Skip To Main Content

Data-Based Problem Solving and Decision-Making

Data-Based Problem-Solving & Decision-Making Icon is light blue background with 5 line white bar graphs

Data-Based Problem Solving & Decision-Making

Summer 2022: MTSS Resources shared with Implementation Teams during training events

MTSS Component Definition:

A continuous improvement process used by teams to collect, analyze, and evaluate information to inform decision making at the system and student levels. (CDE, 2021) 

Within Data-Based Problem-Solving and Decision-Making (DBPSDM), schools may analyze data for a variety of reasons. For example, a school will use data to help determine the critical areas to focus on, and that is captured within a School Unified Improvement Plan (SUIP). Systems-level problem solving, such as the SUIP, a district-level UIP, or other school-wide or district-wide problem solving, can result in real change. There may be rapid improvement efforts or long-term efforts to change (at "scale" - or "across the whole system").

Another way data is used is when applying thinking to problem solving and processes to help students. Using data to help make decisions in support of students may occur: 

  1. across grade levels,
  2. within the same grade level,
  3. for groups of students, or
  4. for individual students.

With student-level problem solving practices, schools will "match supports to (student) needs". That is why data is so important; the process for problem solving is incomplete without having accessible and meaningful data to:

  1. inform the process,
  2. monitor implementation of plans, and
  3. evaluate if there is success. 

There is a responsibility to be strategic and consistent with the process so that: (a) accurate approaches are used and (b) any additional supports and services that need to be provided are secured.

Circle cycle graphic with arrows on black background; 4 quadrants read Define, Analyze, Implement, and Evaluate

Student Supports

There are some notes here (below) and more available on the SST webpage.

This MTSS component consists of analyzing information to make various decisions for the system and its stakeholders. In other words, it is about improving learning conditions and learning experiences - whether that is for an individual (e.g., a student, a family member, or a staff member) or for the whole system (e.g., class-wide, school-wide, or district-wide). Of course, the conversation should be focused on the right level: for each individual or "just one" or for the system or "everyone".

This component is most-frequently cited when Response to Intervention (RtI) is discussed. Many people have exclusively-associated RtI with problem solving for individualized student supports. As mentioned above, that is one application for problem solving, but not the only application. And isolating RtI to individual student supports only is not how the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) originally introduced RtI. However, the student-level focus for RtI has become a typical way RtI is interpreted and discussed in Colorado. 


Two female educators are sitting at a table looking onto a laptop screen, with other devices and papers around them.


One common misconception is that Data-Based Problem Solving and Decision-Making (DBPSDM) is only about that one level of application: problem solving for individual student needs. But this componentdoes not only apply to student-specific supports.

Instead, it should be noted that the same 4-step process (of Define, Analyze, Implement, and Evaluate) can and should be applied to all levels: individual student, groups of students or other stakeholders, classroom-wide, across the grade-level, school-wide, for staffing, for programs, for systems, and district-wide.

This notion is worth repeating because it is what makes a difference with understanding. If the same process can be used in so many different ways, then people can be very comfortable with the steps, using it consistently and effectively - building the skills that are needed to make good choices and improve outcomes. Furthermore, this process can and should be implemented for students who are performing at different levels, not just struggling learners. It is a myth that the process is only suggested for use with certain students, student groups, or challenge areas. Remember that the same four steps can be used with problem solving and decision-making for any and all learners and with adults.


In this component, adults are expected to actively collaborate; effective teaming should be defined and developed. If there are healthy teams working together in support of a common goal, it is more-likely to achieve results. When collaborating well, there is consistency and predictability. People feel more confident and ready to participate because they know what to expect and how they can contribute. As was mentioned above, data is a foundational element in this component. And when engaging in activities related to DBPSDM, routine use of data will help a team. Performance (or "outcome") data and fidelity (or "service delivery" or "implementation") data should be considered throughout (e.g., during planning and when checking on progress). Teams that use data maintain a focus on priorities and on making informed decisions. 

Leadership teams, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), grade-level or department teams, and other teams may engage in DBPSDM. In addition to those teaming structures, there are teams in schools that are specifically-dedicated to using team-based problem solving for students who may need intensified supports. These teams, typically referred to as Student Support Teams (SSTs) in TSD, exist to ensure individualized student supports are adequately and accurately-provided for students who have identified needs beyond those that are well-managed and supported through universal supports.

Because SSTs are intended for more-intensive support levels, each student should receive best first instruction through meaningful learning experiences prior to an SST engaging in the DBPSDM process for an individual student.

Assess, Analyze, and Match Supports

Each class within the school (and the school, as a whole) should ensure confidence in the school's efforts, by:

  1. using strengths-based, preventative approaches: seeking to leverage individuals' assets and to "prevent" obstacles to learning by setting up positive conditions for learning - from design through delivery and assessment (or "evaluations of learning");
  2. implementing programs and practices strategically: by following design plans, being strategic, and differentiating, as needed; and
  3. evaluating programming and service delivery, to clarify and verify if what is being done is being done well and as intended (i.e., fidelity to ensure impact).

And if a student's need(s) persist(s) - after various strategies have been provided, it may be determined that the student could benefit from more intensive supports. The SST would then engage in DBPSDM to clarify what might best meet the student's need(s).

Note: This is not a referral to special education; MTSS DBPSDM, used for the purposes that have been named above, and the use of the problem solving process by SSTs is not "the pathway to special education". The process is a strategic, protocoled method of planning, implementing, and evaluating supports. The process may assist in determining if supplemental supports beyond Universal (Tier 1) fit, but the process may also reveal that effective Tier 1 supports (alone) are sufficient. 

SST guidance (updated Fall 2021)

Family-Partnership Forms

Archived material (spring 2019-spring 2023)

Included below are (2) Flow Maps that describe the process of supports for individual student success, which begins with universal instruction. Limited guidance about special education identification is also referenced (in the SST flow map).

Resource: This is a Guidance for this MTSS Component and the Problem Solving Process (Feb 2020); much of what is on this webpage is included, along with additional considerations.  

Supports for student success and Student Support Team (SST) procedures follow a process that was created by a cross-district leadership group.

See the Supporting Student Success Process (flow) map and the SST Process (flow) map for details about how layers of supports should be provided to support individual students and for mechanisms to follow for SSTs. 

(Note: The flow maps are also included in the guidance document linked above.)


Posted by:

Use the Topic menu to view other MTSS pages. (You may need to click on the plus sign (+) to expand the options.)

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