Purpose and Background

The process of evaluation for a child suspected of having an exceptionality is no secret. School teams must intervene when there's a suspected atypical development in any of their students. For most school systems, a process called Response to Intervention (RTI) is used to track these direct interventions. The RTI team has to ask itself several questions when planning appropriate interventions for struggling students. Here's a few to consider:

    1. What do those interventions look like?

    2. How are they implemented?

    3. Who takes care of the documentation of progress?

It can be confusing for school teams to find a way to manage all these logistical issues. Working with one child is challenging enough, but what about managing 100 students who need specific interventions? That's why the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) has outlined a process for school teams to follow. Kansas uses a process called the Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) to address these issues. Kansas was the first state to use this model of implementation, and now our model is also used by Florida, Massachusetts, and Michigan. You can thank our former Commissioner of Education, Alexa Posny for that. (Alexa first served as our KSDE Commissioner and helped to promote the MTSS model, then later she went to work for the US Department of Education and took her model with her. Other states adapted MTSS as a direct result of her leadership.)

Sometimes I hear people confusing the process of RTI and MTSS. For people in many states, MTSS is not a frequently used educational term, since MTSS isn't used nationwide. Both terms are similar in concept, so I can understand why people interchange the terms; it's also why I will try to explain both concepts on the same page [this one]. It's important to remember that they are similar, but not synonymous. The quickest way to differentiate between RTI and MTSS is that RTI is a subset of services which fit under the MTSS umbrella. Let's take a closer look at the MTSS umbrella now (as it applies to Kansas schools).

Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS)

The Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) applies to every student in Kansas public schools. When fully implemented, it applies to reading, mathematics, and behavior. MTSS has three "tiers" (levels of support) within each of these areas.

    • Tier 1 is used for all students in the building; it's expected that 80-85% of the students in the building be placed only in Tier 1 and not need Tier 2 or Tier 3 supports. Note that 100% of students should receive Tier 1 instruction. Tier 1 is commonly called "core" instruction.

    • Tier 2 is used for students who are not meeting grade level expectations and need additional instructional time. These students receive secondary support in addition to their "core" instructional time. It is expected that the provision of Tier 2 services should support sufficient academic and behavioral growth for an additional 10-15% of the student population (for a total of 90-100% of all students.)

    • Tier 3 is used for the students who need the most assistance in meeting grade level expectations. These students receive Tier 3 supports, in addition to receiving Tier 1 instruction and Tier 2 support. It is expected that only a very small percentage (up to 10%) of students will need Tier 3 supports.

MTSS is for all students in the school, regardless of whether or not they have an IEP or receive special education and related services. Federal guidelines state that a tiered system of support is to be used prior to making a determination for special education eligibility for students who may be eligible for learning disability services. Kansas guidelines indicate that the MTSS process can be used in the determination process for all areas of excpetionality.

Response To Intervention (RTI)

In contrast to MTSS, RTI is used in many states as a way of monitoring student's progress only when academic or behavioral concerns are present. A Response to Intervention (RTI) program is put into place that outlines three tiers of services. In most states, RTI is a critical component of the SIT/SIP process and may be used during a special education evaluation.

Since RTI is contained within the MTSS model, I won't delve any deeper into it here. If you want more information specifically about RTI, I recommend this resource.

Other Notes

    • Some individuals mistakenly believe that Tier 3 supports (in both MTSS and RTI systems) indicates that the student needs special education. This is just not true. While many students receiving Tier 3 supports may receive special education services, it is not always the case. In fact, the one of the main benefits of both MTSS and RTI is that students are often able to avoid placement into special education, through the provision of appropriate general education interventions!

    • Both MTSS and RTI are dynamic systems which are designed to be used to move students easily from one tier to another when necessary. Generally, individual problem solving teams (such as SIT), meet every 6 weeks and determine the best placement for each student. Students may move both up and down the tiers of instruction/support as their progress toward grade level expectations change.