Online Degrees Blog Understanding Response to Intervention (RTI) and Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS)

Understanding Response to Intervention (RTI) and Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS)

08 October

Response to Intervention (RTI) is a system of supports that schools put in place to provide high-quality education to students with disabilities. It was originally developed as an overall framework for prediction, remediation and prevention of negative outcomes common for students with disabilities. It derives from the foundational components of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), including nondiscriminatory evaluation, appropriate education and procedural due process.

RTI is designed to aid in the identification of learning disabilities and other learning and behavior problems and learning disabilities, improve instructional quality, and provide students with academic opportunities. It calls for the implementation of a differentiated curriculum with different instructional methods and tiers of increasingly intensive, scientific, research-based interventions.

“When RTI is implemented on a consistent, ongoing basis, students with disabilities thrive, as do other students [who] have no label but who may hit some bumps in the roads along the way. RTI puts into place a system that is sensitive to the learning needs, growth and progress of all students,” says Don Deshler, the Williamson Family Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Special Education who has served as the director of the Center for Research on Learning at the University of Kansas.

The high-quality instruction for which RTI is designed is characterized by cultural and linguistic responsiveness, assessment, and evidence–based intervention. RTI has four components:

1) Universal Screening

Universal screening is used to understand how each student is performing on critical academic tasks in the core curriculum. Teachers provide a universal probe which assesses the student’s understanding of essential skills and content. Once complete, a better understanding emerges of which students are succeeding and which are struggling, providing a baseline for educators.

2) Teaching With Evidence-Based Practices & Curriculum

Instructional methods for students engaged with RTI are based on those which have been shown to work with students in the past. If educators use established, evidence-supported methods, they can have reasonable confidence that students should respond to their instruction.

3) Monitoring

Periodically, educators reassess their students, in a manner similar to the initial screening, to see if they are absorbing the content that is being taught to them. This provides a cue to teachers to look more closely at any students that are still having difficulties and make adjustments or minor modifications to their educational plan.

4) Tiered Interventions

If minor adjustments fail to make a difference, educators may need to consider more intensive delivered instruction. RTI creates a tiered framework in which the number of tiers can depend on the specific way in which RTI is being implemented in a given educational system. Typically, though, they can be generalized into three levels:

  • Tier 1 – Level of instruction found in general education classrooms
  • Tier 2 – More deliberate, direct and explicit in how students are taught and how feedback is modeled and details provided
  • Tier 3 – Intensive instruction, including the introduction of a specialist with specific expertise to weigh in on the situation

Depending on your state, RTI may be called different names and different acronyms, but the important and consistent element across all of these programs is the idea of tier-based support. Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) is a specific implementation of RTI that has been designed for all students, not just those with disabilities.

MTSS supports four core beliefs:

1) Every child learns and achieves to high standards.
2) Learning includes both academic and social competencies.
3) Every member of the education community continues to grow, learn and reflect.
4) All leaders at all levels are responsible for every student.

According to, “When implemented fully, an effective MTSS results in a self-correcting feedback loop that uses universal screening assessment data to not only intervene at the student level but also to continuously refine the system by analyzing grade, building and district level data for the purpose of school improvement.”1

To learn more about RTI and MTSS, visit the resources below:



If you would like to learn more about how to implement these crucial tools for student success in your classroom, consider a master’s degree, graduate certificate or licensure endorsement in a special education discipline from the #1 special education graduate program in the country at the University of Kansas School of Education and Human Sciences.2