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Masters of Special Education with Academic Instruction Certification

Multi-Tier System of Supports - Topic 57

What is it?

Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS) is a conceptual framework for organizing schools and educating students through varying levels of support. According to Sugai and Horner (2009), MTSS is a broader term that encompasses several kinds of tiered support systems that go by various names, such as the more academically focused Response to Intervention (RTI) (Response to Instruction). Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) or School-Wide Positive Behavioral Support (SWPBS) are also MTSS that are more specific to addressing behavioral issues. Although there are variations on the basic theme, MTSS models share some common elements, including (a) universal screening for early identification of students who are not responding to evidence-based instruction, (b) multiple tiers of intervention that increase in intensity, (c) standardized problem solving protocols for decision-making, (d) data collection used for adjusting instruction, (e) emphasis on implementation integrity, and (f) assessments that help guide instruction and placement (Sugai & Horner 2009).

On the Kansas MTSS website, the tiered delivery of services is graphically represented using a pyramid labeled with “all” at the base, followed by “some” toward the top and “few” at the pinnacle. In this all-some-few model, services are allocated to progressively fewer students at increasingly intense and individualized levels. For example, all students receive education based on systematic assessment and data based decision-making, an evidence-based core curriculum, consistent discipline, and positive behavioral expectations.  This level of intervention aligns with Tier 1.  In an RTI model approximately 20% (some) of those students will require supplemental, targeted skills interventions in small groups with more recurring data collection and decision-making. A few more (5% of the second tier students) may need student-centered customized learning with more frequent monitoring to guide instruction.

Why is it important?

There are two main goals of MTSS, namely, closing gaps in student achievement and identifying students with learning disabilities. Sugai and Horner (2009) state that MTSS has grown out of the requirements in No Child Left Behind (2004) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004) for scientifically based instruction as a means to differentiate instruction, monitor student achievement, and identify students with learning disabilities. Although at the secondary educational level, the role as screening tool will be less prominent, MTSS is still an effective method for remediating gaps in skills, and supporting students with behavioral challenges.


Sugai, G. and Horner, R. H. Responsiveness-to-Intervention and School-Wide Positive Behavior

Supports: Integration of Multi-Tiered System Approaches. 2009. Exceptionality. 17 223–237.

Web Links

Kansas State Department of Education

Kansas Multi-Tier System of Supports

OSEP Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and Effective School-Wide Interventions

National Center on Response to Intervention

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