Math Intervention Basics—MTSS and RtI

The Frameworks Explained


MTSS and RtI frameworks can seem similar, but MTSS is a comprehensive, umbrella-type approach that encompasses RtI and other systems.

Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) Defined. MTSS is a coherent continuum of evidence-based, system-wide practices and procedures to support a rapid response to academic and behavioral needs, with frequent data-based monitoring for instructional decision-making to empower each student to achieve to high standards. Because behavioral and emotional problems are often a part of student learning challenges, MTSS also includes other multi-tiered systems including behavioral models such as PBS (Positive Behavior Support), and SST (Student Support Teams). The goal of MTSS is 80 percent academic proficiency.

MTSS has many components


[Image source: Math Intervention Teacher Toolkit]

RtI, which supports MTSS and focuses on the individual student’s academic progress is defined by the RtI Network as “A multi-tiered approach to help struggling learners. Students’ progress is closely monitored at each stage of intervention using data to determine the need for further research-based instruction and/or intervention in general education, in special education, or both.”

Three tiers of RtI:

  • Tier 1: Universal Level, 80–90% of Students. Learners can get what they need in the traditional classroom with high-quality, research-based instruction. The curriculum should be standards driven, rigorous, and relevant.
  • Tier 2: Targeted Level, 5–15% of Students. Learners are underachieving and should receive individualized support that includes standards-based curriculum and supplemental instruction along with remediation of specific skills or concepts. Individualized interventions are differentiated, scaffolded, and targeted to each student.
  • Tier 3: Intensive Level, 1–5% of Students. Learners are significantly underachieving and require individualized, intensive, skill-specific intervention with one-to-one or small-group instruction outside the classroom.

The Problem-Solving Approach in RtI


Adapted from

The problem-solving approach is a time-tested, team-based method that’s been used in school districts for more than two decades. Instructional support teams, also known as teacher assistance teams, work together for each student of concern to:

  • Identify the problem and its cause(s)
  • Develop a plan to attend to the problem
  • Implement the agreed upon plan
  • Evaluate the plan’s effectiveness

Using a school-based team to select interventions and make decisions allows for more brainstorming and flexibility. With a menu of intervention options to choose from, the student can receive instruction more closely aligned with his or her individual or specific academic needs.

In this paper, we’re focusing on the Plan Implementation quadrant of RtI (the lower left quadrant in the graphic). The implementation plan should include strong progress and fidelity monitoring to ensure success: 

  • Progress monitoring. As soon as a student is identified as at risk, his or her progress is monitored based on Tier 1 instruction at least monthly, but ideally weekly or biweekly. Progress is measured by comparing his or her expected rate of learning based on local or national norms and the actual rate of learning. A teacher can use these measurements to gauge the effectiveness of teaching and to adjust instructional techniques to meet the needs of the individual student. A student who’s not responding adequately to Tier 1 instruction moves on to Tier 2 and increasingly intensive levels of intervention and instruction.
  • Fidelity Monitoring. This is the measurement of the degree to which the program is implemented as intended by the program developer, including the quality of implementation. Fidelity is about being consistent and accurate in implementation. When Tier 1 or Tier 2 interventions aren’t working, this is the first aspect to investigate. Fidelity can be measured by self-reporting data, observation, logs, lesson plans and student work. The checks used should create open communication and productive feedback by providing teachers with opportunities to learn and collaborate.

Collaboration and Engagement

MTSS and RtI aren’t a general education or special education initiative. They are a way to bring people and resources together to support students who experience difficulties so they can be successful in school and in life.

  • Teachers working together. General and special educators join forces, pool resources, and share expertise to meet shared goals for instruction and assessment. The collaboration of teachers should be supported throughout the educational system.
  • Family participation. RtI is about creating meaningful family/school relationships, and engaged partnerships between educators and families. Each RtI tier represents increased intensity of problem-solving and services, and more frequent data collection.
  • Student engagement. Teaching students responsibility, self-monitoring, and control, as well as cognitively based strategies, decreases disruptive behavior and improves the learning environment (Marzano, Marzano, & Pickering, 2003, page 78). Students taught to observe and record their own behavior, compare it with predetermined criteria, and then acknowledge/reward their own successes is an effective intervention.

Check Out More Intervention Resources

DreamBox has a wealth of intervention information you can look to for ideas, tools, and best practices to help your students deepen their math understanding and achievement.


Marzano, R. J., Marzano, J. S., & Pickering, D. J. (2003). Classroom Management that Works. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Thera Pearce

teacher | mother | learner | friend | Raleigh, NC

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