MTSS - a Multi-Tiered System of Support

Unleash the power of support with MTSS. Dive into a world where every student's needs are met, their potential unlocked, and their path to success illuminated. MTSS, standing for multi-Tiered Systems of Support, is the educational framework that embraces academics, behavior, and social-emotional growth.

On this page, we learn more about MTSS, how it can be used to identify and support students’ strengths and needs, we explore MTSS best practices, and we uncover why MTSS is a high priority in education across the United States.

What is MTSS?

Before nailing down an MTSS definition, it’s important to answer the question “What does MTSS stand for?” 

In education, MTSS stands for multi-Tiered Systems of Support. MTSS tiersgive educators a framework for academic, behavioral, and social emotional support. Each tier of the MTSS pyramid offers different amounts of support depending on what each student needs. When a student requires more help than is available in a tier, they move to the next level of support.

The MTSS model aims to identify needs as soon as possible so learners can access the right interventions. This is important because intervention is usually more effective when it’s done early. That’s why MTSS is considered a proactive and preventative model.

If you’re familiar with Response to Intervention, or RTI, MTSS may sound similar. Read on to see why.

MTSS vs RTI and PBIS- what’s the difference?

  • RTI, or Response to Intervention, is a tiered system of academic instruction and support 
  • PBIS, or Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, is a system that promotes positive behavior in schools
  • MTSS is a tiered system of academic, behavioral, and social emotional instruction and support 

MTSS and RTI are two different educational models that look very similar. People sometimes use the terms interchangeably.

However, RTI only looks at academic needs, while MTSS interventions cover academic, social emotional, and behavioral needs. Before MTSS, many states used RTI alongside PBIS to address academic and behavioral issues separately.

The MTSS umbrella combines elements of RTI and PBIS to address the whole student. 

MTSS explained: Essential components of MTSS

According to the Center on Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports at the American Institutes for Research, the essential components of MTSS are: 

  • Evidence-based tiered support tiers for academic, behavioral, and social emotional needs.
  • Regular screenings to identify students who need extra support.
  • Progress Monitoring to assess performance, improvement, and instruction.
  • Data led decision making based on regular data analysis.

What are the three tiers of MTSS?

The MTSS pyramid is made up of three levels, or tiers. 

MTSS Tiers:

Tier 1: The whole class: universal supports and core instruction for all learners

Tier 2: Targeted support like small group interventions 

Tier 3: Intensive individualized support

Tier 1 offers evidence based instruction, support, and progress monitoring to every student. 

If a student needs more help than is offered at tier 1, they move into tiers 2 or 3 for targeted intervention and support. As students move through the MTSS triangle, they also have access to everything the tiers beneath offer. For example, a student at tier 2 also receives all of the support available at tier 1.

How do schools / districts transition to MTSS?

When considering MTSS for your district, school or classroom, it’s best to start by identifying why. Doing this first helps sustain any new initiative long term and fight initiative fatigue.

Reasons schools / districts might choose to implement an MTSS model are: 

  • To address increasing mental health challenges in students
  • To reach more students with early intervention 
  • To give students with challenges better access to learning
  • To improve social emotional, academic, and behavioral outcomes
  • To help with learning loss
  • To give staff resources, guidance, and support to meet current challenges

Once you’re clear about why you want to transition to MTSS, consider the following steps:

  • Teams should reflect the diversity of the school or district community and bring a variety of skills, expertise, and leadership qualities. Members can include administrators, content area and instructional experts, general, special education, and ELL teachers, an MTSS specialist (if you have one), and support staff.

  • What are your school or district’s behavioral and academic priorities? 

    What are reasonable metrics for improvement in one year? Five years? Ten years?

    Goals should take into account a school or district’s capacity to implement MTSS, benefits for students, and implementing with fidelity. implementing. District-wide MTSS implementation usually takes about 3-5 years. 

    MTSS goals should also be SMART

    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Achievable
    • Relevant
    • Time Bound
  • What data will you collect and how will you use it? What benchmarking tools will you use? How will you measure behavioral and social emotional progress and outcomes? Will you consider data points like attendance?

    The National Center on Intensive Intervention at The American Institutes for Research offers two excellent resources for answering these important questions:

  • Feedback and collaboration are an important part of the MTSS process. 

    • Seek regular collaboration and feedback from teachers, families, and students 
    • Give benchmarks at least three times a year
    • Ensure teams meet regularly to assess data and reassess practices
    • Encourage teachers to provide students with regular feedback
    • Encourage educators to seek peer feedback
  • Focusing on a robust Tier 1 strengthens the success of any MTSS model. Tier 1 should be accessible to students of all abilities and backgrounds. Try the following suggestions to increase the effectiveness of Tier 1 instruction.


    • SEL skill modeling
    • Reinforcing academic skills in different settings
    • A culture of appreciation
    • Effective conflict resolution


    • Social emotional skills into academic instruction
    • Explicit instruction of new skills 
    • Supportive, encouraging language
    • Accessibility tools into assignments and curriculum
    • Student voice and choice


    • ELA curriculum based in structured literacy
    • Time set aside for small group instruction
    • Access to high quality instructional materials
    • Regular adjustments based on collected data 
    • Culturally relevant practices

Webinar: Getting the Most out of MTSS: The Added Benefits of Assistive Technology and MTSS

Multi-tiered systems of supports (MTSS) has been shown to promote positive academic and functional outcomes for all students. However, schools are struggling to find a balance between providing high quality core instruction and supplemental supports at Tiers 2 and 3. 

Assistive technology for struggling students, including those with disabilities, can ensure that all students access and benefit from core instruction while simultaneously receiving intervention to address identified deficit areas.

Examples of MTSS:

The graphic below shows the most commonly used MTSS intervention strategies, organized by tier.

Tier 1: Universal supports for all

  • Evidence based, standards aligned academic curriculum and instruction
  • High expectations for all students 
  • Positive classroom norms
  • Accessibility and inclusion best practices 
  • Universally Designed Learning (UDL)
  • Social Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • Academic skills benchmarking 3x/year
  • Progress monitoring
  • Universal accessible technology 
  • Varied and differentiated instruction and learning opportunities 

Tier 2: Targeted support for some

  • Delivered alongside Tier 1
  • Delivered in or out of the classroom
  • Targeted social emotional or behavioral skills small group instruction 
  • Academic skills small group instruction
  • Student self assessment and feedback
  • Progress monitoring
  • Includes only students with identified needs
  • Behavioral interventions should be available within 72 hours of an identified need
  • Evidence based interventions
  • SMART goal driven

Tier 3: Intensive individualized support for few

  • Delivered alongside Tiers 1 and 2
  • Highly individualized intervention and support based on students with the greatest needs
  • Intensive progress monitoring
  • “Wrap around,” or multidisciplinary team, support that often includes specialists

Webinar: The Intersection of UDL and MTSS: An Overview

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Multi-Tiered Systems of Support are often seen as separate initiatives. How can districts, schools, and classrooms combine them to make learning accessible to all students?

Join expert consultant Gayl Bowser for a free virtual session exploring the ways UDL can enhance learning at each tier.

Technology Integration in All Tiers of Instruction

Technology offers powerful ways to increase the success of any MTSS model. Using MTSS and technology effectively empowers educators with the right tools to meet the needs of their students. The technology below can resource districts to meet increasing academic and behavioral needs, support overwhelmed staff, and strengthen equity and inclusion.

MTSS software platforms 

  • Guide effective MTSS implementation
  • Organize data 
  • Offer a global snapshot of progress 
  • Store student support plans
  • Enhances early identification and intervention

Educational technology tools: 

  • Have documented benefits to students
  • Enhance Tier 1 instruction 
  • Provides targeted instruction at Tiers 2 and 3 
  • Often include integrated benchmark assessments
  • Enhances student choice

Accessible technology: 

  • Increases access to Tier 1 instruction
  • Supports students with challenges
  • Offers tools to differentiate curriculum (text leveling)
  • Empowers educators with options to assist with student’s needs
  • Provides targeted supports at Tiers 2 and 3
  • Enhances student choice