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Blog

It Takes a Village: MTSS in Schools

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

This summer, we have been writing about how it takes a village to help a student excel in school.  We mentioned things that you can do at home to help build motivation and set clear, consistent expectations and consequences for your child’s performance.  Now that it is August, your child will be going back to school where his/her teachers will spend the majority of time working towards making your student proficient at various academic skills.  This month, we will address the school’s Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) used to aid struggling students in general education to catch up to their peers. 

The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) defines MTSS as “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. “  This is a relatively new term that combines Response to Intervention (RtI) (a systematic intervention to aid students academically) and Positive Behavior Support (PBS) (a systematic intervention to aid students behaviorally).  As a critic of the traditional school system, I must applaud FDOE for pioneering the way to include data-based decision-making in the schools.  MTSS’s origins are rooted in Behavior Analysis - the branch of psychology we use at Precision TLC – and when used with fidelity, the students’ performance thrives. 

Let’s look at the academic side to MTSS.  There are 3 tiers of support that increase in intensity of intervention: Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3.  Tier 1 is a mild, blanketed intervention that is used for all students in a general classroom.  It ensures that if academics are not inline with the new Common Core Standards, the teacher can implement a mild intervention to help raise performance.  This can simply be a basic positive reinforcement intervention included in the classroom, for example a token economy.  In this example, the teacher would walk around the classroom with little plastic coins and distribute them to all students working diligently.  At the end of the day, the students could exchange their coins for little prizes.

After Tier 1 has been implemented for a time, and some students are still struggling with their performance, an additional layer of intervention would be added to Tier 1.  Tier 2 is a supplement to Tier 1 and is a bit more focused on the problem at hand.  For example, let’s say a teacher introduced a new lesson about fractions.  She already has a token-economy in place to make sure each child is focused when completing their class work.  However, a group of 5 students just are not grasping the difference between adding and multiplying fractions.  For a Tier 2 intervention, the teacher could take these 5 students to the side and give them more instruction and/or practice to allow their performance to rise to the levels of the other students in the classroom.   Therefore, the general classroom teacher or a supplemental teacher, in or outside of the classroom, can administer Tier 2. 

The last level of intervention is Tier 3.  Again, in addition to Tiers 1 & 2, Tier 3 serves to remedy the barrier to academic proficiency.  Tier 3 is very similar to Tier 2; however, Tier 3 is simply more intense.  Therefore, the teacher could still pull a few students to the side for more time or more focused instruction.  Yet, the time will be longer and the instruction will be more precise with Tier 3.  Further, the group will be smaller (1-3 students) allowing for specific instruction and error correction for each individual student.

When MTSS is administered with fidelity, data are taken at each level to ensure teachers and their supervisors are doing all they can to be flexible with student learning while not allowing any student to fall between the cracks.  You can ask for these data during your meetings with teachers to see how your child responds to these various levels of intervention.  So, when you ask the teacher, “How is my child doing?” you can now talk about various forms of interventions with respect to the 3 Tiers of MTSS.  You can probe the teacher by asking what type of intervention is currently in place for Tier 1 and does my student need to be elevated to a Tier 2 level of intervention? 

Unfortunately, many schools are not implementing MTSS with fidelity.  There are extensive tests and checks that are being conducted within the school district to see if even Tier 1 is being used, let alone the other tiers and other aspects of MTSS we did not mention in this article.  Therefore, you may need to take matters into your own hands and provide supplemental academic services to enhance your child’s skills so that he/she can be successful in the classroom.  We at Precision TLC would love to help you with that! 

Click here to read more about MTSS