Beginning at Baseline: The Need for a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS)


Christie Schutz Vincelli, Ed.D

Read time:

4 minutes

This impact of the pandemic continues to be a cause of concern for many administrators and teachers as students returned to school in September. As I continue to have conversations with colleagues and fellow educators, the largest area of concern is not academics, but rather how to address social/emotional well-being. What type of support do students need in order to transition back successfully? And what do we do when students exhibit problem behavior?

Truthfully, there is no one specific answer that will “fix” this. However, having an efficient structure in place can help provide a research-based multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) that ensures all students are screened and assigned the right tools necessary to be successful as they transition back to school.

What does this tiered support system look like? How do we ensure we have a system in place to address the social/emotional and behavioral needs of students?

First, before we can begin to build this pyramid, there are a few aspects that need to be addressed. Most importantly, each district needs to implement a universal screening assessment in the area of social/emotional and behavioral needs. A universal screener assesses all students to provide the district with baseline data regarding the following:

  1. The interventions being provided are effective
  2. Proactively identifying students who are “at-risk” for developing issues

As educators, we make a common mistake when intervening with students. We make decisions that are “heart” decisions and not “head” decisions. In other words, we make decisions on what we feel is best for students rather than what the data is telling us needs to be done. Think of it this way: if you have a sinus infection and you go to the doctor for antibiotics and the doctor provides you with medication for a stomach ache, what is the end result? More than likely you will end up at the doctor’s office again. It is the same when providing educational interventions. If a student is struggling to maintain attention during a teacher assigned task and you are targeting his/her ability to complete homework, is the student’s attention going to improve?

The bottom line before intervening is knowing what your baseline data for providing services is and then designing your tiers of intervention. To help inform the design of a system, provide a universal screener to each child who is entering school. I would not suggest giving this screener to students the minute that they return to school because it is going to be overwhelming enough. Instead, within the first few weeks of the new normal, take a pulse of the students to determine their level of functioning. Faculty and other school support professionals can help administer these screenings to get these baseline results.

Once that data is collected, a thorough analysis can be done to help inform tiered interventions that support the areas of need throughout the district. There are some free universal screeners available online as well as more thorough universal screening assessments that are available for a cost to assist with this data collection. LinkIt, a market leader providing data warehousing, analytics, assessment, and MTSS/RTI solutions for K-12 schools, enables schools to store and analyze both third-party and locally created data for all grade levels and subject areas. Districts can share external data with LinkIt! for warehousing, or teachers can input results directly into the system into rostered classes.

In summary: elect a universal screening assessment; administer the assessment, analyze the data with a program like LinkIt! to determine the greatest areas of need; and finally, create a tiered system of support to address those needs. These “head” decisions will lead you to success as you continue to service students upon our return to “normal.”

As you begin to implement your district’s MTSS/RTI system, LinkIt! can help. Our solution, Intervention Manager, is supported by subject matter experts (SMEs) in MTSS/RTI, Special Education, 504, Gifted, and ELLs. We provide professional services and consultation —  both in-person and virtually — in these areas. To assist MTSS/RTI teams and districts, we have also developed a handbook for strategic implementation that can be easily adapted. We combine theory and research in our professional development tools to make it practical and applicable for practitioners to implement in school districts.

LinkIt’s Intervention Manager can be used as a standalone product or alongside our data warehouse, assessment solutions, and reporting platform. We also work with partners to provide digital solutions, including universal screening tools in the area of behavior. A platform like LinkIt! can help you track your data and perform digital data analyses to find patterns, identify areas of concern, and make data-driven decisions. We’d love to help you make smart, “head” decisions when it comes to MTSS.

Dr. Christie Schutz Vincelli, the author of this article

Dr. Schutz Vincelli is an award-winning teacher, author, presenter, and school administrator with over 18 years of experience in Pre-K-12 education. She has served in many administrative capacities including Vice Principal, Supervisor, and Director of Special Services. Her areas of focus include MTSS/RTI, special education, research, and curriculum development. Dr. Schutz Vincelli was recognized by the New Jersey Department of Education as her district was named a model district for her implementation of the NJTSS framework.


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