined role and understands their responsibilities.
    • Fostering Peer Support and Encouragement: Encouraging students to support one another fosters a positive classroom culture. When students feel comfortable asking for help or offering assistance, it creates a collaborative atmosphere where everyone can thrive.
    • Providing Structured Collaboration Opportunities: Offering specific tasks or projects that require group collaboration allows students to practice essential skills such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving, which are invaluable for their overall development.

    Formative Assessments

    • Using Varied Assessment Formats: Employing a range of assessment methods, including quizzes, discussions, and projects, provides a comprehensive view of student understanding. This diverse approach allows educators to capture different facets of learning.
    • Offering Timely and Constructive Feedback: Providing feedback promptly and with specific guidance helps students understand their strengths and areas for improvement. This actionable feedback supports ongoing growth and informs instructional decisions.
    • Adapting Instruction Based on Assessment Data: Utilizing formative assessment data to adjust teaching strategies ensures that instruction is responsive to students’ needs. It allows educators to make real-time adjustments to optimize learning outcomes.
    Rubric on Otus Plans
    Otus’ offers a variety of assessment types that can be used to provide students with clear feedback on their progress towards any learning standards.

    Implementing Interventions

    A systematic approach ensures that interventions are effective:

    • Identify Needs: Utilize a range of assessment tools to gather comprehensive data on the student’s strengths and areas that require intervention.
    • Formulate a Plan: Engage stakeholders, including teachers, specialists, and parents, to develop a comprehensive intervention plan that leverages the collective expertise of all involved parties.
    • Implement and Monitor: Leverage technology for real-time monitoring, utilizing digital tools that provide instant updates on the student’s progress, allowing for timely adjustments to the intervention plan as needed.
    • Reflect and Adjust: Conduct regular review meetings to assess the effectiveness of the intervention plan, ensuring it remains aligned with the student’s evolving needs. This structured reflection allows for data-driven adjustments.

    Evaluating Effectiveness

    By asking the right questions, you can continuously evaluate your MTSS framework to ensure its ongoing effectiveness:

    Data Analysis Teams: These teams dive deep into the data, looking for trends, successes, and areas of concern.

    • What patterns are emerging from the collected data over the past semester?
    • Are there specific grade levels or subjects where students are consistently underperforming?
    • How do our current data trends compare to the same period in the previous academic year?

    For Tier 1: Determine if the current instruction is leading to a majority of students succeeding and if not, ask why.

    • What percentage of students are meeting benchmark standards with the current universal instruction?
    • Are there specific areas or subjects in Tier 1 where students are not showing expected progress?
    • How frequently are we adjusting or enhancing our Tier 1 strategies based on student performance data?

    For Tiers 2 and 3: Determine if interventions are leading to measurable improvements and if students are transitioning between tiers as expected.

    • What is the average duration a student spends in Tier 2 or Tier 3 before showing significant improvement?
    • Are there specific interventions within Tiers 2 and 3 that consistently yield better results than others?
    • How often are students reassessed to determine if they still require the same level of intervention or if adjustments are needed?


    MTSS is a dynamic and flexible framework, adaptable to the unique needs of each school and student. With a commitment to data, collaboration, and continuous improvement, MTSS can transform the educational experience, ensuring every student has the opportunity to succeed.

    Otus: Streamlining MTSS for Improved Outcomes

    In the intricate world of MTSS, having the right tools can make all the difference. Otus is designed to make MTSS streamlined and efficient, ensuring that educators can focus on what truly matters: the students. With intuitive features that simplify data collection, analysis, and intervention planning, Otus empowers schools to implement MTSS with precision and efficacy. By partnering with Otus, educators, and school leaders can confidently navigate the MTSS framework, driving improved outcomes and fostering an environment where every student thrives. 

    Below are 3 tools that simplify the MTSS process for educators and administrators.

    Query Reports

    Search across all of your data to find students who would benefit from support. For example, if you want to locate any students who scored below the 50th percentile on your universal screening measure and were identified as “at-risk” based on a social emotional screener, Otus will find those students and return them in a list.

    See a complete list of third-party data you can visualize in Otus 

    Student Groups

    Group Students Using Plans in Otus - Progress Monitoring

    Once you locate students who need support, you can easily add them to a student group so you can follow the group’s progress as you implement interventions. Groups can also be used to assign differentiated assessments or add students to a progress monitoring plan.

    Progress Monitoring Plans

    Add all of the students you grouped to an MTSS plan. Connect student goals in the plan to data that is already in Otus so historical and future scores automatically populate in the plan. This enables teams to focus their discussion on progress, rather than data entry, to determine if the supports in place are effective.

    Additional Resources

    Center on MTSS

    Is MTSS/RTI Really That Complicated? Let’s Get Back to the Basics

    Going beyond the basics: Using feedback to support MTSS implementation

    A Framework for Coherence: College and Career Readiness Standards, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, and Educator Effectiveness