Evidence-Based Practices in MTSS and RTI Services: A Bridge Between Special and General Education

04/02/2024

The frameworks of Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) and Response to Intervention (RTI) represent cornerstone approaches in modern education, designed to ensure all students receive the support they need to thrive. These proactive, data-driven frameworks aim to bridge the gap between special and general education, promoting an inclusive environment that adapts to the diverse needs of every student.

By embedding evidence-based practices within MTSS and RTI, educators can create a seamless educational experience. In doing so, school and district administrators can create a cohesive education system that benefits every student, making the distinction between “special” and “general” education less pronounced and more harmonious. Incorporating evidence-based practices into MTSS and RTI services supports students’ academic growth and fosters a more inclusive and effective educational landscape.

Understanding MTSS and RTI in Modern Education

As we delve into the intricacies of educational support structures, it becomes essential to clarify what we mean by RTI and MTSS. 

Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS)

MTSS represents a holistic approach designed to meet each student’s unique requirements through stratified levels of support. This framework is the bedrock of an inclusive educational ethos, addressing the full spectrum of student needs—academic, behavioral, and social-emotional—through a structured, tiered approach. With regular assessments and a steadfast commitment to evidence-based interventions, MTSS aims to offer timely and effective support, moving away from generic solutions that fail to address individual student complexities.

The adaptability and comprehensive nature of MTSS, underscored by federal policies like the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), highlight its importance in creating dynamic support systems that respond to varied student needs efficiently. 

Specifically, IDEA emphasizes the model’s preventive aspect, allocating up to 15 percent of special education funds towards Tier 1 or Tier 2 services for students showing academic and/or behavioral difficulties. This allocation underlines a commitment to supporting students through a tiered framework, mirroring the IDEA stipulation that services be rendered in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to ensure students can engage with the general education curriculum alongside their peers as much as possible

RTI (Response to Intervention)

RTI emphasizes early academic interventions that guide students towards success at the initial sign of learning challenges. It forms a crucial component of the broader MTSS strategy by using data-driven insights to tailor interventions, ensuring that students who face academic hurdles receive the support they need without unnecessary delay.

Integrating Speech-Language Services in the MTSS Framework

Within the MTSS framework, speech-language services shine as a prime example of how specialized interventions can be effectively integrated. Speech and language are fundamental to a student’s ability to engage with the curriculum and interact socially with peers. When educators deploy evidence-based programs like Amplio Speech & Language that are scalable in intensity, they unlock a level of support that is as dynamic as the student body it serves.

For instance, a scenario described in this article from the ASHA Leader exemplifies MTSS in action: A student, not previously identified with speech or language needs, struggles to express thoughts coherently during a group activity. 

The quick collaboration between the speech-language pathologist (SLP) and teacher to address this student’s challenges without immediately resorting to special education evaluation epitomizes the flexibility and responsiveness of the MTSS model. This approach aligns with the core principle of MTSS, offering support based on specific needs and responses to interventions, rather than solely through the special education evaluation process.

Tiered Approach to Speech and Language Support

  • Tier 1: Universal strategies at this level, such as group sessions for basic articulation improvement, lay the groundwork for supporting all students within the classroom environment. This tier is proactive, aiming to enhance communication skills early and address potential challenges swiftly.
  • Tier 2: As needs become more specific, the intervention intensifies to small group sessions targeting particular language goals. This tier represents a strategic escalation of support, maintaining collaboration within the educational setting.
  • Tier 3: At this stage, personalized and intensive interventions are introduced for students with significant speech and language challenges, involving one-on-one therapy sessions tailored to their unique needs. This tier exemplifies the system’s capacity to adapt to and address the wide range of student needs.

Adhering to IDEA and Adapting to Regional Variations

In aligning with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), it’s crucial to recognize that assessments for special education should not be postponed while Tier 2 interventions are underway. Instead, the data collected during Tier 2 interventions for students referred for special education evaluation should be integral to determining eligibility for special education services. This approach supports the continuity of care and reinforces the argument for a cohesive educational system.

Furthermore, it’s important to note that the implementation of MTSS varies across different states and districts. For example, in Texas, SLPs are not permitted to provide MTSS interventions directly; these interventions must be conducted by classroom teachers. However, platforms like Amplio Speech & Language are versatile enough to meet both scenarios. In regions where SLPs cannot directly administer MTSS interventions, they can still play a crucial role by recommending specific programs that classroom teachers can implement. This adaptability ensures that, regardless of local regulations, educators can provide effective speech and language support within the MTSS framework, across all tiers.

By equipping educators with a unified suite of evidence-based speech and language programs and acknowledging the nuances of IDEA and regional MTSS implementations, we not only enhance educational effectiveness but also foster a sense of unity across intervention levels. This approach creates consistency in support quality and maximizes the efficiency of educators’ efforts.

Strategies for Unifying IEP-mandated and MTSS Speech Services

In the journey towards a cohesive, equitable educational experience for all students, districts seeking to forge a strong connection between MTSS/RTI services and special education will find their most strategic starting point in speech and language services. Here are some basic strategies to ensure these services are effectively integrated across the continuum of service delivery models:

Embracing Evidence-Based Practices as Common Ground

The adoption of evidence-based practices across the full continuum of speech-language service delivery models—MTSS, RTI, and IEP-mandated interventions—serves as the foundational step toward unification. This approach ensures that all students benefit from proven, research-backed methodologies, regardless of their specific educational track.

  • Advocacy for Evidence-Based Practices: Educators and administrators must champion the use of evidence-based speech and language programs, emphasizing their role in supporting diverse learner outcomes. Highlighting success stories and research outcomes can help build a compelling case.
  • Consistency Across Services: Implementing a consistent approach to speech and language therapy ensures that all students have access to the same high-quality resources, fostering equity and inclusivity within the educational environment.

Ensuring Adaptability of Resources

The effectiveness of speech and language services hinges on the adaptability of the resources used. Selecting materials that cover the full spectrum of service delivery models ensures that educators can provide targeted support that scales with the intensity required for each student.

  • Comprehensive Material Selection: Choose resources that offer a wide range of materials, addressing various aspects of speech and language development. This includes tools for early intervention, ongoing support, and intensive therapy needs.
  • Training for Resource Utilization: Provide (or ensure your chosen solution provider offers) comprehensive training for educators and service providers on how to effectively adapt and employ these resources across different MTSS tiers and for students with IEPs.

Setting the Stage for Collaboration

Collaboration among all stakeholders—classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, speech-language pathologists (SLPs), speech-language pathology assistants (SLPAs), and other educators—is crucial for the successful integration of speech and language services. Engaging these groups in the evaluation and implementation process promotes a cohesive approach.

  • Initiate Collaborative Dialogues: Organize workshops and meetings where educators from various backgrounds can share insights and strategies for employing speech and language resources effectively. This can help align their approaches and set common goals.
  • Encourage Shared Responsibility: Cultivate an environment where all staff feel responsible for the success of speech and language interventions. This shared sense of purpose can drive more effective collaboration and ultimately, better student outcomes.
  • Leverage Technology for Collaboration: Utilize digital platforms that allow for easy sharing of student progress, resource recommendations, and intervention strategies among team members. This can help maintain continuity of care and ensure all educators are informed and engaged in the student’s learning journey.

By focusing on these strategies, districts can bridge the gap between IEP-mandated services and MTSS frameworks, ensuring that speech and language services are a point of convergence rather than division. This unified approach enhances the educational experience for students with diverse needs while fostering a more inclusive, collaborative, and effective learning environment.

Becca Bishop, MS, CCC-SLP

Becca Bishop, MS, CCC-SLP

Rebecca Bishop is Amplio’s VP of Pedagogy and District Relationships, responsible for ensuring the success of Amplio implementations across all product and service lines. A certified Speech-Language Pathologist from the University of Washington, Becca has more than 20 years of experience in speech-language therapy and aural habilitation, with specialization in hearing loss and cochlear implants, clinical research, and other aspects of intervention & educational support for students with communication disorders.

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