Today’s special education environment is especially challenging. Administrators face capped or shrinking budgets as the demand for related services and support is increasing.
The good news is you can adopt an MTSS/RtII framework to related services that lets you provide for more students for less of your budget.
Some educators distinguish between Response to Intervention and Instruction (RtII), which they say focuses mostly on academics and behavior, and Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), which can encompass RtII but also address social and emotional concerns.
While the two terms aren’t strictly synonymous, they are closely connected, which is why we at Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS) generally speak of the “MTSS/RtII” model or approach. The goal is always to provide students who struggle with tiered support, prescribing more individualized interventions based on their ability to make meaningful progress.
Three Ways the MTSS/RtII Model Saves Effort, Time, and Money
Implementing MTSS/RtII in your related services program can produce big benefits. This approach actively seeks to help as many students as possible before formal therapy enters the picture.
What are the positive outcomes? Here are just three:
- Widely available support strategies mean students who would benefit from them can do so without being unnecessarily identified as having a disability, and so steering clear of an individualized education program (IEP) or 504 plan that would keep them on direct service year after year.
- Stable and smaller caseloads mean your program’s clinicians are free to focus on students who legitimately need ongoing therapy and related services, avoiding burdensome schedules your budget can’t support.
- Economical and easily implemented interventions multiply each therapy dollar’s value and impact. For example, 70% of all students referred to occupational therapy for handwriting issues have those issues resolved through Pencil Power™, our short-term, small group program for students with handwriting difficulties.
Getting Started with MTSS/RtII In Your Program
So what steps do programs like yours need to take in order to put the MTSS/RtII approach into place?
- Examine Your Therapy Referrals
The first step is to determine what kinds of tiered supports you need to have available for teachers and students. Take a look at what’s driving your therapy referrals. What are the functional difficulties causing the referral? Where are referrals coming from (by grade and by building)? Who’s making the referrals (teachers or parents)? Once you know what’s causing referrals, you can focus on addressing the most common reasons with tiered support.
- Build Your Tier 1 Tool Kit
Tier 1 supports are tools and strategies made available to all students. To effectively use Tier 1 interventions, teachers must be equipped to implement basic therapeutic strategies: sensory breaks, increasing expressive language in the classroom, basic behavior management, and so on. There are loads of these kinds of resources online, including PTS’ own free, web-based library.
- Don’t Forget to Collect Data
Collecting data is key to a successful MTSS program. Have a system to track therapy and behavioral health referrals so you can identify where to focus your interventions. PTS’ BudgetWatch™ system automatically tracks them, but you can always use a manual tracking system. Also, teachers need to be part of the data collection process, as they monitor students’ responses to interventions. Knowing whether a student is making progress at a given level of support is key to effective implementation.
- Prepare Necessary Tier 2 Supports
You’ll need to have some short term individualized and small group support for those students who don’t make progress at Tier 1. These Tier 2 supports might include handwriting groups, Quick Artic for students with pronunciation difficulties, or social skills groups. Therapists don’t have to run these small groups; for instance, aides and paraprofessionals can implement PTS’ Pencil PowerTM and Super-Self™ programs.
By making these lower-cost tools and strategies available to struggling students easily and early on, you’ll prevent a lot of teacher and student frustration as well as a host of unnecessary referrals. You’ll also start getting your therapy and related services budget under control once and for all.
Ready to get started? Check out our Tier 1 Interventions for Behavior packet. You’ll find it a valuable resource as you start envisioning what the RtII and MTSS approach to related services can look like in your program.
And if you’d like additional pointers on making your program work more effectively and efficiently, contact us to claim a free related services audit. We’ll show you immediate opportunities to cut your costs without sacrificing high quality service to your students.