"But isn't MTSS just another word for RTI?"
Both RTI and MTSS are geared towards helping struggling learners receive needed reinforcement. Both are data-driven and students are assessed and data is tracked on a regular basis. Although both RTI and MTSS are designed specifically to support students, RTI is an instructional model focused solely on student response to instruction and intervention. MTSS is much more comprehensive than RTI and is a framework rather than a "program" or stand alone initiative. MTSS models also strive to promote strategies that can be implemented in the best interest of all students; from behavior supports, collaboration, critical thinking, and technology to community outreach and parental education. It’s an all-of-the-above approach, seeking to help all students gain understanding and mastery. Within RTI, you tend to see a greater focus on Tier 2 and Tier 3 decisions. MTSS models place a larger focus on what should be done to help all students achieve progress and proficiency, including Tier 1.
By definition, the term ‘multi-tiered system of supports’ (MTSS) means a comprehensive system of differentiated supports that includes these four essential components: A. a school-wide, multi-level instructional, behavioral, and social-emotional support system for preventing school failure; B. screening; C. progress monitoring; and D. data-based decision making for instruction, movement within the multi-level system, and disability identification (in accordance with some state laws). The most effective MTSS efforts involve this comprehensive and inclusive approach to helping students who are struggling in meeting academic standards.
Additionally, in a growing number of schools across the country, response to intervention (RTI) positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS), and Social Emotional Learning (SEL) constitute methods for implementing an MTSS framework. Ideally though, MTSS is implemented more holistically to integrate efforts targeting academic, behavioral, social, emotional, physical, and mental health concerns. This framework is more effective with coordination of school-employed and community-based service providers to ensure integration and coordination of services among the school, home, and community.
Further, multitiered systems of support (MTSS) have become increasingly prevalent in the delivery of school mental health services. Some primary examples of MTSS in schools have included not only RTI and PBIS, but also school-based behavioral health centers, and student assistance programs (SAPs). Across all of these service delivery models, MTSS provide a continuum of behavioral and mental health services for students that aims to prevent academic and behavioral problems.
The MTSS model is not a program; instead, it is a framework for offering services in schools that meet the learning and mental health needs of all students. It allows for the integration of efforts on closely related issues (e.g. safety, mental health, and behavior) from the school staff members who provide relevant student and learning support services. This continuum also aligns well with best practices for school crisis management that encompass prevention, preparedness, immediate response, and long-term recovery, including the PREPaRE School Crisis Prevention and Intervention Training Curriculum developed by the National Association of School Psychologists (Brock, 2011; Reeves et al., 2011) and the US Department of Education’s (2013) joint guidance for emergency planning
Overall, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) is a coherent continuum of evidence based, system-wide practices to support a rapid, coordinated response to academic, behavioral, and mental health needs. MTSS not only provides support at each level of intervention but emphasizes preventive services within a collaborative, cross disciplinary approach, ideally with community involvement. As a comprehensive framework rather than a stand alone program, MTSS seeks to integrate the "silos" of programs and initiatives within the school and community settings that frequently operate independently of each other. MTSS is a data informed framework targeting not only the comprehensive service delivery of academic and behavioral support for individual students but also focuses on enhancing school climate, connecting the dots between learning and student mental health, and promoting transformative systemic change.
For additional information see:
Cowan, K. C., Vaillancourt, K., Rossen, E., & Pollitt, K. (2013). A framework for safe and successful schools [Brief]. Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
Rossen, E. & Cowan, K. (November, 2013). The Role of School in Supporting Traumatized Students Retrieved from http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/trauma/prr_nov13_trauma_sensitive_schools.pdf
Vaillancourt, K., Cowan, K., Skalski, A. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.nasponline.org/resources/handouts/depression/handout_MTSS_key_points.pdf
Data based decision making (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.rti4success.org/essential-components-rti/data-based-decision-making
Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2013 (June, 2013) Retrieved from http://www.nasponline.org/advocacy/docs/response_every_child_ready.pdf
National Association of School Psychologists. (2013). Racial and ethnic disproportionality in education [Position statement]. Bethesda, MD: Author. Retrieved from http://www.nasponline.org/about_nasp/positionpapers/Racial_Ethnic_Disproportionality.pdf
The Role of the School Psychologist in the RTI process (n.d.) Retreived from http://www.nasponline.org/advocacy/rtirole_nasp.pdf