3. Needs assessment

To implement MTSS effectively, schools need to have a comprehensive understanding of their stakeholders’ needs. A needs assessment can help schools achieve this by providing valuable information. 

Here are some key data sources of a needs assessment for schools implementing MTSS: 

    • Data Insights: This system offers a variety of dashboards that can provide  information about students’ academic performance, their disciplinary history, and their attendance records. This information can be used to identify students who may be at risk for social, emotional, or behavioral problems.
    • California School Dashboard and System of Support: This dashboard provides school site information on multiple measures like academic achievement, graduation rates, and college readiness. The Dashboard gives a snapshot of student engagement, academic achievement, school climate, and course access. 
    • California Healthy Kids Survey: California Healthy Kids Survey is a comprehensive survey conducted in California schools to assess the health and well-being of students. 
  • CORE SEL Survey: CORE data system includes information from districts’ students, staff and families collected via surveys throughout the year concerning social emotional learning, well-being, and school culture.
  • Other data sources: There are a number of other data sources that our schools can use to assess the social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health needs of students. These data sources can include:
    • Data from mental health screenings
    • Data from school-based mental health programs
    • Data from community-based mental health programs


These sources of data will generate a school climate data profile that typically includes:

  1. Safety and Security: This includes measures taken to ensure physical safety, such as emergency protocols, security systems, and anti-bullying policies.
  2. Relationships and Interactions: This aspect focuses on the quality of relationships among students, teachers, administrators, and other staff members. It considers factors such as respect, trust, collaboration, and communication.
  3. Inclusion and Equity: This dimension examines the extent to which the school promotes diversity, inclusivity, and equitable opportunities for all students. It assesses the presence of programs and initiatives aimed at addressing any achievement gaps or disparities.
  4. Academic Environment: This component evaluates the teaching and learning environment within the school, including the availability of resources, the support for academic success, and the quality of instructional practices.
  5. Social and Emotional Support: This aspect looks at the availability of resources and programs that promote students’ social-emotional well-being. It includes support services, counseling, mental health programs, and positive behavior management strategies.
  6. Physical Environment: This dimension considers the physical aspects of the school, such as facilities, cleanliness, aesthetics, and overall comfort. A positive physical environment can contribute to a more conducive learning atmosphere.

Appendix 4: School Climate Data Profile contains an outline of possible sources of data and their correspondence to the subdomains outlined above.

Qualitative data to deepen understanding

Qualitative data is descriptive and can help to tell the story of the trends we might see in quantitative or numerical data. It can include data from surveys and empathy interviews. Qualitative data may lead the team to further questions about the experience at a school site. It may be helpful to gather further information about what is happening in a particular area to fully understand the context at a school site. 



Surveys can be a valuable tool for gathering information about school culture and climate. They can be used to ask a wide range of questions, from students’ perceptions of safety to teachers’ feelings of support.


There are a number of things to keep in mind when using surveys to gather information about school culture and climate. First, ensure that the survey is well-designed and that the questions are clear and easy to understand. Second, try to get a good response rate, as this will ensure that the results are representative of the entire school community. Finally, analyze the data carefully and use it to make informed decisions about how to improve school culture and climate.


Here are some additional tips for using surveys:

  • Some surveys require parent consent.
  • Make sure the survey is anonymous. This will encourage people to be honest in their responses.
  • Use clear and concise language. Avoid jargon and technical terms.
  • Keep the survey short. People are more likely to complete a short survey than a long one.
  • Analyze the data carefully. Look for patterns and trends in the data.
  • Follow up data collection by using the data to make informed decisions. 
  • Use the data to improve the school environment for all staff and students.


Here are some specific examples of how surveys can be used to gather information about school culture and climate:

  • A survey of students could ask questions about their perceptions of safety, their relationships with teachers and peers, and their overall satisfaction with their school experience.
  • A survey of teachers could ask questions about their feelings of support from administrators, their workload, and their sense of job satisfaction.
  • A survey of parents could ask questions about their involvement in their children’s education, their perceptions of the school’s academic climate, and their overall satisfaction with the school.


By gathering information from a variety of stakeholders, schools can get a comprehensive picture of their school culture and climate. This information can be used to make informed decisions about how to improve the school environment for all students.


Empathy Interviews

Empathy interviews are one way to gain a deeper understanding of a user’s experience and to gather insights that otherwise might not be apparent. These insights can then be used to identify issues and generate potential solutions.


The flow of an empathy interview should feel less like an interview, and more like an open conversation with a friend. Unlike a typical interview, preparing a long list of questions and topics to help drive the conversation won’t be useful. With empathy interviews, the goal is to understand —not to confirm an idea or insight.


Appendix 5: Empathy Interview Protocol describes the process of developing and implementing empathy interviews. 


SPSA Root Cause Analysis

Every school in SUHSD should have a School Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA) as a guiding document to identify and address areas within the school where there is room for improvement in student outcomes. The SPSA root cause analysis section identifies the underlying causes of student achievement problems. It can be helpful to review as part of the MTSS needs assessment to align the MTSS team goals with the schoolwide improvement efforts.


The goal of using the root cause analysis is to get to the root of the problem, rather than just treating the symptoms. This means asking “why?” repeatedly until revealing the underlying cause. For example, if a student is struggling to attend school, the following questions might pertain:

  • Why? Parents don’t regularly check our school website.
  • Why? They might not know that the information is there.
  • Why? We haven’t told parents that the information is there.
  • Why? We haven’t had time to meet with parents or prepare any materials to share with parents about the website.


Once the root cause of the problem is identified, the MTSS team can develop a plan to address it. In the example above, the student could receive additional tutoring, gain access to resources, or work directly with their teacher.


Root cause analysis can be a valuable tool for an MTSS team to improve student outcomes. Benefits may include:

  • Identifying the underlying causes of student achievement problems.
  • Developing effective solutions that will make a real difference in the lives of students.
  • Improving communication and collaboration between stakeholders.
  • Building a culture of continuous improvement.


Please see Appendix 6: Root Cause Analysis for further detail.