The MTSS Model: What You Need to Know

Lora McKillop
Lora McKillop
Elementary School Principal; M.A. in Executive Leadership, Gardner-Webb University, NC

MTSS is a system of support that allows educators, parents, and other professionals to work together for the best interest of students. Children have many needs beyond academics, and this framework ensures that students get what they need to be successful.

What is MTSS Model?

MTSS stands for Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, which is a framework encompassing different areas of support for students. The main goals are for teachers to identify students who need help academically, behaviorally, or socially/emotionally early on and get them the help that they need. As educators we want to level the playing field for all students, and this provides a way to do that.

Components of MTSS Model

MTSS typically consists of three tiers of support, tier 1 being the whole class, tier 2 being small group interventions, and tier 3 being intensive, individualized support. Three common components, or systems, under the MTSS umbrella include:

  • RTI (Response to Intervention)
  • PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention Support)
  • Compassionate Schools training

RTI responds mainly to academic needs of students. There are three levels of instruction within RTI. Tier 1 is solid, best practice teaching instruction for all students. If a teacher notices that a student is struggling to learn skills within this level, he/she then makes a referral to the RTI team, and the team works together to establish interventions for the student in the specific area of weakness. We also use i-Ready Diagnostic as universal screener—this data helps us to identify students who are below grade level.

The RTI team consists of the classroom teacher, an instructional coach, an administrator, the school counselor, and the parents. Interventions can be for reading or math, or even both subjects. For reading, students also receive LLI (Leveled Literacy Intervention) with a reading specialist in addition to receiving classroom interventions. The teacher uses the intervention strategies (Tier 2 instruction) to work with the student one-on-one and collects data points. The team meets back with the teacher in six to eight weeks. The team reviews the data to see if the student is making progress and then makes decisions based on the data. If a student has inconsistent progress or no progress, then the team refers the student for an evaluation. If a student qualifies for more intensive services, then this is Tier 3 instruction.

PBIS responds to behavior needs for students. Schools implement a behavior matrix and reward system that students learn and are expected to follow. We are the Oakland All Stars, so our students receive “Starbucks” for their excellent behavior and can spend their bucks at the prize cart. This component also allows us to see who needs more support with behavior. Our school counselor asks teachers to identify students who struggle with making good choices, being impulsive, etc. and runs small groups by grade level to meet their individual needs.

If this is unsuccessful, we have a district interdisciplinary team that consists of our social worker, mental health counselor, MTSS coach, school psychologist, school counselor, and an administrator; the team meets to discuss what else could be done to help the student. Sometimes it is making a mental health referral, sometimes it is a home visit to the parent, and sometimes it is that we refer the student to RTI for behavior. If that is the case then the RTI team meets to discuss behavior interventions and tracks the data just as they would for an academic need.

Compassionate Schools training has been a critical component in helping our teachers understand all the needs of their students. This is something I wish that I had been able to learn a long time ago when I was still in the classroom. It gives us a better understanding of what some children may be going through at home or why they might be having difficulties with academics or behavior. It educates us on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and how going through trauma—neglect, abuse, or any number of negative experiences—can impact a child’s brain development. Our teachers have learned to be more empathetic and are better trained to look for signs of abuse. We begin to look more at why a student isn’t doing their work or sleeping in class instead of just punishing them for it.

Once we know the why we are able to better help that student and provide resources for families if needed. Leaders and counselors in the district received training at USC Upstate Children’s Advocacy Center and then trained the faculty and staff at each school. New teachers to the district attend the training each year and teachers are also given the opportunity to sign up for continued training at the Resiliency Summit each summer.

Benefits of the MTSS Model

The benefits of MTSS are enormous. I have seen each component help a multitude of students in ways that we haven’t been able to in the past. When I was teaching, I dreamt of this kind of support for my students and myself. Now it is a reality for which I am grateful for the students, teachers, and parents. It allows all the people who are invested in a student’s life to work together for their success and allows for better collaboration between important stakeholders. It also eliminates “wait to fail” situations that prevent at-risk students from receiving the proper interventions sooner. The MTSS process also provides teachers with instructionally relevant information they can use to improve instruction to promote student success.

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