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The Ultimate Guide to MTSS: 3 Tiers of Support 

7 Min Read
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Are you interested in using MTSS to support students in your school or district? Wondering what the difference is between RTI and PBIS tiers? Need help getting started?

We’ve compiled the ultimate guide to MTSS and tiered intervention. Below is everything you need to know about what MTSS involves, how it is designed, and the best practices when adopting it at your school.

What is MTSS?

A multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) is a whole-student, preventative approach to providing the support necessary for success in schools. It uses regular screenings to identify areas of need early, giving targeted support to students based on those unique and varied needs.

MTSS is an umbrella framework that incorporates multiple evidence-based approaches to promote positive academic, social, behavioral, and emotional outcomes. The multi-tiered systems of support framework varies based on the unique needs of each school using it, but they often include:

  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)
  • Response to Intervention (RTI)

PBIS Tiers in MTSS

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a closely related framework to MTSS. This evidence-based tiered system of support promotes student success by teaching important behavioral skills. When practicing positive behaviors, students are more engaged in their learning, classroom disruptions occur less frequently, and students learn important skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and self-management.

RTI Tiers in MTSS

Response to Intervention (RTI) is another multi-tiered system of support that is supported by extensive research. Whereas PBIS tiers focus on providing behavioral support in the classroom, RTI focuses on providing academic support. RTI uses regular screenings to identify students who need additional academic help. Once those students have been identified and the interventions are applied, RTI monitors progress to ensure that ongoing support is accurately targeted to students at their respective levels of need.

Read more about MTSS, PBIS, and RTI.

MTSS Examples By Tier

Part of what makes MTSS so successful is the tiered structure of its resources. By screening students into different tiers, educators can use resources more intentionally to provide targeted interventions and optimize outcomes.

MTSS Tier 1 Interventions – Universal Supports

If you imagine the multi-tiered systems of support model as a pyramid, Tier 1 would be the largest section at the base of the structure. This tier provides universal support to all students, regardless of their placement, and in many schools, most students will remain in Tier 1. Ideally, these preventative measures help the majority of students succeed within the universal supports, minimizing the need for more aggressive resources in Tiers 2 and 3.

MTSS Tier 1 Intervention Examples

  • High-quality, evidence-based curriculum and instruction
  • Teaching critical skills (behavioral, social, academic) to promote success
  • School-wide behavioral expectations as part of a PBIS plan

MTSS Tier 2 Interventions – Targeted Supports

Tier 2 in MTSS typically accounts for a small fraction of students in a school. This tier provides targeted support to students who don’t respond to Tier 1 interventions and who need additional support in a particular area. As the name implies, Tier 2 supports are directed to the specific need of that student, so Tier 2 interventions might be applied in science learning, for example, while the student remains in Tier 1 for math and behavioral goals.

The tier distinctions are also flexible and require regular progress monitoring. It’s possible that a student responds favorably to their Tier 2 support and can return to Tier 1 and remain successful in the universal tier.

MTSS Tier 2 Intervention Examples

  • Small-group instruction
  • Additional opportunities to practice a skill
  • Extra learning time on a specific topic
  • Increased teacher feedback
  • Increased pre-instruction to promote desired outcomes

MTSS Tier 3 Interventions – Intensive Supports

The most involved tier is Tier 3, which in most schools accounts for a very small percentage of students. Students in this tier typically have chronic or ongoing needs and might also have learning differences or behavioral diagnoses. They aren’t responding to the small-group interventions in Tier 2 and require intensive support to be successful.

MTSS Tier 3 Intervention Examples

  • One-on-one support with a school counselor, instructional specialist, or therapist
  • Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP) or Individualized Education Program (IEP)
  • Support from professionals within the community

How to Implement MTSS at Your School or District

Using a multi-tiered system of support for your school or district is a valuable step toward greater student success. Here is what you need to get started.

Identify Your MTSS Goals

The first step in your MTSS planning process is to identify two to four key goals. What do you hope to accomplish with an MTSS framework? What particular skills or outcomes do you want to promote?

When identifying your goals, it’s important to assess where you currently stand. What data do you already have on hand, and what can it tell you about your school? Do you know where students struggle either academically or behaviorally? What are the general strengths and weaknesses in the school right now? Assessing your current environment will help guide you when identifying areas for improvement with an MTSS plan.

Invest in Teacher Buy-In

This is a great opportunity to promote teacher buy-in by inviting teachers to collaborate in the planning stages. They’ll have valuable insights into issues and needs at the classroom level and are critical partners for the successful adoption of your future MTSS program. Their input can help direct your goals and apply resources to wherever they’ll make the most impact.

Choose Your MTSS Plan

There are a few additional questions that you need to ask before you decide how you’ll use a multi-tiered systems of support. A variety of approaches to MTSS exist depending on the needs of your school or district. The important part is identifying which program is the right one for your needs.

When developing an MTSS plan, it’s important to ask:

  • How will you encourage and recognize positive outcomes? Will you use a school store, reward system, or other means?
  • What kind of professional training do educators need to help implement your new MTSS framework? How will you provide that support?
  • How will you coordinate the implementation process across your school or district? How will you ensure uniform adoption?
  • How will you monitor your data and track progress?

After answering the above questions, you are ready to either find the right MTSS program for your school or create one independently. Remember to follow evidence-based practices and regularly monitor progress so you can make data-driven decisions for your MTSS strategy.

Implement Your Multi-Tiered System of Support

Several best practices will set your MTSS framework up for success. Three or four times during the school year, use universal screenings to monitor how well your students are progressing toward academic and behavioral goals. Regular screenings allow you to properly assess student needs, ensuring that you provide focused support and resources to optimize outcomes.

Support Your Teachers in Adopting MTSS

Be sure to provide training, toolkits, and additional support for your teachers and staff before and during the implementation. Support for teachers and staff will empower your educators and give them critical tools for successful program adoption. Ongoing professional development related to multi-tiered systems of support ensures that teachers continue to use best practices in the classroom and are motivated to continue with the program.

Follow the Data

When following an MTSS framework, always make data-based decisions and implement research-based interventions.

The practices that encompass MTSS are evidence-based and supported by years of data. When you plan your MTSS framework, you will assess your school’s standing by reviewing data from academic results, behavioral referrals, surveys, and more. And when you move forward into implementing your MTSS program, you will continue to adjust the program based on what the data show you.

Data will inform what changes you make to your program, how to allocate your resources, and how to best support student success. Regular progress monitoring ensures that a specific student intervention or plan is working. It also confirms that the student is responding to the intervention and can move down to a lower tier of support, or it highlights that a plan is not working and needs adjustments. Reviewing data is an ongoing process that lasts throughout the lifecycle of your MTSS framework.


The advantages of developing a multi-tiered system of support continue to drive a growing number of schools to adopt their own MTSS frameworks. This guide will help you understand more about what encompasses MTSS tiered interventions and how you can create a program that benefits your students.

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


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