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EDC and Transforming Education, in partnership with the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, are working with schools and districts across Massachusetts on developing coordinated approaches to the planning and delivery of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and mental health programs and practices using a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) framework.

Why SEL?

Growing numbers of educators across the country are investing time and resources in helping their students develop the social and emotional competencies needed to be successful—not only in school, but also in life. Their efforts are not in vain. In the short-term, educational approaches that include social-emotional learning (SEL) lead to higher academic achievement and fewer aggressive behaviors. In the long term, they lead to improved college readiness, career success, positive relationships, and better mental health.

Why Mental Health?

Research also demonstrates the need for schools to offer mental health supports for some students facing specific mental health challenges. One in five students suffers a significant mental health problem such as anxiety and depression, yet nearly 70% of students who need mental health services do not currently receive them. If untreated, these conditions can result in school drop-out, academic failure, engagement in risk behaviors such as substance misuse, and suicide.

Understanding MTSS

By using the MTSS framework, schools can help all students build important SEL skills, while addressing the unique needs of those students who need additional supports.

Multi-tiered System of Support (MTSS) is a framework designed to meet the needs of all students by ensuring that schools optimize data-driven decision making, progress monitoring, and evidence-based supports and strategies with increasing intensity to sustain student growth.

Traditionally, MTSS has focused on providing students with equitable access to the academic supports they need. But MTSS can also help schools organize a continuum of SEL and mental health programs, practices, and policies across its three levels.

MTSS Diagram

Lead in content, if needed:

  • Tier 1: Universal Support. These interventions are designed to foster competencies such as emotional management, goal-setting, and responsible decision-making among all students. Programming might include stand-alone curricula, integration of SEL skills into everyday instruction, school-wide events that focus on specific competencies, adult role modeling, and mental health literacy programs.
  • Tier 2: Targeted Support. These small-group interventions are for a subset of students who need additional supports to address social-emotional struggles such as acute or chronic stress, or difficulties developing meaningful relationships. Programming might include opportunities to practice social skills, art therapy groups, one-on-one mentoring, and family engagement activities.
  • Tier 3: Intensive Support. These supports include individualized clinical interventions to address the needs of students suffering from mental health challenges, including trauma. These students may require in-school services or referral to outside mental health counseling.

MTSS, though, isn’t just about providing individual supports at each of three tiers. It is also about how all the systems and supports in a school or district fit together to ensure quality education for all students. To this end, a comprehensive MTSS approach also requires planned coordination and the active participation of administrators, faculty, and staff working throughout the school community.

For more information about Massachusetts' MTSS Framework visit MA Tools for Schools.


  1. Adapted from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)
  2. Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D. & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1): 405–432.
  3. Gunn, J. (2018). The Real and Lasting Impacts of Social-Emotional Learning with At-Risk Students. Room 241, Concordia University: Porltland, Oregon. Retrieved from:
  4. Belfield, C., Bowden, A. B., Klapp, A., Levin, H., Shand, R., & Zander, S. (2015). The economic value of social and emotional learning. Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, 6(3), 508-544.
  5. Taylor, R. D., Oberle, E., Durlak, J. A., & Weissberg, R. P. (2017). Promoting positive youth development through school‐based social and emotional learning interventions: A meta‐analysis of follow‐up effects. Child development, 88(4), 1156-1171.
  6. Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group. (2015). Impact of early intervention on psychopathology, crime, and well-being at age 25. American Journal of Psychiatry, 172, 59-70.