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A multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) serves as a framework for schools to identify and meet the diverse needs of students. They are designed to provide a range of targeted supports to all students based on their individual academic, behavioral, and social-emotional needs. This results in more equitable resource distribution—students who need more get more. The tier of support each student receives is routinely reevaluated based on new information. This holistic approach requires teachers, administrators, and staff to collaborate to build positive learning environments. 

The comprehensive nature of MTSSs makes them particularly effective as a way to improve academic outcomes for all students. Research shows that MTSSs help to reduce internalized student behavior challenges, like anxiety, and externalized behavior challenges, like defiance. An MTSS framework can positively influence the physical well-being of students by reducing stress levels, which can in turn help improve sleep and immune function. Research also shows that MTSSs increase student self-awareness and empathy as well as teacher self-efficacy. Each of these facets of MTSSs are important to the process of improving student well-being and academic performance.

MTSS frameworks are typically made up of three tiers:

  • Tier 1: Universal supports for all students that are delivered classroom-wide, grade-wide, or school-wide. Tier 1 supports are proactive and may include the use of pedagogy such as the Universal Design for Learning approach, which makes a curriculum more accessible and engaging; the explicit development of social and emotional skills,  school-wide routines, and structures, to create a safe environment; incorporating physical activity into the daily schedule; and more.
  • Tier 2: Targeted supports for students identified as needing additional help and resources to address the gaps in their academic, behavioral, and social-emotional skills. Tier 2 supports are often managed in small groups and may include increased direct instruction, more frequent practice of social-emotional skills, and more deliberate use of positive reinforcement.
  • Tier 3: Intensive supports for students experiencing significant challenges that impact academic achievement,well-being, and social thriving. Tier 3 supports are often individualized and higher frequency, based on formal assessments, and may include specific mental health supports and specialized wraparound services.

A multi-tiered system of supports, which shares common elements with Response to Intervention (RTI) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), provides schools with a comprehensive, coordinated approach to meeting the diverse needs of all students. These support systems may include a variety of elements ranging from mindfulness exercises and learning accommodations to equity-focused practices and counseling. Early identification of needs and intervention are also emphasized so that students who may be struggling with academic or behavioral skills receive appropriate supports in a timely manner. Key components of the identification and intervention process include the following:

  • Data-Driven Insights: Successful implementation of MTSS frameworks relies on a strong system of data collection and monitoring. Data collection can include proficiency scores, attendance rates, disciplinary incidents, and professional evaluations, as well as insights from teachers, parents, and students themselves. 
  • Student Success Teams (SSTs): Small groups of teachers and administrators collect data and meet on a consistent cadence to review and monitor progress for individual students. During meetings, SSTs use a data review protocol both to analyze the percentage of students being served in each tier and to review data on individual students and determine whether they may need to shift between tiers. 
  • Evidence-Based Strategies: Systems and structures are established to help students develop stronger academic, social-emotional, and self-regulation skills. Strategies include practices like high-dosage tutoring, scaffolded curricula, equity-focused programs designed for belonging, and access to mental health services. Schools monitor the implementation of these practices to ensure fidelity and provide adult support and learning for improvement.
  • Specialized Services: Specialized supports may be needed to help students reach their full potential in school. These supports could include intensive, individualized instruction, assistive technology, learning accommodations, English Language Learner (ELL) resources, and speech or occupational therapy structured as Special Education (SPED), an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), or a 504 Plan. In an MTSS, specialized services might also include family engagement, access to mental health professionals, or community partnerships with local organizations.

What Makes This Innovative?

Whole-Child Focus

MTSS frameworks provide students with comprehensive support and guidance to foster their academic, social, emotional, and physical development. Each system recognizes the influence of factors, such as cultural context and personal interests and talents.

Affirmation of Self & Others

MTSS frameworks recognize the unique differences in individual students and target any necessary interventions accordingly. Addressing needs in this manner helps students experience a more inclusive, resilient school community.


MTSS resources and supports are tailored to each student’s needs as related to their particular context and development. Each student’s individual progress is monitored so that the support they receive can be adjusted as a part of their larger trajectory toward success.

MTSS Models on the Exchange

A variety of models on The Innovative Models Exchange reflect the diversity of approaches to the use of MTSS frameworks in schools.

Grades 9-12
ARISE High School

Adelante Student Services

Adelante Student Services supports all students to rise up by aligning academic, behavioral, and social-emotional approaches to ensure students and their families are provided integrated and responsive interventions attuned to their specific needs.

Grades K-12
BARR Center


Building Assets, Reducing Risks (BARR) is a strengths-based approach that leverages strong relationships and data-driven decisions to boost achievement for all students.

Grades 9-12
Da Vinci Schools

Da Vinci RISE High

The Da Vinci RISE High model uses a responsive and holistic approach—including flexible scheduling, blended learning, credit recovery, and wraparound social services—to meet the unique needs of students navigating foster care, housing instability, and other circumstances that have disrupted their schooling.

Grades K-12
The Father Mark Payne Institute

St. Benedict’s Model

St. Benedict’s model gives students tremendous leadership opportunities and fosters a strong sense of community so that students become responsible citizens eager to contribute to the community and the world.

Grades 6-8

The Arthur Project

The Arthur Project uses clinically focused mentors and the science of relationship-based learning to support students in maintaining their mental health as they navigate the many demands of middle school life.

Grades PK-5
Van Ness Elementary, A DCPS School

Whole Child Model

The Whole Child Model integrates multiple tiers of support throughout the school day to build a safe and supportive school climate as well as the intrapersonal and interpersonal skills young children need to regulate their emotions, manage stress, and handle conflicts productively.

Resources from Transcend and Beyond

The following resources can help deepen your understanding of MTSS and promote the design and implementation of a high-quality model, whether it’s one from The Innovative Models Exchange or one of your community designs.

A Comprehensive Guide to MTSS
Panorama Education

This overview explains the various elements of the MTSS framework, and how it works, and includes examples of schools and districts using the framework to support students and educators.

Connecting Schoolwide SEL with Other School-Based Frameworks
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

This CASEL guide explains how the impact of the MTSS framework is amplified when used in conjunction with SEL.

Integrated Support Systems
Learning Policy Institute

As a part of the Design Principles for Schools project, this explanation of Integrated Support Systems taps into what researchers have learned about the brain and development in recent decades, and includes a case study.

IRIS Resource Locator
The IRIS Center at Vanderbilt University

The IRIS Center is a hub for online resources on the MTSS framework, including videos, podcasts, and learning modules. It currently offers a free self-guided and self-paced online PD Certificate for Educators who want to learn more about evidence-based instructional and behavioral practices.

Leveraging MTSS to Ensure Equitable Outcomes
The Center on Multi-Tiered System of Supports

This brief is one of several resources available from the Center on Multi-Tiered System of Supports, an organization focused on helping schools implement an MTSS framework from a strengths-based perspective.