Multi-Tiered System of Supports for Math Success
An Overview of Integrating Effective MTSS into Mathematics Instruction
By Bradley Witzel, Ph.D., Winthrop University
Ben Clarke, Ph.D., University of Oregon;
and Paul J. Riccomini, Ph.D., The Pennsylvania State University
With fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading scores dropping significantly since 2017, it more important than ever for teachers to identify methods to provide struggling students with targeted support.
Over the last several decades, schools have been developing and implementing Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) models in response to low mathematics and reading achievement spanning all grade levels. The purpose of the MTSS model is to provide a highly-connected system of intensified instruction for students who are struggling. When this system is applied to mathematics instruction, the end goal is to enhance mathematical outcomes of all students.
Students who struggle with mathematics require targeted and intensive interventions to fill gaps in their knowledge and improve their abilities to access more complex mathematics. Without intensive interventions, there are few opportunities for students to catch up in math.
In this three-part series, we will explore and describe each of these essential elements and provide guidance to educators as they plan, develop, implement, and refine math-focused MTSS.
Components of MTSS
MTSS models are generally comprised of two broad components: increased intensity through tiered instruction and informed data-driven decisions. Each of these components must involve smaller but still essential elements for a MTSS model to positively impact the mathematical performance of students.
An effective MTSS program starts with an emphasis on foundational mathematics within a viable core program. With a well designed core program, fewer students will require intensive interventions, allowing for a more precisely targeted approach.
The framework of MTSS is comprised of tiers of intervention, which increase targeted, interventional practices from one tier to the next. Districts usually use a three-tiered approach:
- Tier 1: core instruction and basic interventions for the entire class or school. Students are screened to determine their response to interventions and whether they need to move up to Tier 2 or Tier 3.
- Tier 2: students requiring a little extra help to meet academic goals will receive support in small-group instruction.
- Tier 3: students in Tier 3 will receive intensive, individualized support in longer, more targeted sessions.
The intensity of an intervention is often determined by the time allotted to it and by its teacher-to-student ratio. These two aspects differentiate the level of intervention intensity as either Tier 2 or Tier 3. However, it is important for MTSS teams to develop a more complex determination of the intensity of their interventions. We suggest that the intensity be determined by at least a review of the following intervention aspects:
- Academic learning time
- Teacher-to-student ratio
- Content emphasis
- Instructional approach
We will explore each of these aspects in Part 2 of this series.
Within a multi-tiered system of instructional delivery, there are numerous critical junctures during which the collection of data can be used to inform instructional decision-making. While there are a myriad of ways that schools can utilize assessment data, we consider three to be foundational to effective MTSS implementation. These primary data uses include:
- Screening to identify students in need of additional support (Alberts & Glover, 2014)
- Progress monitoring to examine student growth and response to intervention (Hixson, Christ, & Bruni, 2014)
- The use of screening data collected from all students at multiple points across the school year (benchmark data) to gauge the overall health of the instructional system (Clarke et al., 2014)
We will delve further into data-driven MTSS implementation in Part 3 of this series.
Effective math classrooms today are able to meet all students wherever they are. MTSS provides a strategic framework for teachers to support students who are struggling with leveled and targeted interventional tactics, specific to the individual student. Read on in our series to learn how to integrate MTSS in your math classroom successfully.
About the authors:
Dr. Bradley Witzel
Dr. Witzel is a Professor and Program Director in the College of Education at Winthrop University. His main areas of research focus on empirically-validated practices with students with disabilities and at-risk concerns, particularly in the areas of mathematics and MTSS. A popular author and professional developer, he has written several books and delivered several hundred workshops, confernces, and video presentations on instructional interventions.
Dr. Ben Clarke
Dr. Clark is an Associate Professor in the School Psychology Program at the University of Oregon. He currently serves or has served as a Principal Investigator on 15 federally-funded research grants (approx. 50 million in funding) in mathematics instruction focused on the development and efficacy-testing of intervention programs spanning the K-6 grade spectrum in both traditional and technology-based formats. Dr. Clark was a practicing school psychologist for three years, during which time he led district efforts to implement mutli-tier instructional models in reading and mathematics.
Dr. Paul J. Riccomini
Dr. Riccomini is currently an Associate Professor of Special Education at the Pennsylvania State University. He began his career as a dual-certified general education mathematics teacher of students with learning disabilities, emotional and behavioral disabilities, and gifted and talented students in Grades 7–12 in his inclusive classrooms. His current research interests focus on the application of evidenced-based instructional practices and interventions in MTSS/RTI framework for students with disabilities and struggling students in mathematics. Additionally, Dr. Riccomini provides high-quality professional development focused on effective mathematics instruction to school districts across the United States.