Multi-Tiered System of Supports

    A Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) is a framework that brings together the academic, behavioral, social, and emotional instruction and supports for students in our schools, district, and larger community. MTSS is a core element of our strategic plan designed to eliminate opportunity and achievement gaps for students of color; students receiving special education services; students who are not yet proficient in English; and/or students who come from low-income households. A strong system of academic, behavioral, social and emotional instruction and supports for our students ultimately helps us achieve our mission and vision.

    Within an MTSS framework, all students receive core academic, behavioral, social and emotional instruction. Any student requiring more attention may receive additional intensive or individualized levels or “tiers” of support depending on need. With MTSS, we often consider how academic, behavioral, and social-emotional factors are connected when identifying needed supports for students. 

    A foundational principle of MTSS is inclusion. Inclusion is the practice of educating children from diverse backgrounds and ability levels together, rather than in separate programs, or in schools other than their home school. There is a large body of evidence supporting the academic and social benefits of ensuring that all students and families are active, participating and valued members of their school and larger communities. 

    Over the past two years, teams of teachers, specialists, administrators, parents and community members have been working to advise in the development a Multi-Tiered System of Supports to serve all students in our district. 

    Summary of 2018-19 District Efforts

    During the 2018-19 school year, we piloted elements of an MTSS framework in schools. The goal of the pilot process was to gather information that will ultimately be used to help each school in the district refine or establish tiered academic, behavioral, social, and emotional supports. 

    Leadership teams in pilot schools were provided with training and support to expand or implement one or more tiered support systems in the school using data and evidence-based interventions. Pilot schools provided feedback to a district MTSS Leadership Team about needed support and resources to carry out and sustain tiered supports. 

    We partnered with the SWIFT Education Center to guide our implementation and pilot efforts this year. SWIFT is a national technical assistance center that builds whole system—state, district, school, and community—capacity to provide academic and behavioral support to improve outcomes for all students.

    As part of our pilot process, leadership teams from 11 elementary and middle schools attended district-coordinated training sessions provided by the director of the Northwest PBIS Network (NWPBIS). NWPBIS provides training and technical assistance to schools and districts in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Training sessions covered a range of topics important to establishing a strong “Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports” including delivering common, consistent classroom and school-wide instructional practices to promote positive behavior; establishing positive reinforcement and discipline systems; and using data to make decisions.

    In addition, a work group of general education and special education teachers, paraeducators, administrators, parents, district administrators and specialists met to learn more about inclusion and to build upon the successful efforts in our schools to foster inclusive learning communities. The role of work group members is to become more informed about inclusion, share learning with people in our schools and district, and to advise on plans to continue to support inclusion efforts in 2019-20 as part of our larger MTSS work.  

    Summary of 2017-18 District Efforts

    During the 2017-18 school year, an advisory team consisting of teachers, specialists, administrators and parents met to learn about existing academic, behavioral and social-emotional supports in LWSD. The team provided recommendations for the development of tiered systems of support in our schools, including a 2018-19 pilot process.

    Advisory Meeting Summaries

    June 2018

    In June, MTSS advisory team members reviewed written MTSS frameworks from Washington, California, Colorado, and Florida and provided input on the components of a written framework for Lake Washington School District.

    Advisory members also discussed the role of the advisory in 2018-19, and the district’s 2018-19 MTSS pilot process.


    May 2018

    In May, MTSS advisory team members learned about the supports provided by our Directors of School Support. Following a presentation by Director, Rick Burden, the team discussed roles of school-based teams in a Multi-Tiered System of Supports and reviewed the article What’s Your Plan? Accurate Decision Making within a Multi-Tier System of Supports: Critical Areas in Tier 1 by Terri Metcalf, M.Ed., J.D., Michigan’s Integrated Behavior and Learning Support Initiative (MiBLSi).


    March 2018

    In March, MTSS advisory team members read and discussed Response to Intervention for Gifted Children by The Association for the Gifted, a Division of the Council for Exceptional Children.

    Following the discussion, Heather Sanchez Director Accelerated Programs, Choice and Innovation provided an overview of accelerated programs and services in the Lake Washington School District. She then led a discussion of connections to MTSS.

    Presentation materials

    February 2018

    In February, MTSS advisory team members read and discussed Revisiting the Regular Education Initiative: Multi-tiered Systems of Support Can Strengthen the Connection Between General and Special Education from Journal of American Academy of Special Education Professionals.

    Following the discussion, Paul Vine, Director of Special Services gave an overview of special education programs and services in the Lake Washington School District. During his presentation, he shared data about the academic performance of students receiving special education services and areas of potential growth and opportunity for the district.

    At the end of the meeting the team discussed an MTSS school-team pilot process for 2018-19.

    Presentation materials

    January 2018

    In January, Kelly Pease, Director of Intervention Services gave an overview of academic intervention programs and services in LWSD. These include:

    • Safety Net Services
    • English Language Learner Services
    • Homeless Services
    • Native American/Alaska Native Programs and Services
    • Title I Programs and Services

    During her presentation, Ms. Pease described qualities of the programs and services that support students and that are tied to student success. These include:

    • Quality instruction
    • Targeted evidence-based intervention
    • Implementation fidelity
    • Monitoring of student progress
    • Use of data to make decisions

    In addition, Ms. Pease shared examples of supports that are provided to schools, such as teacher training, coaches, facilitators and instructional materials that help students and teachers learn. Through these efforts, we are seeing positive trends in student performance. For example, achievement gaps are closing in our Title 1 schools. And, students who exit our English Learner (EL) program are performing as well as, or better than, non-EL students in our schools.

    Following the presentation, the team read information from OSPI’s recently published “Menus of Best Practices and Strategies” for English language arts and mathematics. These documents include evidence and research-based practices and strategies shown to improve student achievement. Many of the strategies and practices are delivered through LWSD intervention services. The team also read about how these practices and strategies are tied to a Multi-Tiered System of Supports. Examples include:

    English Language ArtsMathematics
    • Before and After School Programs
    • Summer Programs
    • Balanced Literacy
    • Co-Teaching
    • Consultant Teachers and Coaches
    • Targeted Professional Learning
    • Kindergarten Transitions

    • Double-dosing
    • Summer School
    • Tutoring
    • Coaches
    • Professional Learning Communities
    • Credit Retrieval
    • Family Engagement

    Presentation materials

    December 2017

    In December, Matt Gillingham, Director of Student Services, and Dr. Jen Rose, Director of Teaching and Learning provided an overview social, emotional and behavioral supports that exist in our district and efforts that are underway at the elementary and secondary levels to address the needs of all students. These include universal approaches such as curriculum, common expectations, suicide prevention and mental health education, drug and alcohol education, and conflict resolution. They also discussed selective and targeted approaches to supporting students such as counseling, conferences, restorative practices, guidance teams, risk assessments and referrals for treatment. The Washington State Social Emotional Learning Benchmarks were also shared with the team.

    Following a discussion about potential areas for growth, the team read two research summaries about behavioral supports and social emotional learning published by Hanover Research. As they read, team members recorded ideas and content that could be used as “indicators of success” for an effective Multi-Tiered System of Supports. Examples included:

    • Identifying and implementing supports that are culturally responsive
    • Using a universal approach to teaching positive social and behavioral skills
    • Use of behavior assessments
    • Use of a proactive approach to behavior supported by interventions for small groups
    • Identifying and teaching core competencies such as self-awareness, self-management and social awareness

    Presentation materials
    Behavioral Supports Handout
    Best Practices in Social Emotional Learning
    Best Practices in Multi-Tiered Support Structures

    November 2017

    In November, the leadership team began learning about MTSS, and was provided with an orientation to the work ahead. Members began by sharing individual interests for a well-articulated system of supports in the district. Examples of these interests included:

    • Better supporting all teachers so that they can meet the academic needs of each child in their class.
    • Setting up a framework for school-side data tracking of students, to make sure no students are missed.
    • Putting in place structures to support the social and emotional needs of our students.
    • Improving the collaboration and communication between Special Education and general education teachers.

    Team members then read and discussed a Research Brief about MTSS by Orla Higgins Averill and Claudia Rinaldi, of the Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative.

    Presentation materials

    Why a Multi-Tiered System of Supports?

    By considering academic, behavioral, social and emotional supports as part of a larger, integrated system, we can better serve students and families. For example, students’ struggles with behavior are sometimes caused by difficulties with academics or vice versa. When we focus on supporting only one aspect of a student’s need (i.e. pulling a student from academic instruction to focus on behavioral instruction), we may compound the challenges faced by the student. With MTSS, we look at multiple sources of data and information and consider how supports can work together to meet a student’s overall need.

    What are examples of “Tiered Supports” in schools?

    Examples of tiered support systems include Response to Instruction and Intervention (RtI2) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). 

    Response to Instruction and Intervention includes strong core instruction for every student (Tier 1), extra academic support for students who don’t respond to core instruction (Tier 2), and individualized help for students with severe or persistent needs (Tier 3).

    PBIS, includes teaching school-wide behavioral expectations and acknowledging students for following them. Students with greater behavioral needs are provided with increasingly intensive interventions. 

    Both tiered systems use assessment data to identify student needs. 

    What are the main components of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS)?

    MTSS includes the following components.

    • Universal, core curriculum and instruction for academics and behavior
    • Universal screening for academics (literacy, math) and behavior
    • Tiered, evidence-based, integrated academic and behavioral supports for any student who needs more
    • Valid and reliable progress monitoring for academics and behavior
    • School teams that regularly review academic and behavioral data; identify and apply evidence-based supports; use a structured decision making and problem-solving process
    • Community resources to support students and families
    • Leadership; professional development; personnel; and resources to support above

    What are the next steps in LWSD’s work to develop a Multi-Tiered System of Supports?

    Based on information gathered from the pilot process, we are planning to expand our Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports training for school leadership teams so that all schools in the district receive training to develop positive behavior supports within the next three years. In addition, we have added four specialists to support these leadership teams. We will also be working with the SWIFT Education Center to develop supports for school leadership teams as they begin to integrate academic, behavioral, social and emotional support systems.