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Multi-Tiered System of Supports

What is MTSS?

Often referred to as the “way we do business" in schools, MTSS is an organizational framework intended to improve outcomes through the effective convening of adults. But a school or a district isn't "the way we do business," it IS the business. A school or a district IS a Multi-Tiered System of Supports.

We can say we are a Multi-Tiered Thompson School District of Supports!

*TSD MTSS newsletters were published until the end of the 2022-2023 school year; archives are currently-available on the MTSS News and Technical Assistance site

A constant focus with MTSS is to support each and every stakeholder within the system. A system may be: a classroom, a school, a program, or a district. A Multi-Tiered System of Supports is a comprehensive, continuous-improvement framework. In any system - in any field or industry - there are many parts that make up the system. The same is true for schools and districts.


Logo that says MTSS and TSD: Multi-Tiered System of Supports


Educational systems include many different roles and responsibilities, activities, projects, grades, programs, etc. With MTSS thinking in mind, schools and districts integrate and align academic standards, behavioral expectations, and adult activities to accelerate growth and reinforce progress.

You may notice that we use MTSS in a couple of different ways. Sometimes, we use "MTSS" as an adjective or a descriptor, as in the phrase: "MTSS framework."

Example: The MTSS framework consists of many elements, such as different support levels or "tiers". However, we are not talking about the whole framework when we talk about the "tiers", which are referred to as a layered continuum of supports.We use tiers, or layers of support, to help match the right supports to the identified need and the readiness of the individual(s) involved.

But the layered continuum of supports is only one Component of MTSS. Sometimes, the MTSS framework is REDUCED in its description, and the supports in the layered continuum, or the "tiers", are the only thing that people know about the MTSS framework. Such a singular focus eliminates all of the other Essential MTSS Components and the value that is added by applying implementation science.   

And although MTSS may be used as an adjective - to describe the framework, MTSS is also used as a noun. We will say that our district is ONE system - ONE "Multi-Tiered" System of Supports. And each school within our district is its own "Multi-Tiered SYSTEM of Supports". Just like other nouns, it has an identity.

  • The Thompson School District IS a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS). You can substitute the name of your system (i.e., school or district) in the title of MTSS itself to make that even more clear. As in...We are a "Multi-Tiered Thompson School District of Supports". If we say that AND mean that, we are declaring that we are one UNIFIED and UNITED system. We have many layers, many supports...and many "sub-systems", and we ARE an MTSS!
      • This and the following/related webpages explore the meaning of MTSS and its Essential Components. 
      • Note: You may visit the CO-MTSS website for state-level guidance.

It can be helpful to know that within Colorado, there has been an evolution over time to reach the current understanding of MTSS. The Thompson School District (TSD) aligns its implementation of MTSS with the following description from the state.

The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) defines MTSS as: 

a prevention-based framework of team-driven, data-based problem solving to improve the outcomes of every student through family, school, and community partnering, comprehensive screening and assessment, and a layered continuum of evidence-based practices applied at classroom, school, district, region, and state level. (2021)

As noted above, this definition asks that the district functions as one system, with many "sub-systems" (or smaller systems) within it and many supports (such as instruction and learning practices) also included. That means that a school district's resources, personnel, and operations should all be connected to contribute to the success of each school and each student.

Resources: The district's various resources (like time/scheduling, funding, materials, etc.) should be used strategically. By setting up systems and structures that reduce or remove learning challenges or barriers, MTSS enables each stakeholder to benefit from safe and supportive learning environments. When we say MTSS is prevention-basedwe are talking about how it focuses on the pre-conditions; it's what we "put in place" (BEFORE) instead of waiting for losses or failures. We want to support each stakeholder from the start, to avoid feeling "reactive".  

Personnel: Our school district employs high-quality staff and collaborates with families and community partners to provide services. The people (staff, family, and community) are all personnel that have an effect on our schools. Note that students are both beneficiaries and constituents. They are "personnel", too! Let us capitalize on their talents and skills, while also consistently working to support their development.

We need to be sure that all personnel (staff, family, and community members) feel they

have the knowledge, skills, and opportunities to contribute to our system.

Each individual adds value and should feel valued.  

Operations: That means we need efficient and effective "operations" so that we have faith in our procedures and how we function. The "way we do things" are our Operations. That includes how we run transportation routes, how technology is updated, how we write policies, how meetings are scheduled and conducted, how we create and execute plans, etc. 

A primary goal in education is to secure access, opportunity,

and educational benefit in each learning experience.

We need to work together to make that happen. The ideas behind MTSS are represented in  Strive 2025 (the TSD strategic plan). Through the use of implementation science and the active engagement of each stakeholder, TSD will prepare students for any pathway in life


Screenshot of slide-Why MTSS

Because there have been varied understandings about MTSS across the country, some confusions may exist about what MTSS is and what it can "offer" as a benefit.

For example, MTSS has been described as replacing Response to Intervention (RtI) or Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Or it has been said that MTSS serves as the combination of the two - without clarity about what that means or how various attributes are connected.

  • Please Note: RtI is still in law in Colorado, and there is a responsibility to implement it well.

In Colorado, schools and districts have had different interpretations about how to think about RtI and PBIS in relation to MTSS. Historically, both have had strong identities as responsive and supportive frameworks. Current definitions of MTSS note that MTSS is not just the coming together of RtI and PBIS. In the past, some people have said that "RtI + PBIS = MTSS". That would assume there was clarity about RtI and PBIS, which there often has not been. But MTSS is more than just summarizing how RtI and PBIS "come together" as one entity. 


Four shiny, interlocking puzzle pieces of various colors

To say it simply: MTSS is the what and the how.


  1. There are core features of MTSS that we can recognize! Identifying those core features is seeing MTSS as "the WHAT". As in, MTSS is a collection of puzzle pieces, each with its own curves, colors, and connectors; those are the parts of the system.
  2. And MTSS is also the HOW - as in, MTSS helps make sense of each puzzle piece, linking them all together in a pattern where each piece contributes to a complete picture. If we do not think strategically about the process for how to complete the puzzle, we may not ever connect the pieces correctly. Putting together all the core features (or 'puzzle pieces') so that they fit is the "how".

Therefore, MTSS is both the parts (of the puzzle) AND the whole! It is the "assembly" or implementation of those parts that gives the framework real strength, stability, and sustainability. We see the what as the features (or the "parts") that we call  MTSS Essential Components and the how is implementation science (the "glue", the solving of the puzzle...) that helps it take shape. Both the WHAT and the HOW help create the MTSS framework "as a whole"!

What is MTSS?

  • A framework

  • Preventative and Responsive

  • Team-Oriented and collaborative

  • System-level, adult-level, and student-level supports

  • Applies tiered logic to improve outcomes for each stakeholder

  • Implemented across all levels (EC, classroom, school, district)

  • Culturally-responsive and inclusive across all domains

  • Systems change/maintenance, educational reform, and "how we operate"

  • Builds the individual and collective capacity of each (adult and student) stakeholder

  • Creates, reinforces, and sustains a culture of Data-Based Problem Solving and Decision-Making

  • Informed by Implementation Science (principles and practices)

  • Includes RtI & PBIS, with additional focus on:

{a} change processes and project management,

{b} infrastructure (i.e., systems) development, and

{c} capacity-building (or competency development)

What MTSS is not...

  • A process, program, model, or initiative

  • Punitive and Reactive

  • Person-specific or Individual-dependent

  • Student interventions only

  • "Assigning" students to three separate, divided tiers

  • Implemented at schools only

  • Exclusionary or only focused on Academics or Behavior

  • Isolated to certain activities (e.g., special education identification) 

  • Focuses only on student capacity-building

  • Limited to conducting individual problem solving with students who struggle

  • Incoherent or lacking intentional approaches

  •  “RtI + PBIS…” or “RtI 2.0…” or “Replaced by or Replacing PBIS or RtI…”

This is the logo for the CO-MTSS framework. It


(state department content/resources)


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TSD MTSS website: original © Summer 2019, Website Refresh resulting in page reduction/removal: Summer 2023