MTSS, RTI, and IEPs - What They Can and Cannot Do with Sarah Kirk (Ep 133)

MTSS.. RTI... IEP! What does it all mean and how can we make it work together! Sarah Kirk joins us today from the lens of a school counselor, dedicated to meeting the unique needs of all students. Whether you're a parent or teacher at the IEP table, these are some acronyms you need to know!


Sarah Kirk is a National Board Certified Counselor and the School Counselor Specialist at the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Before this role, she was a School Counselor for nine years. Sarah currently serves on the Board of Directors for ASCA. In 2019, her School Counseling Program became a Recognized ASCA Model Program (RAMP). Sarah was Oklahoma's 2018 School Counselor of the Year and a 2019 National School Counselor of the Year Finalist. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision. Sarah is an advocate for the profession and is passionate about equity and access to school counseling services for all students.


MTSS Basics

We laugh all the time over the alphabet soup that Special Education parents and teachers have to decipher on a daily basis, but MTSS and RTI are definitely acronyms you need to know. MTSS, or multi-tiered system of support, is a framework that provides comprehensive systems of differentiated support t meet the individual needs of students. This is a preventative measure,with a goal to address behaviors, academics, social/emotional health issues before they occur, but also has a tier of reactive measures. You might have heard MTSS mixed in with all the other lingo at your latest IEP meeting, but its not a Special Education specific term - it's a school-wide system!


So, what's RTI?

Response to Intervention is focused on just the academic needs of the child. It fits under the umbrella of MTSS supports, but doesn't accomplish the same whole-child approach that MTSS does.


Think of MTSS as a triangle:

(Top) Tier 3 - Students Needing the Highest Level of Supports

(Middle) Tier 2 - Students Needed Additional Supports

( Bottom ) Tier 1 - All Students


Fact or Myth: An IEP excludes a child from RTI or MTSS.

MYTH! The tiers are meant to be fluid - your child can move between each tier as their individual needs change throughout their education. Also, a student might need Tier 2 supports in math, but only Tier 1 supports in social/emotional learning. an IEP doesn't automatically place them in a particular tier, or guarantee that they stay in that tier for the entirety of their time in school.


So what determines placement in each tier?

No single data point is going to determine a tier placement. We have to look at multiple data points, because one bad test score doesn't mean the child is failing English. Maybe that child just didn't study or didn't sleep well the night before.


The composition of students in each tier is also probably a LOT smaller than you would consider. Sarah says that typically, Tier 2 should have between 10-20% of students, and then between 1-10% of students would be in Tier 3. "When there's a strong preventative Tier 1, we don't need as many students in Tiers 2 and 3, and it helps us identify who really in most need of those individualized supports," says Sarah. If we're seeing more than 50-60% of students needing additional supports, we know to adjust the preventative efforts in Tier 1.


If you are an educational professional, here's what MTSS means to you:

  • You need your entire team/school to be on board if you're looking to adopt the MTSS model.

  • Hopefully, MTSS will eventually be the norm in all schools.

  • Look into your state resources for training and implementing MTSS at your school.

  • PBIS (positive behavior interventions and supports) is very closely aligned with MTSS, but looks mostly at behavioral aspects.


If you are a parent, here's what MTSS means to you:

  • MTSS is meant to create a common language within the school community. If you haven't heard MTSS mentioned at your school functions, it may not be happening at your school (and that's okay).

  • Feel free to ask your child's teachers, administators, and counselors questions about if/when your school or district is considering implementing MTSS. Also, check out your district's website - lots of districts describe this kind of model within their Beliefs or Policies statements.

  • Sarah gives a great example about home-to-school communication and replicating the PBIS/MTSS models of expecations at home - be sure to listen in around the 15 minute mark!


Don't feel overwhelmed with MTSS as "ANOTHER THING" to learn about at your child's school. It is meant to simplify the overall experience of each student and the total school community! MTSS should almost run silently in the background, like natural instincts, once it's up and running.


Here's a glance at the episode...

[5:18] "MTSS tiers are meant to be fluid to support the individial needs of each student in each area of their education."

[7:41] "When there's a strong preventative Tier 1, we don't need as many students in Tiers 2 and 3, and it helps us identify who really in most need of those individualized supports."

[15:00] Great example of replicating the MTSS model and language at home!

Click here to listen!

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