RTI Response to Intervention | MTSS

What is RTI at school? Who determines what RTI looks like for a kid? Can a parent refuse RTI? So, before you read this and say, “Hmph, you’re so negative! Not all schools do this!” let me save you the time and email. What’s the difference between RTI and MTSS?

RTI is an abused system. When done correctly, it works. I’ve seen it work in my own circle of family and friends. The problem is, it’s not always used correctly and leads to problems. More on that in a bit. And, some schools have moved on to a newer concept–MTSS. MTSS stands for Multi-Tier System of Supports.


What is RTI?

Response to Intervention (RTI) is a multi-tier approach to the early identification and support of students with learning and behavior needs.

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What that means is this. A teacher or parent identifies a student’s needs, and they try some interventions. Sounds simple enough, right?

So what’s the problem?

Side note, RTI only began in 2003. So it is fairly new.

Note: Some schools now call this MTSS, for Multi-Tiered System of Supports. There are other names for it as well.

It’s important to note that neither MTSS or RTII are the same as Title 1 schools.

What is RTI?

Starting at the beginning, let’s discuss RTI. (sometimes called RTII) First of all, it’s important to note that RTI is not special education. There is no set of national/federal rules or laws that determine how a district implements RTI. And while it can vary from state to state, this short guide from Pennsylvania is a brief but thorough overview.


Most states use a three-tiered approach.

Benefits of RTI

I have a family member who was struggling in math. Mom talked to the teacher. The Teacher put the child in the RTI math program. And she made progress and caught up with her peers.

That is the main benefit of RTI. For the right kid, with the right intervention, that’s all the need.

What RTI looks like in my school district: One class period a day, the students have a class called WIN which is short for What I Need. Different school districts have different catchy names for it.

During that class period, the students break away from their homeroom group, depending on their intervention needs, and do that for a class period. My family member receives math assistance. My son receives reading enrichment and other enrichment (because I think he’d qualify for gifted, but he doesn’t want to be tested so I don’t force it).

Some students learn study and organizational (Executive Functioning) skills. My family member is no longer frustrated in math class and my son no longer complains “I’m bored, school is too easy.” WIN or RTI worked for us.

Difference between RTI and MTSS

The main difference is that RTI tends to focus more on academic struggles, and MTSS takes a ‘whole child’ approach. That is, if a child is struggling, the school will not just offer a targeted intervention to meet the academic need. School personnel is to look at the whole child, all academic and social areas, health, etc.

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If a child was struggling in math, under RTI they would be offered math supports, math tutoring, etc. With MTSS, they are still offered the math supports. But the MTSS team will look at the entire child to see if other areas need to be addressed. That may include social work, nutrition, counseling and other departments besides Math will get involved.

Can a parent refuse RTI?

The short answer is yes. However, RTI is a general education program. It is not special education. So the process will be different, you will not call an IEP meeting to discuss. You’ll have to ask your school principal or the district pupil services, head of curriculum, someone like that…how to refuse your child’s participation in a general education program.

RTI and IEP Evaluations

IDEA specifically addresses RTI and evaluations.

The 2004 reauthorization of IDEA makes mention of RTI as a method of part of the process of identifying SLD:

  1. In diagnosing learning disabilities, schools are no longer required to use the discrepancy model. The act states that “a local educational agency shall not be required to take into consideration whether a child has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability[…]”
  2. Response to intervention is specifically mentioned in the regulations in conjunction with the identification of a specific learning disability. IDEA 2004 states, “a local educational agency may use a process that determines if the child responds to scientific, research-based intervention as a part of the evaluation procedures.”
  3. Early Intervening Services (EIS) are prominently mentioned in IDEA for the first time. These services are directed at interventions for students prior to referral in an attempt to avoid inappropriate classification, which proponents claim an RTI model does. IDEA now authorizes the use of up to 15% of IDEA allocated funds for EIS.

Another important consideration point is that RTI interventions are supposed to be evidence-based. And that isn’t always happening either.


Who defines RTI?

Each state will have its own tiered intervention model. The US Dept of Ed does not require nor does it endorse any specific model. Instead, they merely put forth criteria or components. From the RTI Network:

  • High-quality, scientifically based classroom instruction. All students receive high-quality, research-based instruction in the general education classroom.
  • Ongoing student assessment. Universal screening and progress monitoring provide information about a student’s learning rate and level of achievement, both individually and in comparison with the peer group. These data are then used when determining which students need closer monitoring or intervention. Throughout the RTI process, student progress is monitored frequently to examine student achievement and gauge the effectiveness of the curriculum. Decisions made regarding students’ instructional needs are based on multiple data points taken in context over time.
  • Tiered instruction. A multi-tier approach is used to efficiently differentiate instruction for all students. The model incorporates increasing intensities of instruction offering specific, research-based interventions matched to student needs.
  • Parent involvement. Schools implementing RTI provide parents information about their child’s progress, the instruction and interventions used, the staff who are delivering the instruction, and the academic or behavioral goals for their child.

Please Note: RTI is not special education. Response to Intervention is considered general education. Procedural Safeguards do not apply, nor does any part of IDEA or IEP Laws.

Why is my child in RTI?

If your child’s teacher has suggested RTI, it means that they see your child struggling in something. And, they are using interventions to address it. Note that parents do not have any rights so to speak, when it comes to RTI, as you do the IEP process. I suppose if I wanted to, I could refuse to put my child in that particular WIN class. However, I am not sure what else he would do during that class period.

I recently had a client whose son has a 504 for dyslexia. That school district also has WIN. During his WIN period, the 504 team asked Mom which WIN she wants him in: Reading Comprehension or Executive Functioning skills. I don’t remember what she chose. My point is that some schools have multiple options for kids based on the needs and size of the school.

RTI Gone Wrong

So this is the part where I expect to get pushback. But RTI has been overused and abused. Used to delay Special Education Evaluations and Services. Often.

So much so, that the OSEP has put out multiple guidance letters about this. (see below)

If your child is in RTI and is doing well, great! I mean it! I am always happy to see a child’s needs being met. However, just have it on your radar that RTI is sometimes used to delay evaluations or IEPs. The old “Let’s try RTI and ‘wait and see.‘ ” Go with your gut.

If you believe your child needs an IEP, request IEP evaluations.

Bonus tip: Your child can be going through the IEP evaluation process and receive RTI interventions at the same time!

OSEP Guidance Letters RTI

Here are the OSEP Guidance Letters I mentioned. There are more on the OSEP website. They make it very clear, repeatedly, that RTI is not to be used in lieu of Special Education or to delay Special Education Evaluations.



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