Response to Intervention



Response to Intervention (RTI) is a multi-tiered approach to identifying and supporting students with learning and behavior needs through measuring a student’s response to scientific changes in instruction which rely on evidence-based interventions (cite to text 2). The RTI process is generally composed of three tiers of interventions and relies heavily on data-based decision making (Donnel and Miller, 2012). RTI’s separate tiers of specific learning strategies offer increasing levels of intensity of instruction to accelerate students’ learning. Standard process includes ongoing student assessment and monitoring of individual student progress that tracks the results of targeted and tiered interventions. Interventions are first introduced to all learners and then increased for those who need additional support. The heavy focus on data as a decision making tool changes the focus on testing as a summative assessment to testing as an instructional and diagnostic tool (cite to text 2).

Core features of RTI (from Burton and Kappenberg, 2012):

  1. High quality, research based classroom instruction
  2. Universal screening
  3. Continuous progress monitoring
  4. Research-based secondary or tertiary interventions
  5. Progress monitoring during interventions
  6. Fidelity measures

Three Tiers of Support

When focusing on specific learning disabilities Tier 1 includes a universal screening for academic proficiency. To address academic difficulties it is proposed that the lower 20% of students screened receive up to two evidence-based interventions at Tier 2. Those who do not respond at Tier 2 progress to Tier 3 where further evaluation is possible and special education eligibility and/or a trial of special education services can be explored (O’Donnel and Miller, 2012).

Tier 1: high quality, research based classroom instruction

Tier 2: targeted small group interventions

Tier 3: intensive interventions in addition to core instruction and comprehensive evaluations

The RTI approach to learning disability (LD) identification places a heavy focuses on the environment. This environmental focus is seen through the manipulation of instruction, creation of adaptations to general education or through an intensive prevention trial (along with indexing of the child’s response). The purpose of the RTI focus on the environment is to eliminate contextual variables as a viable explanation for academic failure. Contrary to other models of LD identification, RTI does not presume that the difficulties are inherent to the child, alternatively that instructional and/or intervention methods must be adapted for given students for them to see success in the classroom environment.

Progress Monitoring

RTI places a heavy emphasis on data based decision making, therefore an effective method of monitoring student progress is essential. Progress monitoring involves three components: 1) determining student levels, 2) monitoring student progress, and 3) adjusting instruction based on data. When implementing RTI in ones classroom it is suggested that a systematic method for assessing student achievement at frequent intervals be developed. This systematic method should set clear checkpoints so that no student continues to fail because of instruction that is not effective for his or her learning needs (text 2). These checkpoints should be at clear frequencies and durations.

Curriculum Based Measurement (CBM) is suggested as a simple process for gathering and charting data. CBM supports a teacher in determining how students in their classrooms are progressing in academic areas. When using this system a student will be tested briefly each week. The students score is then compared to his or her expected performance on that content for the current school year. For more information and resources on CBM visit the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

Progress Monitoring – Basic steps:

  1. Define the behavior/skill/ability/aptitude. The definition should be observable, measurable, alterable and specific.
  2. Select the measurement strategy/procedure/tool for collecting the data. Determine how the data will be collected, what material will be used (i.e. text/quiz/homework), in what setting the data will be gathered and who is responsible.
  3. Establish the student’s baseline. This must be accurate, therefore should be the result of a variety of different measurements.
  4. Create a goal. The goal should be SMART (specific, measureable, achievable, relevant, time specific). The baseline will be on one end of the progress monitoring chart and the goal will be on the other.
  5. Develop a chart. A key component of the chart is the structured assessment interval where a line will be drawn connecting the baseline to the goal. This line will depict the approximate trend that the data points will follow if the student is to reach that goal by the projected time (i.e. year end). Any serious deviations from this line will suggest that either a new intervention or an adjusted goal be determined if the students progress appears too far off.

When the intervention is implemented progress monitoring begins. Draw a vertical line between the last baseline data points and the first progress monitoring point. Do not connect the data points across this line. This is called a phase change line, and its purpose is to delineate the various instructional conditions the student receives. If three consecutive data points fall below the aimline, the teacher should make an instructional change. Alternatively, if the data points are falling above or on the line, the teacher should continue the intervention.

A “trend line analysis” can be used to summarize the student’s progress data with a straight line (trend line) and compare its slope and level to the aimline. If the trend line is flatter than the aimline, an instructional change is warranted. Using the “dynamic approach”, if the trend line is steeper than the aimline, the student’s goal would be raised. This is advantageous because it corrects for goals initially set too low. It also keeps teachers interacting with the data, by encouraging them to either change the intervention or raise the goal on a regular basis.

A number of benefits to progress monitoring have been identified. First, they are more reliable and current than traditional summative assessment. Second a teacher is able to report on the success or failure of a particular intervention, moreover a teacher is able to explain why a problem developed or a success was achieved.

RTI within UDL

At the Tier 2 and 3 levels RTI is a significant change in perspective for many staff members. It breaks the thinking that specialists can better serve the struggling student than the classroom teacher. Within the RTI model a paradigm shift is supported with classroom teachers implementing differentiated instruction and small group learning rather than removing students for service by experts. This perspective is well aligned with principles of Universal Design for Learning which encourages that teachers carefully design their classroom curriculum to support all learners and emphasizes the primacy of the classroom teacher in delivering this differentiated instruction.

Pivotal in the RTI model is the theory that Tier 2 instruction be in addition to, NOT in replacement of Tier 1 instruction. Therefore, Tier 2 instruction should always remain heavily influenced by Tier 1 instruction. It is important that fading of Tier 2 instruction not begin until data collected show strong evidence that the student no longer needs Tier 2 intervention to succeed within Tier 1 classroom instruction. A number of sources of data can be used when making this decision: classroom grades, classroom participation, support required, and so on. Only after multiple interventions have been implemented and data demonstrates that those interventions were implemented with sufficient frequency and integrity would Tier 3 intervention been considered for a student.


Diversity in classrooms today is vast; therefore, accurate determination of students qualifying for special education services is essential. In both past and present, the IQ achievement discrepancy has been used to identify students requiring additional supports in the classroom environment. Procedure within the “discrepancy model” is to identify a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability in a variety of different areas (oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skills, reading comprehension, mathematics calculation and mathematics reasoning (Vaughn and Fuchs, 2003).

The discrepancy model is typically accomplished through the use of standardized tests of cognitive abilities or intelligence, standardized tests of academic achievement and a specific formula to calculate the discrepancy between the students IQ and achievement on classroom tasks (O’Donnel and Miller, 2012). However, such traditional models of student identification for special needs services have been widely criticized as lacking in both reliability and validity with many argue that the discrepancy model is a “wait to fail” procedure (cite to Text 1). Specific criticisms are tied to arguments over the validity and reliability of intelligence tests, inconsistent implementation (O’Donnell and Miler, 2012), inaccurate student screening through teacher observation, false negatives (unidentified students) who are not provided necessary services, or provided services too late and (Vaughn and Fuchs, 2003). Perhaps most importantly, such tests do not inform instruction.

Concerns such as those listed above lead to the proposal of RTI as an alternative tool for supporting and identifying students. Large scale RTI model implementations follow a collaborative team-based approach and a behavioural model of consultation in order to provide pre-referral interventions prior to any referral for special education service. Such implementations have resulted in reductions of special education referrals and increases in student’s academic and behavioural performance

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