What is Response to Intervention (RTI)?

Daphne Heflin
Daphne Heflin
Elementary School Principal; Ed.S. in Educational Leadership and Administration
Teacher helping an uninterested student at a desk in a classroom.

Little Johnny is with his math class as they learn strategies for addition, but Little Johnny struggles to recognize numbers. Suzy works on reading in a small group with a few of her peers and the teacher. Suzy cannot decode words, and after hearing a read-aloud she struggles to answer comprehension questions. Then there is Big Jim who seems to be on target until he takes a diagnostic assessment and does not meet the grade-level cut score. Jane Doe has mastered skills from all previous grade levels and is performing well at the current grade level. She meets grade-level cut scores on all of her assessments. What does the teacher do next for Little Johnny, Suzy, Big Jim and Jane Doe?

Students are different and have different needs. When searching for a solution to their needs, it is important to remember one-size does not fit all; hence, there is Response to Intervention, also known as RTI.

What is Response to Intervention?

Response to Intervention is a system designed to support students so their learning and behavior needs are addressed. RTI involves three levels of support and with the progression from one level to the next comes an increase in intensity. Intensity is distinguished by differences in time, duration, frequency, group sizes, and resources.

Level one involves all students in the regular classroom being taught the core curriculum in large and small groups.

Level two is additional to the core curriculum. At this level an adult works with a small group of students on an identified intervention for a specific time, frequency, and duration. For example, a teacher might work with 4 students on an intervention for 25 minutes (time), 3 days per week (frequency) for 10 weeks (duration).

Level three involves the most intense level of support. Like support at the previous level, support at this level is in addition to the core curriculum, but individualized interventions are conducted for a more extended time, frequency, and duration. For example, a teacher or interventionist may meet with a student for a one-on-one session for 45 minutes (time), 4 days per week (frequency) for 12 weeks (duration).

Main Components of RTI

For effectiveness at each of the three Response to Intervention tiers, the RTI system has essential components. The components have elements of flexibility that allow districts and schools to make choices.

Identification using a universal screener

Which students are at-risk and where are their gaps? These questions can be answered using a universal screener. Universal screeners compare students to others at the same grade-level while also identifying individual students’ needs. They are normally given a few times each school year especially at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year. States, districts, or schools choose their own universal screeners. Specific universal screeners are not mandated by the RTI framework.

Prescribing and implementing interventions

Once at-risk students and their specific needs are identified using a universal screener and further explained through additional data, student goals must be established and interventions prescribed. Evidence-based interventions must align with goals, which must align with needs.

Monitoring student progress

What intervention works for a particular student? When is a particular student approaching goals or has the student met his/her goals? To answer these questions, teachers and administrators must measure the student’s progress often. The tool used to monitor students’ progress must measure students’ outcomes in light of their goals and interventions. The movement of students from one tier to another or the changes in students’ interventions are driven by progress monitoring data.

Decision making based on data

Universal screener information, progress monitoring data, teacher observations, student work samples, student attendance, and behavior information are all types of data that must be considered when making decisions regarding the needs of students. Data-based decisions that must be made involve: skills to be addressed, the support levels at which students needs to be placed, interventions to be conducted, time, frequency and duration of the interventions, means of progress monitoring, and group size for the interventions.

What are the Benefits of Response to Intervention?

The Response to Intervention model has many benefits:

  • It serves as a guide to teachers and administrators. Teachers and administrators use the system to drive decisions related to meeting instructional and behavior needs of students.
  • RTI allows for flexibility from school to school and/or district to district. The flexibility comes in being able to make decisions about screeners, monitoring tools, interventions, intensity (time, duration, frequency), and personnel.
  • The effective implementation of RTI closes and prevents learning gaps. Through intense, targeted interventions, students’ skills become stronger, which in turn moves students closer to their learning goals.
  • RTI addresses behavior concerns in students. Students with behavior needs are identified using behavior screeners and receive behavior interventions at varying levels of intensity as needed.
  • The RTI system yields documentation of decisions and work conducted with at-risk students. Assessments and screeners are kept and analyzed. Students’ goals, prescribed interventions, and progress toward goals are tracked.
  • RTI allows for collaboration between parents and educators. Parents are informed and involved at each stage of the decision making process.

Most teachers and administrators can visualize their Little Johnny, Suzy, Big Jim, and Jane Doe, albeit the names are different no doubt. Students with different types of needs are common in schools and classrooms everywhere. Response to Intervention (RTI) answers questions like, “What do I do next for Little Johnny, Suzy, Big Jim, and Jane Doe?” RTI helps meet different needs of different students and increases success for all.

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