Nebraska’s Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) is a framework for integrating levels, or tiers, of academic and behavior support to promote the success of all students. The ultimate goal of an MTSS is to provide high-quality instruction and degree of support each student needs to be successful.
MTSS is not a special program, class or intervention. Rather, it is a way of organizing instruction and intervention to help all students and promote early identification of students needing additional academic or behavioral support to be successful. MTSS is also be used to help identify students who may need special education.
- High-quality, research-based instruction in the general education setting
- Universal screening to identify students needing supplemental support
- Multiple tiers (levels) of instruction that are progressively more intense, based on the response to instruction
- Evidence-based interventions matched to student need
- Ongoing progress monitoring of student performance (Response to Intervention)
Student progress is monitored, and instruction and intervention are provided, in varying intensities based on individual need. NeMTSS organizes instruction and intervention into three tiers, which provide different levels of support.
Tier 1 | Core
All students receive high-quality, core academic and behavior instruction and supports.
Tier 2 | Intervention
Students needing additional support receive more focused, targeted small group instruction/intervention and supports, in addition to core academic and behavior curriculum and instruction.
Tier 3 | Intensive Intervention
Individual students receive the most intense instruction based on individual student need, in addition to core and supplemental academic and behavior, curriculum, instruction and supports.
Schools screen or review student progress to identify those who need additional support. A school-based team helps identified students using a problem-solving process to develop and implement evidence-based interventions and monitor student response.
School-based team membership varies depending on the student’s needs but should include individuals with knowledge of the student, grade-level expectations, the problem-solving process, evidence-based academic and behavioral interventions, progress monitoring and diagnostic assessment.
Teams typically include:
- School counselor
- Intervention specialist
- School psychologist
- School social worker
When developing intensive, individual supports, a team member — including the school psychologist — may administer individual diagnostic assessments to help plan the intervention. Problem-solving teams at the individual student level should always include the student’s parents.
- Early identification of academic or behavioral concerns
- Instruction and intervention support that is matched to my child’s academic or behavioral needs
- Involvement in data-based problem-solving for my child
- Feedback on how the targeted and individual interventions are working for my child
- Information on my child’s progress in meeting grade-level standards/expectations
The screening and progress monitoring components of MTSS identify students who need additional support to meet their goals. The problem-solving process will help identify the nature of your child’s learning difficulties, the specific intervention and supports to implement, and the intensity of support needed to improve outcomes and sustain growth.
The school team discovers what works for a student through ongoing problem-solving and monitoring response to intervention. Your child’s response to instruction and to intensive, evidence-based interventions will help determine whether s/he may need special education.
- If core and intensive, evidence-based intervention are not successful at supporting your child to make adequate progress toward his or her goals, the team should consider whether s/he may be a student with a disability who needs specialized instruction.
- If core and intensive, evidence-based intervention is working to support your child in making adequate progress toward his or her goals, but progress can only be maintained by providing high-level support over time, this may also be an indicator that your child needs special education.
- Your child’s response to intervention is one indicator of potential need for special education; however, just because a student is not meeting grade level expectations or is receiving intensive intervention support, it does not necessarily mean they are a student with a disability or need for special education.
Parents may request an evaluation for special education at any time. The request may be written or verbal, but it is important to document the date of the request and to whom it was given. Communicate your request to the classroom teacher, school counselor, or Early Childhood Special Education coordinator/administrator at your child’s school; or to the district Special Services office.
To receive special education services, a student must qualify for one of 13 IDEA eligibility categories AND because of the disability, need specially designed instruction. Not all students with a diagnosis need special education services. For information on IDEA disability categories and eligibility criteria, visit the Nebraska Department of Education’s website, Office of Special Education, or refer directly to Nebraska Rule 51.
The school or district must respond to your request using one of these methods:
Obtain your written permission to conduct the evaluation.
The district cannot conduct a special education evaluation without your written consent. Prior to obtaining your written consent, the school team should discuss the proposed evaluation procedures with you, so you are fully informed. The school has 45 school days to complete the evaluation.
Provide a formal, written refusal with an explanation for the refusal.
Additionally, the school or district should provide you with a copy and explanation of your procedural safeguards when they respond to your request.
What if my school tells me they cannot initiate an evaluation until the MTSS “process” is completed?
Parents may request an evaluation for special education at any time regardless of the tiered support level their child is currently receiving. The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) clarified in a Jan. 21, 2011, memo that response to intervention cannot be used to deny or delay an evaluation.
The following websites offer helpful information for families. For more information on MTSS at your child’s school, please contact the school administrator.
- National Center on Response to Intervention – Parent Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Response to Intervention
- National Center for Learning Disabilities – A Parent’s Guide to Response to Intervention
- Families Together, Inc. – Family Guide to Response to Intervention
- RTI Action Network – Resources for Parents and Families
Why not use a discrepancy model or patterns of strengths and weaknesses (PSW) to determine eligibility for specific learning disability (SLD)?
Current models for determining eligibility include the discrepancy model, various methods of determining patterns of strengths and weaknesses (PSW), or NeMTSS. In the discrepancy model, a student’s current level of academic achievement is compared to his or her current level of cognitive functioning (i.e., IQ).
If there is a significant discrepancy between the two scores, the discrepancy model suggests this discrepancy is evidence that a learning disability exists. Unfortunately, there is no research to suggest that students with and without significant IQ-achievement discrepancies differ in their learning needs or in their response to intervention. Furthermore, the discrepancy model encourages a “wait-to-fail” approach because a large enough discrepancy required between IQ and achievement for eligibility often does not emerge until third grade or later, missing an important window for early intervention.
There are several PSW approaches, all of which examine the relationship between cognitive processing and specific academic achievement areas. PSW approaches identify SLD by determining (a) cognitive weaknesses based on IQ subtest results; (b) academic weaknesses that are hypothesized to relate to identified cognitive weaknesses; and (c) evidence of intact cognitive-achievement abilities (McGill & Busse, 2016).
There is little agreement on procedures for determining what constitutes a cognitive weakness, nor is there agreement on what PSW method accurately identifies individuals with SLD (i.e., different PSW methods yield different results). Furthermore, the psychometric evidence supporting profile analysis in cognitive tests is weak and subtest scores upon which important decisions are made in a PSW model can vary greatly over time (e.g., Canivez, Watkins, & Dombrowski, 2017).
The NeMTSS process addresses concerns associated with both the discrepancy and PSW approaches by eliminating the need to rely on hypothesized and unsubstantiated relationships between cognitive profiles and academic achievement. NeMTSS relies more heavily on direct assessment of academic skills than either approach, making the evaluation procedures more valid for decision-making about students’ academic needs. Additionally, NeMTSS provides interventions to students who are struggling earlier and throughout the entire evaluation process, rather than making them wait to access services.
There are numerous disagreements in the field of SLD identification about the role of cognitive processing, or IQ testing. Some believe that a comprehensive cognitive assessment is critical for developing appropriate interventions for students, based on the logic that cognitive weaknesses are directly related to academic weaknesses, and thus should be intervention targets.
While this belief is intuitive, there is not enough research-based evidence to conclude that interventions based on cognitive processing have any impact on academic performance, nor is there evidence to suggest measuring cognitive processing deficits lead to selecting better interventions than would be selected if only measuring academic skill deficits. Thus, others believe cognitive testing has limited or no value in identifying SLD, and instead, time should be spent on implementing research-based interventions and examining a student’s response to those interventions (i.e., NeMTSS).
Ultimately, the decision to use cognitive testing should be made by the IEP team; if the team believes there is value in spending time to determine an IQ score, and those assessment results can inform IEP development and goals, then a cognitive test may be worthwhile. However, given the lack of evidence that cognitive testing informs better instruction, this decision should be made very carefully.
Can an eligibility determination of SLD be made using only information that was collected through an MTSS process?
The NeMTSS process includes the need for comprehensive evaluation. The Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team (MDT) must use a variety of data-gathering tools and strategies, even if a response to intervention process is used. The response to intervention process results are one component of the information reviewed as part of the required evaluation procedures.
If a child has learning problems primarily due to the result of a visual impairment, hearing impairment, orthopedic impairment, mental handicap, behavior disorder; or of environmental, cultural or economic disadvantage, can the child be verified as a child with a specific learning disability?
No. Specific learning disability does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of a visual impairment, hearing impairment, orthopedic impairment, mental handicap, behavior disorder or economic disadvantage.
One of the goals of NeMTSS is to provide intervention at an early age. If the child does not make appropriate progress in his/her learning with intense intervention, the child may be evaluated to determine if s/he has a specific learning disability.
Progress monitoring data are critical for determining whether a child has made sufficient progress in response to a scientific, research-based intervention process; however, they are not the sole basis for identifying a specific learning disability.
There are eight achievement areas listed in federal and state laws in which children may verify as having a specific learning disability. Are these the only areas in which the child may verify?
Yes. Both federal and state laws state that the child must meet the verification guidelines for one or more of these eight areas of achievement:
- Oral expression
- Listening comprehension
- Written expression
- Basic reading skill
- Reading fluency skills
- Reading comprehension
- Mathematics calculation
- Mathematics problem-solving
If the child has other difficulties, the child may be evaluated to determine if s/he may have a different disability.
Must a child have average or higher intelligence in order to be verified as a child with a disability in the category of specific learning disability?
No, but if there is a reason to suspect that the child may have a mental handicap, then that verification category must be ruled out.
Yes. The sooner students are identified to receive intervention support and provided systematic, intense instruction, the less severe their problems are likely to be (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000; Torgesen, 2002).
The NeMTSS process requires comprehensive evaluation. The MDT must use a variety of data gathering tools and strategies, even if an MTSS process is used. The results of an MTSS process will be one component of the information reviewed as part of the required evaluation procedures.