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Layered Continuum of Supports

Evidence Based Practices Instruction and Interventions

Two children are at a table in a classroom; one is looking on as the other is reading a book.

Layered Continuum of Supports

This MTSS Component is defined as: 

Ensuring that every student receives equitable whole child supports that are evidenced based, culturally responsive, matched to need, and developmentally appropriate through layered supports. (CDE, 2021)

Within a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), this is the component that most people recognize, and the definition provided above does focus on the prioritized attention to students and student outcomes. But, actually, we should remember that "tiered logic" (a.k.a. "thinking in tiers") applies to all stakeholder groups (i.e., families, staff, students, and community partners). Of course, the Continuum should also address multiple domains: academics, social-emotional wellness, and behavioral and mental health.

NOTE: Included in this definition is "Evidence-Based Practices" or EBPs (formerly, an identified MTSS Component). The attributes of EBPs are referenced in the Layered Continuum of Supports because the two are so closely-connected. Example resources include:

Supports should be planned so that there is a universal approach that is received by every beneficiary, not most or almost all, but each person for whom the practice, service, support, or intervention is intended.

This is an important distinction because it is sometimes perceived that most receive the Universal (or Tier 1) instruction or plan of action, and the rest get alternatives (Tier 2 or Tier 3). However, as the layered triangle visual (below) implies, "Universal" truly is meant for everyone. And if data and dialogues indicate that more should be provided, there are Targeted (Tier 2) and Intensive (Tier 3) supports available to be provided in response to identified need.

Connections: These "supports" do not need to be identical for each student or stakeholder; Data-Based Problem-Solving and Decision-Making (DBPSDM) will assist in determining the "best fit". There are three tiers, so supports may be more or less intensive, but...making decisions by exclusively looking at specific percentage(s) or numeric criteria may reduce the accurate provision of supports. Such data informs the process, but teams' use of the problem-solving process (as defined in DBPSDM) will help the system - and each team within the system - to ensure that high-quality improvement efforts are implemented. 

3 layered triangles: Largest green Universal on bottom, smaller yellow Targeted in middle, smallest red Intensive on top.

Layering Supports

To assist in building understanding about this component, a common phrase recited is: "supplement vs. supplant." That is said to remind individuals that the application of additional supports should be supplementary (or in addition) not supplanting (or in place of) existing supports. When supports are provided as replacements, the intended recipient is not receiving the full benefit by removing the universal (or "core") offering.

Notice that the language used here has been "individuals" instead of "students." The layers of support referred to within "tiered logic" do apply to each and every stakeholder group because the tiers should be considered when deploying services and supports, even beyond student-centered delivery. For example, a training module may be required of each employee (Tier 1 or Universal), and additional online courses may be provided to a select group of employees (Tier 2 or Targeted), and an additional focused workshop with coaching may be customized for a few employees (Tier 3 or Intensive). Within this example, it is not stating that certain employees are experiencing challenges; however, some information (e.g., prior learning, readiness) ensured that the right individuals are receiving the right intervention at the right level of intensity.

Because these layers may be administered strategically according to identified need beyond just "struggling" in an area, it is a misrepresentation to state that students (or others) are "moving through the tiers". That implies that the individual is entering in and out of a placement, instead of the fluidity of the tiers meaning that individuals are flexibly receiving supports - not as a permanent condition - but as a response to learning experiences and progress. The layers are meant to be accessed as needed, always seeking to match support to need. The term "interventions" is a word used to describe supports across all tiers. As supports or interventions are "intensified" (e.g, through increase in time and/or shift in strategy focus for a specific skill), data should be collected (about delivery of support/intervention and progress or change in performance). 

Respectful Language

One reminder about supports provided is that they should not be contingent on a "label" (as in, if a student has an identification); each student should have equitable access and opportunity to general education and Universal Supports (Tier 1). Additionally, a layer of support label (e.g., Tier 2 or Intensive Layer) should not be used to define an individual. As is visible in this slide from George Sugai, one individual may have many different areas of strengths and areas for growth. Therefore, individuals should not be described as being "in the red zone" or as a "Tier 2" (student/family/teacher) or as a "Green" (student/family/teacher). Referring to individuals according to the tiers may have become an unintended habit for some individuals who have familiarity with models that have multiple layers. But such language does not honor individuals' personal attributes and does not align with Person-First (or Person-Centered) language. (To download, person-first materials, see these CDE publications: Person First Handout and Person First Poster and Person First Poster in SPAN.) 


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