A multi-tiered system of support (sometimes referred to as MTSS) is one where supports are built around the RtI program, so there is a plan to ensure that all students get the services that benefit them, while also accessing universally designed Tier I instruction with their peers. The RtI triangle is still the foundation of the model, but additional supports, surrounding the triangle, provide scaffolding and ensure that schools can implement the system effectively.
As I discussed in my book, UDL Now!, multi-tier systems of support combine the tiered practices of RtI and the value of professional learning for teachers so there is a focus on improving the outcomes of all students through school improvement, professional development, and collaboration[i].
Whereas RtI systems were built on a foundation of data-based decision making, multi-tier systems enhance the one-dimensional triangle by incorporating five additional components: problem solving, instructional strategies, classroom management, curriculum design, and professional development.
These MTSS components are explained below:
|Components of Multi-tier systems of support||Explanations|
|Problem solving and data-driven decision making||Teachers need time to collaborate and review student data so they can universally design lessons with options to meet the needs of all students. If there isn’t a culture of evidence-based decision-making, universal screening of students, and frequent assessments, it’s difficult to measure student growth and progress and whether or not they need additional intervention.|
|Instructional strategies and curriculum design||Districts must have systems in place so teachers can learn about UDL, so they understand how to implement the strategies and can design curriculum that meets the needs of all learners.|
|Classroom management||When all students are personalizing their learning, routines and expectations must be in place so students do not distract each other’s learning. Again, teachers need professional development in order to create environments that are conducive to UDL. This will not happen overnight.|
|Professional development||Teachers are learners and to meet the needs of all our kids, they need personalized opportunities that are universally designed, so they can grow as educators.|
At this point, you’re an education history buff and you understand the critical education initiatives of today and why they are so important to meet the needs of our kids. You’ll be happy to learn that there is a new federal legislative that recently replaced No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which requires UDL and multi-tiered systems of support for all districts in the country.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) got its name from its charge that all students were capable of achievement proficiency on standardized measures by 2014. The deadline has come and gone, and the achievement gap is still very much present. In short, NCLB failed to yield the results it set out to accomplish. It did, however, require schools to consider the needs of all students, especially those students at risk of failing or falling behind and helped educators to adopt a growth mindset, or the belief that if they tried hard enough and used the best strategies, they could improve the education for all students. This resulted in RtI in 2004, which evolved into the multi-tiered systems that districts are building today.
In December 2015, the new legislation that replaced NCLB, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), calls on one particular framework to eliminate inequities. Because of the research from the last 30 years, ESSA touts UDL seven times as best practice for all students. This brings us to present day, and it is critical that we help educators start the UDL movement in their classrooms.
 Universal screening tools are assessments given to every student at the beginning of the year to see where their achievement is in regards to specific grade-level standards.
[i]Dulaney, S. K., Hallam, P. R., & Wall, G. (2013). Superintendent Perceptions of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS): Obstacles and Opportunities for School System Reform. AASA Journal Of Scholarship & Practice, 10(2), 30-45.