Multi-Tiered Systems of Support for Behavior: Helping School Staff Support Appropriate Student Behavior


Too often, elementary school students lack the behavioral and social skills necessary to focus on academics and achieve in school. Without proper support, teachers inevitably spend far too much time managing their students’ behavior and too little time actually teaching. Multi-Tiered Systems of Support for Behavior (MTSS-B) is not a specific model but a compilation of effective practices, interventions, and systems change strategies that are designed to prevent student behavior problems and promote student achievement. This can happen both by articulating behavioral expectations and supporting positive behavior to improve school climate and by building staff and teacher capacity to manage student behavior and to provide instruction in, and opportunities for student practice with, effective social skills. These changes are intended to improve students’ academic outcomes, and the implementation of MTSS-B is influenced by the context of individual schools and districts.

MDRC is evaluating the training of teachers and other school staff in this vision of MTSS-B in schools across the nation. The study will estimate impacts by comparing outcomes among three sets of elementary schools:

  • schools receiving training on universal MTSS-B practices (school-wide and classroom-based),
  • schools receiving training on universal MTSS-B elements plus training on targeted interventions for students needing more support, and
  • schools continuing with existing practices to support student behavior (business-as-usual).

The universal aspects are sometimes called Tier 1 of a MTSS-B system, while the targeted aspects are sometimes called Tier 2. The study’s findings on school context, implementation fidelity, and the service contrasts among the groups of schools will help lay a framework for understanding the impact findings and what it takes to implement the tested practices with fidelity.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

With the guidance of an expert panel, MDRC and its partners will decide which approach or approaches of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support for Behavior (MTSS-B) to evaluate and what the content of the training provided to schools will contain. Through a randomized control trial that will launch in the 2015-2016 academic year, MDRC intends to answer the following questions:

  • Are MTSS-B activities implemented with fidelity?
  • What are the key challenges to training schools in the implementation of MTSS-B?
  • What is the impact on school climate, school staff practice, and student outcomes of providing training in universal MTSS-B and in universal plus targeted MTSS-B?
  • What is the impact on school climate, school staff practice, and student outcomes for relevant subgroups (for instance, teachers with less experience, at-risk students) of providing training in MTSS-B? At the end of the first versus the second year of MTSS-B implementation?
  • What are the costs and resource requirements involved with providing training in MTTS-B?

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

Along with the American Institutes of Research, MDRC will supervise and support the implementation of two different versions of training programs in Multi-Tiered Systems of Support for Behavior. The study shall recruit a sample of 120 elementary schools in 12 districts and perform random assignment at the school level (all staff in a same school will receive the same treatment condition). The project team will randomly assign 40 schools to receiving universal training across two school years, 40 to receive universal training for two years and targeted training in the second year, and 40 to business-as-usual. The study will include approximately 240 school administrators and support personnel and 3,600 teachers.

Data collection will consist of training participation forms and training checklists, site visits (twice a year during the first implementation year in each treatment school and twice a year during the second implementation year in all study schools), student and school staff surveys and teacher ratings of student behavior, student records data, and monitoring system data (treatment schools only for each implementation year). Additionally, student achievement tests will be administered and/or existing test scores will be collected, and classroom observations will be conducted.