Using multi-tiered systems of support, or MTSS, can help administrators and teachers better support student success, like this student in a chalk rocket ship bound for success and growth.

5 best practices for implementing MTSS

Using multi-tiered systems of support, or MTSS, can help administrators and teachers better support student success

Every administrator and teacher wants to find the secret recipe that helps every student succeed. Though there’s not one right way to get there, there are proven strategies to support learners.

As a practicing educator for 15 years, I’ve had the opportunity to implement and oversee support systems. I was responsible for coordinating my district’s multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) and Response to intervention (RtI) implementation, and am familiar with the challenges that can come with the process of beginning an MTSS and/or RtI initiative.

Related content: How intentional leadership can help PBIS

Using the RTI Action Network’s Tiered Instruction/Intervention models as a guide, here are five best practices for implementing a MTSS to support student growth.

1. Think broader.

It can be easy to become overly focused on the student interventions that are more intensive, but it’s equally important to monitor student progress on a broader scale. If Tier I instruction, assessment, and support practices aren’t effective, issues are likely to arise later on. When every student is visible and monitored, it’s easier to intervene early and provide support at critical points in their academic journeys.

My general rule of thumb is that 70 to 80 percent of students should be meeting their benchmarks at any given time. If that’s not happening, the next step should be to examine core instruction and identify if there’s additional support that teachers need, or if instructional practices need to be adjusted. Students are walking into the classroom with varying needs, and it’s up to educators to be able to adapt to them.

I also suggest creating a dedicated team responsible for analyzing Tier I data on a regular basis. Districts should also conduct screening assessments throughout the year to track student progress.

It’s important to have a system in place to help monitor student data. I’d suggest finding a solution that also has the ability to create assessments and monitor data in one platform, such as Illuminate Education’s eduCLIMBER.

2. Review your assessment system.

For a MTSS initiative to be successful, you need to have effective, balanced assessment practices in place.
Here are some questions to consider:

• Do we understand each of our assessments and the purpose they serve?

o If you don’t know the purpose behind the assessments you’re giving, you may not be collecting the right data.

• Are we administering the right assessments to the right students?

o Some students may require more support than others. Are you providing consistent progress monitoring testing? If you aren’t, you can’t effectively measure if the interventions you’re providing are working.

• Are we administering too many assessments?

o It’s easy to fall into a rut of testing students. But, the fact is that over testing can be just as detrimental as under testing. It’s important to consider if the data you’re receiving from any given assessment is worth the time investment and the benefit it’s providing to the student.

3. Create Data Analysis Teams (DATs)

Your district may call it something else, but for our purposes here, we’ll use Joseph Kovaleski’s term “Data Analysis Team,” or DAT. I recommend making sure you have multiple DATs for different purposes.

Here’s a few examples of DATs and their responsibilities:

• Universal DAT: Meets intermittently throughout the year to check on general, Tier I student progress.

• Intervention DAT: Meets more often to conduct academic interventions and behavioral or social-emotional learning (SEL) meetings. This team also reviews student progress to determine if interventions are working and identify action items for students.

• Program DAT: Meets every few months to examine data for students with Tier II and III interventions.

4. Set guidelines early.

Educators need guidelines to follow when making instructional decisions for students.

Consider making rules that outline the following factors:

• What do we consider at, above, and below benchmark?
• At which points should students begin receiving intervention?
• How many data points do we need before adjusting or changing an intervention?

If these guidelines aren’t determined prior to implementing a MTSS, it’s challenging to make effective, data-informed and consistent decisions for students. It can also put additional pressure on educators when making student intervention plans and assessing growth.

5. Track internal progress.

Sometimes, it may seem like MTSS interventions or practices aren’t making an impact –when in reality it’s a matter of how well the system has been implemented. When creating an intervention plan for a student, it’s crucial to identify the needs and goals for every individual student.

The specifics of student interventions should always be clearly outlined and be consistent with the actual support that students are given. If actions don’t match the plan, we can’t evaluate whether an intervention is effective.

Having a strategy, tools, and educator support is essential to the success of a MTSS. Though there’s not a perfect, one-size-fits-all blueprint to making MTSS go smoothly or effectively, having data-backed systems and educator-led support in place is an incredibly positive start.

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