Academic Quarterly

Leadership Corner Winter 2020

Multi-tiered Systems of Support – A Need for Professional Development

Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS)* is a general education initiative designed to provide multiple levels or tiers of instruction and support for all learners. These learners range from students with advanced skills to those students who struggle and may or may not be eligible for special education services. To provide effective support, collaboration between general education and special education staff within each school is necessary. Collaboration between the school and district is also imperative. Perhaps most important for MTSS/MLSS to be successful is the provision of ongoing professional development that includes coaching for general education, special education, and support staff who deliver instruction.

Successful educational leaders know that for MTSS/MLSS to be effective ongoing professional development must be provided in a variety of areas. First, teachers should receive effective professional development to support Tier I instruction using vetted, research-based curricula for all students in general education and content-area classrooms. General education teachers also need to be able to differentiate and scaffold instruction to accommodate students with a wide range of skills. In addition, intervention educators (e.g., special education teachers, interventionists, para-professionals) must be able to provide targeted, supplemental Tier II instruction with standardized, validated materials to students who show risk based on universal screening and/or progress monitoring. Tier II support includes more explicit instruction and additional opportunities for guided practice. Schools also need to organize more intensive and more explicit Tier III instruction for students not responding to added supports (Tier II) and/or those students who have very intensive needs. Teachers of these students deserve additional support. Finally, and most importantly, all educators need to learn how to use instructional activities as well as progress monitoring measures to determine student progress. The use of formative assessment along with in-program assessments, curriculum-based measurement, and standardized tests provides more comprehensive data to inform instruction. Ongoing professional learning is the key to ensuring the teachers have the knowledge and skills needed to continually increase the achievement scores for all students.

Additional resources and information on professional learning for MTSS/MLSS that educational leaders will find useful include:

  1. CORE’s white paper on professional learning, authored by CORE”s president Linda Diamond discusses the need for sustained professional learning that is connected to the curriculum that teachers are using. The paper also characterizes teachers as both technicians and intellectuals, describing the different needs and support for each role. The paper is located here.
  2. Originally designed for course instructors at institutes of higher education, the Ceedar Center’s professional development module can be used by site and district instructional leaders to help teachers develop the knowledge and skills necessary to provide multi-tiered instruction with interventions matched to students’ needs. The module is organized into three chapters: Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS), Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and Differentiated Instruction (DI). Each chapter features principles and frameworks, strategies, and activities. The module is located here.

* Some states use the term MLSS which stands for Multi-layered Systems of Support.


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