American Institutes for Research Awarded Grant to Improve Use of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support for Struggling Students

Washington, D.C. – Many school systems around the country use Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) to assess the academic and behavioral needs of struggling students and provide appropriate services. But implementing MTSS can be challenging and there is limited research on how to measure and improve implementation.

The American Institutes for Research (AIR) has been awarded a federal grant to develop and test the Integrated MTSS Fidelity Rubric (IMFR), a system that will provide useful data on MTSS implementation and will support improvements. The five-year, $3.98 million grant was awarded by the National Center for Special Education Research at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the independent research, evaluation and statistics arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

“MTSS is a powerful tool for addressing the academic, social, emotional and behavioral needs of all students, but implementation is key to ensuring its full benefits are realized,” said Allison Gandhi, managing researcher at AIR, who will serve as the principal investigator for this project. “The Integrated MTSS Fidelity Rubric will help educators, administrators and support staff understand and work through the implementation challenges so they can better serve their students.”

The co-principal investigators on this project are Erica S. Lembke and T. Chris Riley-Tillman, of the School of Education at the University of Missouri.

The IMFR will be developed in three phases. In Phase 1, the research team will develop an initial version of the IMFR based on existing measures and feedback from a group of MTSS experts and school personnel. In Phase 2, the IMFR will be administered, tested and refined; and in Phase 3, the revised IMFR will be administered in schools and will undergo further tests and research. The project will include participants from 100 elementary schools across Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Rhode Island and Washington. For a full description of the project, visit the abstract on the IES website.

AIR is one of four teams conducting research on MTSS through a special IES program, Research Networks Focused on Critical Problems of Policy and Practice in Special Education: Multi-Tiered Systems of Support. Other research teams are from the University of Connecticut, the University of Kansas and the University of Texas at Austin.

Visit the AIR website to learn more about our expertise in the area of special education and projects AIR has conducted at the local, state and federal levels. 

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education and workforce productivity. For more information, visit

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