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Using Tailored Supports to Advance Educational Equity

Mid-Atlantic | January 23, 2024

The District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) is actively working to promote equity, inclusivity, and the overall well-being of our students. We're implementing multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), an evidence-based, three-tiered framework of instruction, intervention, and assessment that educators can use to identify and address the diverse needs of learners in a systematic manner (Sailor et al., 2021). MTSS support tiers increase in intensity, from universal (for all students), to targeted (for some student groups), to intensive (individualized for a few students). Like most MTSS frameworks, MTSS@DCPS focuses on building integrated systems that support the whole child—that is, addressing the academic, social-emotional, and behavioral needs of each student.

MTSS DCPS Framework Diagram

We build the capacity of educators to make informed decisions based on ongoing assessments and progress monitoring.

Assessments and progress monitoring may vary depending on the grade level and content areas, but the underlying practices remain consistent. For individual students, MTSS collaboration teams consist of people who interact with students regularly, such as school or grade-level instructional and support staff and occasionally family members or other external partners. The teams use a combination of formative and summative assessments to evaluate progress. For example, in middle school math, the team reviews i-Ready math diagnostics as an initial screening tool. These data are supplemented with course grades, weekly quizzes, attendance, behavior and social-emotional learning data, and observations to provide a holistic view of the student's strengths and needs. Interventions tailored to the student's needs are collaboratively developed by the team, which meets every 6-to-8 weeks to discuss the student's progress.

Effective use of data allows us to identify students who need support and intervene early using evidence-based and culturally responsive methods, promoting more equitable outcomes.

At the school level, separate MTSS collaboration teams—consisting of teachers, administrators, school instructional leaders, and school psychologists—follow a similar process. They use data, such as test scores, social-emotional learning data, and student behavior data, to identify challenges that apply to the entire school. A thorough analysis of schoolwide challenges is crucial in forming a comprehensive understanding of student needs, especially in identifying any disparities among different demographic groups. With this holistic perspective, school leaders can identify schoolwide interventions that target specific student outcomes. A catalog of interventions is made available to all schools through Panorama Education. School leaders and their leadership teams determine how to best implement and monitor these interventions while taking into consideration their comprehensive school plans and the academic and social-emotional goals set by the district.

For example, an intervention available to schools to help de-escalate problematic student behaviors for students receiving tier 2 or 3 support is Check-In, Check-Out (CICO). CICO aims to provide ongoing feedback to students to prevent future behavior problems (Drevon et al., 2019; Schaper, 2023). This evidence-based strategy places a strong emphasis on nurturing positive relationships between students and adult mentors. Any member of the school's staff can be chosen as a student mentor based on their relationship with the child. Daily check-ins are scheduled in ways that work for both the student and mentor. The degree of cultural responsiveness exhibited by this intervention hinges on its implementation. For instance, we've witnessed notable success using CICO in cultivating meaningful connections with students who have recently arrived in the United States. The students' cultural and linguistic backgrounds are considered when matching them with mentors to support their social-emotional well-being and academic advancement. (You can read more about implementing CICO here.)

We hosted school-based focus groups to explore trends among the schools that appeared to make the most progress in successfully implementing MTSS@DCPS.

DCPS Enabling Conditions diagram

We identified five conditions that may help DCPS staff implement MTSS@DCPS: a clear vision for MTSS, clearly defined roles and expectations, buy-in and collaboration, shared ownership and empowerment, and collective action. Together, we believe these conditions can help all DCPS education partners—administrators, teachers, support staff, and caregivers—understand what we're trying to achieve, what they're responsible for, and what resources are available to help them effectively support students through MTSS.

To continuously learn from and improve MTSS@DCPS implementation, we solicit input from families through annual surveys to understand how they view the supports their children receive. We also offer professional learning opportunities for all staff, including training for principals to help them lead their school communities toward successful MTSS implementation, and training for educators to help them address the diverse needs of their students. Educators learn about differentiation strategies, inclusive practices, and culturally responsive teaching and have access to a wide selection of materials catered to various student needs.

We're partnering with REL Mid-Atlantic to enhance MTSS@DCPS.

As we continue to roll out MTSS@DCPS district-wide, our partnership with REL Mid-Atlantic is helping us use evidence to inform, monitor, and refine our efforts. Partnership activities include establishing clear standards for effective implementation, reflecting on data systems, and exploring ideas to better implement and monitor progress of the system.

Developing and Piloting Fidelity Standards
Driven by our commitment to continuous improvement, we developed a comprehensive set of MTSS fidelity standards. These standards align with our vision for MTSS and provide a framework to guide our efforts in systematically collecting implementation data to identify bright spots and areas of improvement. By collaborating with experts from the REL, we ensure that our standards reflect best practices and are rooted in research. A refined version of the fidelity standards is being piloted this fall.

Reflecting on Data Systems and Holistic Analysis
To fully align our actions with our vision for MTSS, we are engaging in a reflective process to assess the effectiveness of our data systems. We are exploring the degree to which our existing systems enable integrated collaboration and school and district-level analysis. By leveraging the insights gained from this reflection, we can optimize our data systems to support comprehensive decisionmaking and strategic interventions that address the needs of individual students and promote overall student success.

Exploring Innovative Solutions with Artificial Intelligence (AI)
To effectively implement MTSS, educators must have access to analytic tools that facilitate a comprehensive and holistic examination of students' strengths and areas of need, helping them identify and implement aligned supports to ensure the success of each student. Analyzing student data for MTSS requires educators to interpret complex datasets and discern nuanced patterns. This process also entails a substantial time commitment, as educators examine various aspects of students' profiles to tailor interventions effectively. Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to enhance these analyses and reduce the burden on teachers. We are actively exploring ways to leverage AI to support and improve the analysis of student data, personalize interventions, and address existing inequities among various demographics.


Chow, K., Nakamura, J., & Wilkerson, S. (2020, March 24). Improving MTSS/RTI implementation through measurement. REL Appalachia.

Drevon, D., M. Hixson, R. Wyse, and A. Rigney. (2019). A meta-analytic review of the evidence for check-in check-out. Psychology in the Schools, 56(3), 393-412.

Sailor, W., Skrtic, T., Cohn, M., & Olmstead, C. (2021). Preparing teacher educators for statewide scale-up of multi-tiered system of support (MTSS). Teacher Education and Special Education, 44(1), 24–41.

Schaper, A. (2023). Check-in/Check-Out (CICO): Intervention Tips and guidance. Panorama Education. Available online:


Joseph Lewis, Ed.D.

Joseph Lewis, Ed.D.
Director of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support at District of Columbia Public Schools

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