September 13, 2019


Lynn Ehlers

Kate Pechacek

This probably isn’t the first you’re ever hearing about interventions. All good instructional practices utilize them for long-term learner success. But implementing multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) interventions that are continually being…

  • Tracked;
  • Monitored; and
  • Tied to program evaluation

…could be new for you.

What are the best practices of MTSS intervention strategies, and how do they fit in with daily instruction? In this blog, you’ll learn more about the different MTSS tiers and how interventions are typically implemented in an MTSS platform in school systems.

What is a multi-tiered system of support in schools?

A multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) is a framework with a tiered infrastructure that uses data to help match academic and social-emotional behavior (SEB) assessment and instructional resources to each and every student’s needs.

It allows educators to be thoughtful about using their resources appropriately and effectively while using data to monitor their actions. The data-informed framework implemented in MTSS systems shows educators how well students are responding to core instruction.

Using the MTSS model, districts can also close the gap on common challenges within their standard practices that might exist, such as:

  • Limited resources
  • Lack of program effectiveness
  • Difficulty with collaboration

MTSS interventions: What are they and how do they work?

An intervention is identified as an additional instructional resource or support that goes beyond high-quality classroom instruction that all students receive, and that is aligned to a specific student’s—or group of students’—needs.

Interventions can take a variety of forms and may look different across districts. An intervention could be:

  • A program adopted by the district that supports skill development, whether as a computer-based program or a hands-on workshop.
  • A change in instructional approaches, such as a double dose of explicit, systematic instruction.
  • A specific instructional strategy intended to align directly to an individualized need that a student or group of students may have.

How do interventions work? MTSS interventions are not only implemented for students who are struggling or who have clear academic needs. In MTSS, educators are systematically looking at each student to identify three areas of need:

  • Academic
  • Behavioral
  • Social-emotional

From there, we implement interventions for students who are struggling or who need more of a challenge.

Key components of MTSS

A multi-tiered system of support takes a proactive approach to identifying students with academic or behavioral needs through early assessment. In the best interest of the student, MTSS must include all key components for optimal success. They include:

  • Universal screening of all students early in the school year and again halfway through
  • Tiers of interventions that can be amplified in response to levels of need
  • Ongoing data collection and continual assessments
  • Schoolwide approach to expectations and supports
  • Parent and family involvement

Implementing MTSS strategies

Discover tools from Renaissance that help you to identify and meet every learner’s needs.

3 tiers of MTSS intervention

Understanding the three tiers of MTSS intervention is key to successfully implementing the strategies in the classroom. The three MTSS tiers help schools to organize levels of support based on intensity so that students receive necessary instruction, support, and interventions based on need.

Keep in mind that students can be in different MTSS tiers for different needs at the same time. For example, you might have a student in Tier 2 struggling with social-emotional behavior needs while succeeding in Tier 1 for reading but in Tier 3 for math.

MTSS Tier 1: Universal instruction

Universal instruction is the largest tier and is the foundation for the entire framework of MTSS interventions.

Tier 1 covers the high-quality classroom instruction that all students receive. This teaching approach works to accommodate the needs and abilities of all learners and eliminates unnecessary hurdles in the process. It includes proactive classroom management strategies aimed at creating a supportive atmosphere.

This tier encompasses best practices and differentiated instruction and is constantly refined by what is working at MTSS Tier 2 and MTSS Tier 3. A district typically likes to see 80–90% of students in MTSS Tier 1.

What is an example of universal instruction?

With universal instruction, educators typically use a teaching style that follows a three-step pattern:

  • Direct
  • Discuss
  • Delegate

Teachers understand that even with universal instruction, all students have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning, so the teacher must implement a variety of methods to teach information.

For example, teachers can utilize digital content over paper content to help meet the needs of many students. With digital content, you can:

  • Use text-to-talk
  • Utilize the internet
  • Increase font size
  • Utilize external links for more detailed information

Educators can also share content in many ways by using multiple means of representation:

  • Utilize the textbook
  • Watch videos
  • Listen to an audio lesson
  • Use manipulatives

Finally, educators can offer choices to students when it comes to test taking. Just as you offered options for how students learn the material, allow them to demonstrate their knowledge in different ways:

  • Demonstration
  • Slideshow
  • Speech
  • Essay
  • Video
  • Digitized test over pencil and paper

MTSS Tier 2: Targeted and group interventions

Once students are identified as struggling, targeted and group interventions—or evidence-based supports—are provided to help. The students in Tier 2 require a little extra assistance in meeting academic and/or behavioral goals, which happens here.

Typically, Tier 2 interventions are implemented in small group settings for students who identify similar needs through their assessments. This also helps with systematic efficiency.

The targeted support in Tier 2 allows struggling students to catch up with their peers. Districts typically expect to see 10–25% of students in Tier 2.

What is an example of targeted, group interventions?

Many classrooms utilize reading groups as a way to implement group interventions. How does this work?

Small groups of students are selected based on their reading needs as identified through diagnostic assessments, with a focus on the big idea(s) in reading that the students need to develop. This might involve reading a lower-level book that follows the same theme as a book the rest of the class is reading, for example.

MTSS Tier 3: Intensive individualized interventions

If students don’t respond well to Tier 2 supports or demonstrate a more intense need, Tier 3 supports provide more frequent, intense, and individualized interventions. Tier 3 interventions include strategies for maximizing student outcomes during core instruction, as well as supports that can be used at home. Individualized supports in Tier 3 can also include assistance from outside agencies such as behavioral counselors or family therapists.

Districts usually expect to see less than 10% of students in Tier 3.

What is an example of intensive individualized interventions?

A student with Tier 3 needs in math may be pulled out of the classroom for extra help with a goal to support the math skills being taught. During this one-on-one time, educators might utilize different methods of learning or incorporate different tools to help a student understand a concept. For example, using math manipulatives as a visual to understand numbers.

This could also look like educators meeting the student at the level of math that they’re at and working with them from there. For example, while the rest of the class is learning long division with numbers with large values, a Tier 3 student might be working on dividing two smaller numbers.

Understanding the MTSS pyramid

The figure below helps educators to visualize the MTSS tiers, with Tier 1 being the largest at the bottom and Tier 3 being the smallest and most intense at the top.

The MTSS pyramid, showing all three tiers

Identifying at-risk students for an MTSS intervention

Typically, districts utilize a universal screening assessment, such as FastBridge or Star Assessments from Renaissance, to help identify at-risk students. Screening should be done at the beginning of the year and again periodically throughout the year for math, reading, and social-emotional behavior.

If a student is identified as potentially at-risk, their specific need is then identified with diagnostics. Diagnostic assessments help pinpoint the exact area of need for better intervention alignment. Utilizing a quality assessment tool helps to combine universal screening, diagnostic, and intervention into a single process.

How to determine which MTSS intervention strategies to implement with a student

Educators should utilize the Problem-Solving Cycle to help decide which MTSS intervention strategies could be best for a student. The Problem-Solving Cycle involves these steps:

Steps 1–2: Use universal screening for data and skill analysis and diagnostics to identify the area of need or acceleration.

Step 3: Based on the data you gather, analyze and select an aligned intervention and create a plan for implementing it. Your plan should specify:

  • The student’s need
  • Measurable goals
  • Specific information about the intervention (what it is, where it’s happening, duration, setting, who is facilitating, etc.)

Next, implement the intervention with fidelity, as described in the plan. Collect all necessary data, record student attendance, the duration, any comments, and fidelity metrics.

Step 4: Frequently administer a progress monitoring measure tied to the intervention needs to help track whether the intervention is improving student outcomes and if it’s working quickly enough.

Step 5: Review the progress monitoring data and intervention data to evaluate and reflect on how the student is responding to the intervention. From here, decide whether to adjust the intervention, continue with it, or fade it out.

It’s crucial that with each step, you are evaluating and adjusting actions to help improve the outcome for students.

Problem-Solving Cycle for MTSS interventions
Problem-Solving Cycle for MTSS interventions

Take advantage of Renaissance resources to provide an organizational structure for students to succeed

MTSS interventions and MTSS tiers are crucial for learner success. Not only do they provide all students with what they need to succeed, but they also help to quickly catch students up to where they need to be in their learning.

By implementing Tier 1 and Tier 2 interventions, educators can ensure that targeted supports are provided without exhausting or debilitating Tier 3 resources.

How can you do this successfully?

Renaissance has the tools and resources educators need to set their students up for success. We support districts nationwide with…

  • Assessments;
  • Intervention tracking and documentation; and
  • Effective evaluation reports

… for successful MTSS implementations. Learn how Renaissance can help you successfully implement MTSS interventions in your school district. Connect with an expert today.

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