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What Is Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS)?

A Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) is a term used to describe an evidence- based model of schooling that uses data-based problem-solving to integrate academic and behavioral instruction and intervention.  The integrated instruction and intervention is delivered to students in varying intensities (multiple tiers) based on student need.  “Need-driven” decision-making seeks to ensure that district resources reach the appropriate students (schools) at the appropriate levels to accelerate the performance of ALL students to achieve and/or exceed proficiency.

The MTSS framework utilizes a 3-tier approach to provide ALL students with the best opportunities to succeed academically and behaviorally in school. MTSS focuses on:

  • providing high quality instruction and interventions matched to student need.
  • monitoring progress frequently to make decisions about changes in instruction or goals.
  • using data-based decision making to allocate supports to improve student learning.
  • supporting staff implementation of effective evidenced-based practices.
  • implementing a problem solving model as the underlying mechanism for positive change

Tier 1 is what “ALL” students get in the form of instruction (academic and behavior/social-emotional) and student supports.  Tier 1 focuses on the implementation of the district’s Core Curriculum. Tier 1 services (time and focus) are based on the needs of the students in a particular school.  Some schools require more time than other schools in particular core curriculum areas based on student demographics (readiness, language, economic factors) and student performance levels to ensure that all students reach and/or exceed state proficiency levels.

Tier 2 is what “some” students receive in addition to Tier 1 instruction. The purpose of Tier 2 instruction and supports is to improve student performance under Tier 1 performance expectations (levels and conditions of performance).   Tier 2 services are more “intense” (more time, narrow focus of instruction/intervention) than Tier 1.  Tier 2 services can be provided by a variety of professionals (e.g., general education and/or remedial teachers, behavior specialists) in any setting (general education classroom, separate settings, home).

Tier 3 is what “few” students receive and is the most intense service level a school can provide to a student.  Typically, Tier 3 services are provided to very small groups and/or individual students.  The purpose of Tier 3 services is to help students overcome significant barriers to learning academic and/or behavior skills required for school success.  Tier 3 services require more time and a more narrow focus of instruction/intervention than Tier 2 services.  Tier 3 services require effective levels of collaboration and coordination among the staff (general and specialized) providing services to the student.  The expected outcome of Tier 3 services, combined with Tiers 1 and 2, is that the student(s) will achieve Tier 1 proficiency levels (academic and/or behavior) established by the district.

MTSS Informational Links:

George Sugai Discusses MTSS

Kansas Multi-Tier System of Supports

Florida’s Multi-Tier System of Supports

RTI Action Network

Michigan’s Integrated Behavior and Learning Support Initiative

School-Wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (SW-PBIS) is a framework or approach comprised of intervention practices and organizational systems for establishing the social culture, learning and teaching environment, and the individual behavior supports needed to achieve academic and social success for all students. SW-PBIS is also known as Universal and/or Tier 1 supports.  Decades of converging research have consistently demonstrated that these strategies are individually and collectively effective and efficient. In addition, SW-PBIS has relevant applications to educating ALL students.

Characteristics of SW-PBIS schools include:

  • a common purpose and approach to discipline
  • a clear set of school-wide behavioral expectations
  • procedures for teaching school-wide expectations
  • a continuum of procedures to encourage appropriate behavior and discourage inappropriate behavior on-going monitoring and evaluation procedures

Improved School Environments

A key feature of SW-PBIS is building a safe and supportive school environment. School environment is often referred to as school climate. “School climate refers to factors that contribute to the tone in schools, and the attitudes of staff and students toward their schools. Positive school climate is associated with well-managed classrooms and common areas, high and clearly stated expectations concerning individual responsibility, feeling safe at school, and teachers and staff that consistently acknowledge all students and fairly address their behavior” (Spier, Cai, & Osher, 2007, pg 1). Research has demonstrated a link between positive school climate and healthy child development, effective risk prevention efforts, academic achievement, and increased graduation rates (Thapa, A., Cohen, J., Guffey, S., & Higgins-D’Alessandro, A., 2013).

Following the PBIS philosophy, staff are responsible for creating an environment where students succeed behaviorally and academically. This is accomplished by systematically designing the environment to reduce behavior triggers, clearly defining schoolwide behavior expectations, developing procedures for teaching the expected behaviors, consistently reinforcing positive behavior, and developing clear disciplinary procedures known by staff and students alike.

Tier 1 SW-PBIS Resources

PBIS Fact Sheet

ODE Policy on Positive Behavior Interventions and Support, and Restraint and Seclusion:

ODE PBIS for Administrators

ODE PBIS for Educators

ODE PBIS for Families


PBIS Informational Links:

OSEP Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports

Ohio Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports

Equity in PBIS

Creating Safe Schools through Positive Discipline-US Dept. Of Ed.

School-Wide Information Systems (SWIS)

PBIS Assessment

Florida’s Positive Behavior Support Project: A Multi-tiered Support System

Maryland’s PBIS Initiative

Wisconsin PBIS Network

Helping students and educators close achievement gaps in Central Ohio.

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