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RTI/MTSS, Tiering Students, Starting with MTSS/RTI

RTI MTSS intervention cycle

A three-tiered system of service delivery is a necessary structure to efficiently and effectively support all children, not just those who struggle in school. The three-tiered system of service delivery is crucial in the attempt to ensure all students achieve at high levels and all students achieve college and career readiness. 

The 1st step in building an RTI/MTSS system involves examining system effectiveness, which must occur prior to examining students individually. This section describes each tier in detail, and how to examine the effectiveness of a school’s system of service delivery. 

Tier 1 Core Instruction: 

At Tier 1, all students receive scientific, research-based core instruction implemented with integrity and emphasizing grade-level standards and school-wide behavioral expectations. Instruction at Tier 1 should be explicit, differentiated and include flexible grouping and active student engagement. To ensure 80% of students’ needs are met at Tier 1, high quality instruction is essential. Features of high quality, research-based instruction include (Chard et al., 2008): 

  • Standards-Based Curriculum: a curriculum based upon the TEKS/Common Core State Standards (or state/district standards). 

  • Systematic Explicit Instruction: Skills are taught from less to more complex using direct, clear and concise instructional language. 

  • Differentiated Instruction: Students have different levels of background knowledge and school readiness; differentiated instruction engages each student in active learning according to his/her needs. The content of instruction, delivery of instruction, and targeted level of instruction can be differentiated. 

  • Flexible Grouping: A combination of whole group, small group, and individual instruction allows teachers to create fluid groups that meet the needs of all students. 

  • Active Student Engagement: Ensuring all students are actively involved during instruction and are not passive recipients; this can be accomplished with high rates of opportunities to respond, ample time to practice skills, and prompt corrective feedback. 

  • Classroom Behavior Strategies: Proactively and explicitly teaching the expected behaviors and routines, frequent use of reinforcement and praise (4:1 positive to negative feedback loop), quick and efficient transition times, and consistent instructional response to misbehavior. 

A solid Tier 1 should be sufficient to help 80% of students meet or exceed grade level expectations as measured by a standardized summative assessment. If Tier 1 instruction is not successful in meeting the needs of 80% of the school’s population, the school team should evaluate the quality of the curriculum and its delivery and also consider possible solutions to create a better match between students’ needs and the core curriculum and instruction (e.g., improving explicit instruction, differentiation strategies, use of flexible grouping, and maximizing active student engagement). 

Universal Screening

Universal screening is the process of assessing all students to identify individuals who are at risk or in need of more individualized support (Hughes & Dexter, 2008). It is similar to screening potential health problems by taking a child’s temperature or monitoring their height and weight.Universal screening data are used in two ways. First, they are used to determine if core instruction is sufficient for at least 80% of students. A sufficient core is fundamental to the success of RTI/MTSS and cannot be overlooked. Second, they are used to identify students who need additional support. Universal screening procedures generate objective information for parents and educators to proactively determine students whose needs are not being adequately addressed and increase efficiency of resource allocation.Universal screeners often over-identify individuals as at-risk. Teams then compare universal screening results with multiple sources of data (e.g., benchmark data, class performance, etc.) to confirm or disconfirm at-risk status. The over-identification of students using universal screening is planned and desired to prevent missing students who are in need.

In secondary education, universal screening shifts to individual screening to identify basic skill deficits in students who are struggling in content area classes. In this scenario, data are not used to preemptively identify students in need of support, but to identify underlying skill deficits in a subset of students who have already been identified by content area teachers as needing additional support.

Tier 1 Enrichment and Support

Students who are meeting or exceeding standards may require enrichment beyond the core to demonstrate academic growth. It is the school’s responsibility to ensure that all students make academic progress regardless of their entry level.  The Branching Minds Support Library contains tier 1 learning activities that may be used as teachers design differentiated instruction for individual or small groups of students.

Tier 2 Targeted Group Intervention

At Tier 2, students identified as being at-risk academically or behaviorally through universal screeners are provided scientific, research-based interventions in addition to the core. Approximately 10-15% of students will need supplemental instruction at Tier 2 to become proficient. Tier 2 interventions are implemented with groups of students demonstrating common skill deficits or social/emotional/behavioral risk characteristics. These students should be observed on Branching Minds, where a collaborative intervention plan is developed, monitored, and documented.

Targeted group interventions typically involve an additional 60-90 minutes of instruction (outside of core instruction) provided each week (e.g., two to three 30-minute intervention periods). Targeted group interventions must be more explicit: more intensive than core instruction; more supportive in the form of encouragement, feedback, and positive reinforcement; carefully scaffolded; and ideally occur in groups of approximately 3 to 5 students, for elementary, and 6 to 8 students or tier 2 support classes broken into a few groups of 6 to 8 students, for middle and high schools. 

Tier 3 Intensive Individualized Intervention

Students who have not demonstrated progress with targeted group interventions at Tier 2 require more time in more intensive interventions. Tier 3 interventions are distinguished from Tier 2 interventions because they are individualized based on data collected in individual problem solving, occur with smaller student-teacher ratios (e.g., ideally 1-on-1, however, groups of 3 to 5 students or a larger group broken into a few groups of 3-5 students, is acceptable for middle and high schools), and possibly occur for a longer duration of time (e.g., more daily minutes or more weeks spent in intervention). About 5-10% of students will require this level of intensive support. 

Tier 3 intervention plans include more than what occurs during intervention time. They also include strategies for maximizing student outcomes during core instruction or Tier 1, as well as supports to use at home or in the community.


Branching Minds supports all tier levels

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