MTSS vs RTI: What’s the difference?

In classrooms where educators are serving diverse groups of learners with many different needs, it’s important to understand all the different ways of delivering support. 

Two of these similar but different approaches are Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, or MTSS, and Response to Intervention, or RTI. Even though these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, these frameworks are distinct from one another in a few key ways.

In this blog, we’ll take a deeper look at MTSS and RTI, explore their similarities and differences, and learn how they can work together to create an environment designed to meet the needs of all learners.

What is MTSS?

MTSS is a proactive three-tiered educational framework. This framework was created to support individual academic, behavioral, social-emotional, and physical needs. It is a “holistic” system, or a system that focuses on the whole child instead of a single part, like academic performance.

A holistic approach means that the MTSS framework sees learners’ needs as connected with one another. 

For example, if a learner is having a hard time with emotional regulation at school, that student will likely struggle to engage in learning. MTSS offers a system to help address that social-emotional need so they can gain strategies to help them be regulated enough to learn.

MTSS is “proactive” in that the first tier, or universal tier, provides universal supports for all learners, like evidence based curriculum. It also aims to identify learners who need extra support in specific areas, and deliver it quickly through Tiers 2 and 3. Tiers 2 and 3 offer more individualized support to students who need intervention.

To learn more about MTSS, explore Texthelp’s MTSS Guide here.

What is RTI?

RTI stands for Response to Intervention. It’s a framework that was created to deliver academic intervention to learners who need it, in both small group instruction at tier two and individual intervention at tier three. 

RTI is an earlier framework that was created before MTSS. The two frameworks have many similarities, highlighted below.

Are RTI and MTSS the same thing?

MTSS and RTI are sometimes used interchangeably, but they’re really two separate frameworks. MTSS includes the original elements of RTI, which is probably why so many people confuse the terms. But MTSS widens RTI’s limited focus in order to more effectively meet student and educator needs.

What are similarities between RTI and MTSS?

RTI and MTSS are both three-tiered frameworks. They both have a universal tier which includes support for all learners, and interventions for struggling learners available through tiers two and three. 

RTI and MTSS both aim to identify needs and provide targeted support, quickly. They both include data-driven decision making and universal screeners for all learners, too.

What are the differences between RTI and MTSS?

One of the main differences between RTI and MTSS is their scope. RTI focuses on academics, and MTSS goes beyond academics to cover social, emotional, and behavioral support as well. 

Another difference is that while RTI and MTSS both include tiered systems of intervention, MTSS has extra elements, like collaboration and community involvement. 

How do MTSS and RTI work together?

RTI laid the foundation for MTSS, so RTI practices easily integrate into the MTSS framework. MTSS and RTI allow schools to identify learners’ struggles early, and provide interventions to support their specific challenges.

By folding RTI practices into the broader scope of MTSS, educators are able to make sure that learners' academic challenges are met with timely and effective responses.

MTSS’ inclusive approach means that educators have resources available to support student needs beyond just academics. With behavioral and social-emotional supports built into all of the tiers, students and educators can overcome behavioral and emotional barriers in order to be ready to learn and engage.

“We have to move away from the idea that MTSS is something that a single administrator can do. If we want those systems to change, it takes a village."