RTI and MTSS: Do You Know the Difference Between These Support Systems?

RTI and MTSS: Do You Know the Difference Between These Support Systems?
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In education, there seems to be an acronym for everything. Response to intervention (RTI) and Multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) are two of the most commonly used acronyms, with mentions thrown into practically every department meeting, professional development seminar, and district conference. Though often discussed together, the two are not the same.

It is important to understand the differences between RTI and MTSS in order to properly utilize both in creating successful interventions and paths to success.  


What is RTI?

RTI is a structured, multi-tiered approach to help identify and support struggling students. It focuses on providing high-quality instruction and interventions, typically at three different levels (i.e. tiers). All students must receive high-quality classroom instruction and screening within Tier 1, and approximately 80 percent of students are expected to reach targeted goals under Tier 1 instruction. Students identified as struggling in this early stage are then provided with targeted interventions that increase in intensity in Tier 2 and Tier 3. Typically, around 15 percent receive small-group and supplemental instruction in Tier 2, while the remaining 5 percent require more intensive and individualized interventions in Tier 3.

There are four main components of RTI:

  • Multi-tiered system

  • Universal screening to identify students

  • Frequent progress-monitoring of student performance

  • Data-driven decision-making to guide the selection of evidence-based interventions

RTI’s primary purpose is to support students academically, using a combination of approaches for interventions.


What is MTSS?

MTSS is a school model that uses data-driven problem-solving and incorporates system-level change to address both the academic and non-academic needs of all students. This model provides a comprehensive framework for how and when to administer support, and allows for the tools and time to implement such strategies. MTSS generally uses a four-step problem-solving process for making team-based decisions.

MTSS is similar to RTI in the following ways:

  • Features a continuum of multiple supports for students based on their level of documented need

  • Delivers interventions and services in a multi-tiered support structure, which utilizes increasingly intensive interventions and supports in Tier 2 and Tier 3

  • Emphasizes high-quality instruction at all levels

While RTI and MTSS have many similarities—for instance, both models require frequent progress-monitoring and data-driven instruction—there are some key differences that should be noted to explain the difference between these two models.

Major differences between RTI and MTSS

Whereas RTI is a model for identifying and addressing the specific academic needs of struggling students, MTSS has a much broader scope. MTSS addresses academic as well as social and emotional areas (non-academic), including behavior and other topics such as attendance. It also incorporates school culture, teacher professional development, and family and community engagement.

MTSS provides for both academic and behavioral considerations, recognizing the integration of the two for student success in school. It can be thought of as an umbrella that covers many different approaches and interventions, including:

  • Curriculum design

  • Positive behavior intervention and supports (PBIS)

  • Teacher learning and collaboration

  • Collaboration between school and family in problem-solving

Both RTI and MTSS are a change from previous approaches that require the intentional redesign of programs and supports to address needs. Particularly within the broad scope of MTSS, this may include school-wide and district-wide (systematic) changes as needed, making leadership, widespread communication, and cooperative effort essential to its success.  


The future of MTSS

As MTSS becomes the new standard for pursuing educational excellence, state educational offices and districts are in the process of developing their own methods for implementing MTSS strategies. By using a four-step problem-solving process within the MTSS framework, all members of an educational team—from administration to teachers and support staff—will be seeking to not only deliver high-quality individualized instruction, but to use data-driven decision-making to select and implement research-based interventions for struggling students. MTSS gives educators a means to address the academic and non-academic needs of students, both of which are critical components for student growth and achievement.

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