Exploring The Relation Between MTSS and Special Education

Education is a basic human right that teaches an individual the most basic of skills like effective communication to the more advanced ones like critical thinking and creative writing.

Equitable and accessible education that ensures everyone not only gets quality education but actually learns and benefits from it is the goal of the Multi-Tiered Support System.

Yet, there can be individuals with learning differences who might benefit from a more individualized approach that caters to their specific needs. This is the goal catered to by special education.

At their core, both MTSS and Special Education aim to ensure that education becomes an inclusive process, optimizing the potential of every student involved. This blog will further shed light on what MTSS and Special Education are and what can happen when they come together and join forces.

MTSS: Better education for all

On one hand, MTSS is often confused with RTI, and PBIS, the difference amongst all that makes MTSS stand out is a system of support, which by the use of research-based teaching methods and continuous assessments, aims to make education more accessible and beneficial for all students. 


It takes a holistic approach to education, with the goal of developing and sustaining behavioral, academic, and socio-emotional growth in all students. It takes into account the special needs of various students by continuously assessing everyone to see how and if they are benefitting from the curriculum.

Students who seem to have difficulties understanding some concepts are then referred to Tier 2: Targeted Intervention or Tier 3: Intensive Intervention levels of support, based on their needs.

Regardless of whether a student has been referred to Tier 2 or Tier 3 level of support for one or multiple concepts and subjects, all students continue attending classes in Tier 1 or universal level of support which provides classes meant to benefit all students in their holistic development. Students who seem to be performing or show the potential to perform at a level higher than the one being taught in Tier 1, are also given individualized lessons so that they are adequately challenged and continue growing to the fullest.

MTSS is a proactive system of intervention that continuously assesses students at all levels to see how they can best realize their potential. It involves multiple stakeholders to ensure the optimum allocation of resources required by students at all levels and tiers of support to learn and succeed. 

Special education: Individualized support and interventions

Special Education is meant to provide support to those students who have been diagnosed with various learning differences like dyslexia, dyscalculia, etc. It provides support using a wide system of legal and educational frameworks, social services, and resources, where educators are specially trained to effectively educate students with learning differences.

special education

Special Education makes use of what are known as Individualised Education Plans that are designed based on the evaluated needs of the individual diagnosed with learning differences. These plans make sure that they get the kind of instruction, accommodations, tools, and techniques they require to learn and succeed no matter where they go. 

Similarities between MTSS and Special Education

Much like in Tier 2 and Tier 3 levels of MTSS, Individualised Education Plans are also based on the most up-to-date research and data available. Here as well, the student is continuously assessed to gauge the effectiveness of their IEPs and accordingly adjust and update the goals based on their evolved needs.

The goal of Special Education, like MTSS, is also to make education more accessible and beneficial. Unlike MTSS though, Special Education does not concern itself with every child. Only children with diagnosed learning concerns receive Special Education and IEPs meant to help them perform at par with their peers.

MTSS & Special education: The power duo

MTSS and Special Education are both instrumental in promoting inclusive education introduced and being implemented under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. But they are both different laws being carried out by different authorities in separate spaces. If brought together, as they should be because of their majorly overlapping goals, both Special Education and MTSS have a lot to benefit from each other’s established systems and resources. Some of the benefits will include:

1. Early Identification

The regular and continuous assessments under the multi-tiered system of support have the key motive of identifying students who are not benefitting from Tier 1 education and need additional support. These regular assessments can provide valuable information that promotes early identification of serious concerns like learning differences. 

Additionally, data from these assessments can also be used to design Special Education interventions as well as to regularly check their effectiveness.

2. Special Education Resources for the MTSS curriculum

Special Education has a wide variety of specialized, research-based tools and resources that it employs while designing and implementing Individualised Education Plans. 

The multi-tiered system of support can greatly benefit from these tools and resources. They can especially be used to inform, design, and deliver better lessons in a more effective manner, to all the students but especially to students in Tier 2 and Tier 3 levels of support. 

3. IEPs can be merged with Tier 2 and Tier 3 of MTSS 

A student can be a part of various tiers of classes and have an Individualized Lesson Plan, all at the same time. This can increase the stress of classes on one student and make it difficult for them to organize and manage them all simultaneously, let alone benefit from them.

Merging IEPs with lessons provided at Tier 2 and Tier 3 levels of support can not only help in reducing the number of classes, and saving time and resources but can greatly increase the effectiveness of the classes that the student does attend. When Tier 2 and 3 levels of support will be informed by the students’ IEPs, they will likely be much more beneficial and the student will be able to completely focus on the lesson instead of having to worry about the hassle of managing multiple classes and lessons at once.

4. Continuous and holistic progress reports

As mentioned above, the multi-tiered system of support focuses on the holistic development of the student, concerning itself with their behavioral, academic, and socio-emotional competencies. The assessments for MTSS also include all these components, something special education assessments don’t necessarily focus on.

If the regular assessments that already take place for MTSS are combined with the special education assessments, this will make them much more rigorous and give more insights into various students’ performance and areas where they are improving and yet other areas where they require additional support.


The Multi-tiered System of Support and Special Education both have the similar goal of wanting to make education much more inclusive, accessible and beneficial for everyone. 

The only difference comes in their focus, where Special Education takes a narrow and specialized approach to support students with diagnosed learning concerns. On the other hand, MTSS takes a much broader approach, where it supports the students who need extra help but also challenges the students who show exceptional potential. The conjunction of Special Education and MTSS, if implemented effectively, can prove to be a very rigorous system of support that will facilitate early identification, Individualised Education Plans merged with different tiers of support, continuous and holistic progress reports, and overall quality education for everyone.

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