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Resources for Implementing Tiered Systems of Support in Virtual or Hybrid Learning Environments

September 10, 2020

SRI International
   Kirby Chow, REL Appalachia
   Chris Ortiz, REL Appalachia
   Jenn Nakamura, REL Appalachia

Multi-Tiered Frameworks

MTSS: Provides academic and behavioral supports for all students based on their individual needs.

RTI: Focuses on strong core instruction for all students and supports students who are struggling academically through early identification and evidence-based interventions.

PBIS: Prevents and addresses behavioral challenges by offering a range of interventions based on the student's level of need.

To learn more about these frameworks, check out this blog post!

COVID-19 prompted abrupt school closures and a sudden transition to distance learning in spring 2020. This disrupted student learning and engagement, resulting in lost learning time, and exacerbated pre-existing inequalities in students' access to resources. As many schools across the nation are starting the 2020/21 school year with virtual or hybrid (a combination of virtual and in-person) instruction, implementing tiered systems of support to meet students' academic and social-emotional needs may be challenging. Fortunately, educators can adapt their existing multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), Response to Intervention (RTI), and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) frameworks to meet the moment. These tiered systems can play an essential role in personalizing learning, promoting student engagement, and connecting students with necessary supports in a virtual environment.

REL Appalachia and the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) formed the Early Literacy Partnership in 2017 to support implementation of TDOE's Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI2) framework. In recent months, stakeholders at TDOE expressed interest in learning more about approaches to implement tiered systems of support in virtual and hybrid environments so they can continue to meet a range of student needs using the RTI2 framework during the 2020/21 school year. The table below provides resources to help stakeholders at TDOE and educators in other state and local education agencies implement an MTSS, RTI, and/or PBIS framework using diverse delivery methods.

Source Framework(s) Context Description Relevant Resources
Michigan's MTSS Technical Assistance Center—COVID-19 Resources MTSS, PBIS Virtual This webpage contains brief resources (in PDF format) from the Michigan Department of Education on using an MTSS framework to support education during the COVID-19 pandemic. The webpage also links to resources available through the National Center on PBIS, PBISApps, National Center for Systemic Improvement, Opportunities Lab Initiative, National Center on Education Outcomes, and National Center on Intensive Interventions. Classroom PBIS for Online Learning—How to adapt strategies to fit an online format for teachers

Guidance for spring 2020 data review for district teams

Kicking off school-wide PBIS after extended closure for school leadership teams

Adapting the Check-in Check-out intervention for distance learning
Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports—Returning to School During and After Crisis MTSS, PBIS Virtual, Hybrid This webpage highlights resources for using an MTSS framework to support students during the transitions back to school during and following the global pandemic in a manner that prioritizes their health and safety, social and emotional needs, and behavioral and academic growth. A Practice Guide—Returning to School During and After Crisis: A Guide to Supporting States, Districts, Schools, Educators, and Students through a Multi-Tiered Systems of Support Framework during the 2020-2021 School Year

A Practice Brief—Creating a PBIS Behavior Teaching Matrix for Remote Instruction
National Center on Intensive Intervention MTSS, RTI Virtual This website includes sample reading and mathematics lessons to help educators and parents support students with intensive needs in a virtual setting during COVID-19. Each lesson includes tip sheets, PowerPoint sides, and video demonstrations. The site also contains an FAQ document on collecting progress monitoring data virtually. Using Sample Lessons to Support Continuity of Learning During COVID-19: Tips for Educators & Parents

Frequently Asked Questions on Collecting Progress Monitoring Data Virtually
Florida Problem Solving/Response to Intervention Project—Distance Learning Resources RTI Virtual This webpage from the Florida Problem Solving/Response to Intervention project provides links to webinars related to implementing RTI during distance learning. Webinar topics include:
Meeting the Math Needs of All Students Within the Virtual Environment

Assessment of Student Performance and Progress—Considerations for Distance Learning

Intensifying Instruction & Monitoring Progress for Virtual/Distance Tier 2 & Tier 3 Support

Note: In the context column, “Virtual” means instruction takes place completely remotely. “Hybrid” means instruction is a combination of in-person and remote.

Other Helpful Resources

RTI/MTSS & COVID-19: 3 Steps to Regain Control
This blog post1 by Frontline Education recommends schools take the following three steps to minimize disruption for students when transitioning to virtual learning and to regain control of RTI/MTSS efforts:

  • When schools are closed, create RTI/MTSS home-based intervention plans,
  • When schools reopen, strengthen academic screening and diagnostic capacity, and
  • When schools reopen, create a plan to triage RTI/MTSS services.
Implementing Principles of Reimagine Minnesota in a Period of Remote Teaching and Learning: Education Equity in the Age of COVID-19
The University of Minnesota,in partnership with the Minneapolis Foundation, created this document2 to provide insights into what educators, teachers, policymakers, parents, and students should consider as they implement new learning strategies while continuing efforts to disrupt education disparities. In this report, the authors dedicate a section to applying an MTSS framework to distance learning that focuses on assessment, decisionmaking, and infrastructure (pages 3–4).

Minnesota Department of Education—Distance Learning MTSS Framework
This guidance document3 helps to identify how academic engagement and attendance in a virtual learning model might integrate into a school's MTSS/RTI model.



1 Wright, J. (2020, May). RTI/MTSS & COVID-19: 3 Steps to Regain Control. Frontline Technologies Group LLC.

2 Alexander, N., Gibbons, K., Marshall S. L., Rodriguez M. C., Sweitzer, J., & Varma, K. (2020). Implementing Principles of Reimagine Minnesota in a Period of Remote Teaching and Learning: Education Equity in the Age of COVID-19. Minneapolis Foundation, University of Minnesota.

3 Minnesota Department of Education. (2020). Distance Learning MTSS Framework Academic Engagement and Attendance.