Multi-tier System of Supports for Behavior Overview

Multi-tier System of Supports for behavior is a set of strategies for preventing problem behavior that utilizes evidence-based research in applied behavior analysis and the field of systems change. The study of behavior has a long and rich history documented in numerous journals dedicated to research related to the efficacy of behavioral interventions for decreasing student problem behaviors. At the individual student level, research supports the fact that teaching students the social skills that are intended to replace problem behavior with more appropriate responses is one of the most effective interventions used in schools today. Although initially, most research in applied behavior analysis was conducted with students in special education, behavioral researchers are now applying the science of behavior with different populations of both children and adults to demonstrate the effectiveness of behavioral interventions. Students with and without disabilities can benefit from these research-based behavioral interventions.

Click here for the research literature on applied behavior analysis and positive behavior support

Research on school-wide discipline as an approach for changing student behavior is also well established and is not new to the educational field. The American Heritage dictionary defines discipline as “training to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior” (pp.395). Studies of school-wide discipline have shown that the implementation of punishment, when it is used inconsistently and in the absence of other positive teaching strategies, is ineffective and can actually lead to increases in problem behaviors, such as vandalism. Effective school discipline includes teaching students social skills that are expected in classrooms and nonclassroom settings, reinforcing students’ appropriate behaviors, and responding consistently to problem behaviors when they do occur.

Examples of Punishment Research

Research on School-wide Discipline

Walker and his colleagues proposed in 1996 that the public health model that focuses efforts at three levels of prevention be applied to the prevention of behavior in schools. Several years later, Response to Intervention or Response to Instruction (RtI), another term used for multi-tier system of supports, began to promote a three-tiered approach for both academics and behavior. At Tier 1 or Primary Prevention, all students receive social and academic interventions that are intended to ensure student success. Data-based, decision-making systems are employed by school teams to provide ongoing progress monitoring and to intervene early with any academic and social difficulties a student may experience. Tier 2 or Secondary Prevention is intended to identify and support students who have learning, behavior, or life histories that put them at risk of engaging in more serious problem behavior. Tier 3 or Tertiary Prevention focuses on individualized and intensive PBS plans designed for a smaller number of students who need more support than interventions implemented at primary and secondary prevention levels.

The Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) has adopted this three-tiered prevention model for both academics and behavior. The KSDE model is now referred to as the Kansas Multi-tier System of Supports (MTSS). The graphic below provides a visual summary of the MTSS model:

kansas mtss logo

In the MTSS model, the three tiers are described in the words “All, Some, Few” and the inner triangle represents both academics as well as behavior. Instruction and curriculum are designed using evidence-based practices and continuous progress monitoring to inform the use of curriculum and teaching strategies. The outer circles show the importance of professional development as a way in which to support school staff in implementing MTSS. Continuous professional development systems are intended to establish best practice and a vision for improving instruction using data for decision making. The term leadership emphasizes the importance of encouraging champions of MTSS at state, district, and school levels for MTSS implementation to be successful. Administrators and school staff provide leadership by working together to implement MTSS with the goal being to create an empowering culture for students, school staff, families, and administration.

The next KSDE model below provides more detail about the triangle in the middle of the first KSDE visual by describing the types of strategies that are implemented at each tier. The model is organized to show MTSS behavioral prevention on the left side of the model and academic prevention on the right side.

behavior and academics

The reference to all means that every student in the school receives Tier 1 interventions. MTSS for behavior interventions focus on prevention of problem behavior, early intervention for students at risk, and intensive and individualized support plans for a small number of students. The triangle is organized to show that in many schools students with one ODR (or students with no office discipline referrals (ODRs) at all) represent approximately 80% of the student body. Students with two to five ODRs (approximately 15% of students in the school) may need Tier 2 or secondary prevention supports while a small percentage of students (5% or fewer) are in need of Tier 3 supports to be successful in school. Consider designing a prevention-based triangle for behavior in each school within your district using the following definition

  • 0-1 ODRs ---------------Tier 1
  • 2-5 ODRs -------------- Tier 2
  • 6 or more ODRs ------ Tier 3
Would every school in your district show a pattern with 80% of students receiving zero to one ODR, 15% of students receiving two or more ODRs, and approximately 5% of students receiving five or more ODRs?

Each school’s ODR patterns are influenced by many factors. Research now suggests that although many schools do show this distribution pattern, that schools do not necessarily have 80% of students with zero to one ODRs, 15% of students with two to five ODRs and 5% of students receiving six or more ODRs. These differences in ODR patterns can be related to socioeconomic factors within the community, school size, and age of students.

pbs pyramid

The goal of MTSS for behavior is to provide schools with tools, systems, and practices that can be used to increase the number of students at the bottom of the prevention triangle receiving very few ODRs. In many MTSS for behavior efforts, the triangle is organized by colors with green representing Tier 1, yellow representing Tier 2, and red representing the Tier 3 support system. In the triangle above, however, the types of strategies at Tiers 2 and 3 appear blended. This is because there are no “green, yellow or red” students. MTSS for behavior is a process that allows schools to teach all students social skills while providing additional supports in whatever way is needed for students who do not respond to social skills instruction. Schools also increase consistency in response to problem behavior and create systems for increasing reinforcement for positive social behaviors observed in the school. Some students need additional supports to be successful beyond these Tier 1 interventions. Schools provide students with individualized supports to be successful and these supports fall along a continuum of intensity.

Multiple Terms for MTSS for Behavior

You will see a number of terms and acronyms that refer to MTSS for behavior in research publications, on websites, and in other public forums. These acronyms include: effective behavior support (EBS), program-wide positive behavior support (in early childhood settings), positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS), Positive Behavior Support (PBS), and School-wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS). In addition, you will see different terms for the same interventions at each tier of the triangle. The reason for so many variations in titles is organizations, districts, and schools across the United States are now implementing MTSS, and different implementers call their implementation efforts by various titles. In this module, you will learn how to identify what MTSS for behavior looks like no matter what terms are used to describe it.

Click here for a list of statewide implementation efforts in MTSS for Behavior

This module will describe how districts can provide support for MTSS for behavior implementation in ways that will increase effectiveness and sustainability over time. The Overview Links section provides more information about details related to MTSS for behavior. This overview section included summaries, videos, references, and examples of implementation efforts that are available online.

Overview Links

Learn more about the Three Tier Prevention Model for Behavior

Read introductory information about MTSS for Behavior
This link will take you to introductions to MTSS for behavior from a variety of perspectives including administrators, school personnel, and family and community members.

Video Introductions to MTSS for Behavior
This page has numerous videos explaining MTSS

Frequently Asked Questions

MTSS Resource Library

Is MTSS an Evidence-based Practice?


This template was adapted and is based upon a template developed via copyright © 2008
Kansas State Department of Education. All Rights Reserved.
Logo Design By Logo Design Guru.  |  Website Design By Webby Guru.
Content copyright © 2008 University of Kansas.
508 logo
  • Freeman, R., Griggs, P., Anderson, S., & Kimbrough, P. (2009). Multi-tier system of supports module. University of Kansas. Lawrence, KS. Request for edits or changes in content to these pages should be made only after contacting the authors.