Using an MTSS framework for school improvement: the implementation experiences and perspectives of educators, administrators, and district leaders

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Holly Smith Williamson (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Craig Peck

Abstract: The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA, 2015) expanded district and school focus on Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) as a school improvement framework. MTSS is intended to improve the quality of instructional practices and provide effective, targeted interventions to students with varying degrees of need. Educators across the state of North Carolina have previously implemented three-tiered frameworks such as Response to Instruction and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports to address academic and behavioral difficulties for at least a decade. In 2015, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction mandated that all public districts and schools adopt and implement MTSS by July 1, 2020. This mandate required that schools utilize data to identify students at risk and proactively provide instruction and supports to address student needs across areas of concern, including academics, behavior, attendance, and social-emotional wellness. This mandate was aligned with updated policy that specified that North Carolina public schools would no longer allow the use of the discrepancy model for the identification of students with Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD), instead requiring teams to examine multiple sources of data to determine eligibility for special education services. Though educational policymakers in North Carolina consider MTSS a promising program, existing scholarship has shown that the implementation of any school reform initiative is a complex process that requires changes to school culture, structures, procedures, and instructional practices. Previous research has also demonstrated that large-scale school change initiatives, in the absence of carefully planned implementation, may overburden school resources, create confusion and stress for stakeholders, and ultimately provide little to no benefit to schools and students. Given this existing scholarship, it is important to conduct research examining factors that facilitate or hinder MTSS implementation in the practical setting. Additionally, since MTSS requires the committed effort of educators across levels of implementation, it is critical that educational leaders understand the experiences and viewpoints of stakeholders directly involved in the work. My purpose in conducting this research study was to examine MTSS implementation in North Carolina via the perspectives of district-level leaders and school-based educators. In this qualitative case study, I investigated the MTSS implementation experiences of 14 stakeholders who represent 1 North Carolina Public School District and 3 schools within that district. I collected data through observations of school-level MTSS meetings and through semi-structured interviews with district leaders, principals, school-based instructional support staff, and teachers. Using the framework of Implementation Science for organizing data and analyzing my findings, I examined (a) how stakeholders perceived MTSS implementation, (b) obstacles and barriers administrators, district leaders, and school staff faced during MTSS installation and implementation, (c) beneficial strategies stakeholders used to address implementation challenges, and (d) how the findings of this study relate to the “6 Critical Components” of North Carolina MTSS. My case study provides insight into a North Carolina Public School District that is making significant progress toward the full implementation of MTSS as a framework for school improvement. The findings of my study illustrate the complexities associated with the installation of educational reform initiatives, such as MTSS. My study also confirms the significance of the following components in promoting effective implementation practices: leadership, teaming structures, communication and collaboration, resource allocation, professional development, and data analysis. Although participants in my study were required to navigate implementation challenges, these stakeholders celebrated their successes and ultimately perceived MTSS as a proactive way to address the needs of students across areas of concern and intensity of need. My dissertation provides information regarding factors that facilitate and hinder MTSS implementation and offers suggestions to guide future practices. By providing the rich, detailed narratives of stakeholders from multiple schools and educational roles, this study extends upon prior research and provides a distinctly comprehensive illustration of MTSS implementation in a practical context.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2019
MTSS experiences, MTSS perspectives, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, School improvement, School reform, Stakeholder perceptions
Educational change $z North Carolina
Educational leadership $z North Carolina
School improvement programs $z North Carolina

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