A teacher works with two students at a computer.Updated August 2012 | Links checked May 2013
A legacy resource from NICHCY

Response to intervention—hereafter referred to as RTI—is a recent addition to our nation’s special education law and our nation’s schools. RTI is a process that schools can use to help children who are struggling academically or behaviorally. One of its underlying premises is the possibility that a child’s struggles may be due to inadequacies in instruction or in the curriculum either in use at the moment or in the child’s past.

This webpage synthesizes what we know about RTI, provides access to RTI-related information, and discusses RTI from the perspective of people directly involved in the RTI process.

Table of Contents

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What is Response to Intervention or RTI?

There is no single, absolute definition of RTI. A quick and descriptive summary, though, comes from the National Center on RTI and reads:

With RTI, schools identify students at risk for poor learning outcomes, monitor student progress, provide evidence-based interventions and adjust the intensity and nature of those interventions depending on a student’s responsiveness, and identify students with learning disabilities or other disabilities. (NCRTI, 2010)

These elements of RTI can be observed readily in almost any RTI implementation. Struggling children are identified through a poor performance on a classwide, schoolwide, or districtwide screening intended to indicate which children may be at risk of academic or behavioral problems. A child may also be identified through other means, such as teacher observation. The school provides the child with research-based interventions while the child is still in the general education environment and closely monitors the student’s progress (or response to the interventions), and adjusts their intensity or nature, given the student’s progress. RTI can also be instrumental in identifying students who have learning disabilities.

RTI typically has different levels of intensity.

Tier 1 | At-risk children who have been identified through a screening process receive research-based instruction, sometimes in small groups, sometimes as part of a classwide intervention. A certain amount of time (generally not more than six or eight weeks) is alloted to see if the child responds to the intervention—hence, the name RTI. Each student’s progress is monitored closely. If the child does, indeed, respond to the research-based intervention, then this indicates that perhaps his or her difficulties have resulted from less appropriate or insufficiently targeted instruction.

Tier 2 | If, however, the child does not respond to the first level of group-oriented interventions, he or she typically moves to the next RTI level.  The length of time in Tier 2 is generally a bit longer than in Tier 1, and the level of intensity of the interventions is greater. They may also be more closely targeted to the areas in which the child is having difficulty. Again, child progress is closely monitored. The time allotted to see if the child responds to interventions in this more intensive level may be longer than in the first level—a marking period, for instance, rather than six weeks—but the overall process is much the same. If the child shows adequate progress, then the intervention has been successful and a “match” has been found to what type of instruction works with that child. It is quite possible that, if the problem is caught early enough and addressed via appropriate instruction, the child learns the skills necessary to continue in general education without further intervention.

Tier 3 | On the other hand, if the child does not respond adequately to the intervention(s) in Tier 2, then a third level becomes an option for continued and yet more intensive intervention. This third level is typically more individualized as well.  If the child does not responded to instruction in this level, then he or she is likely to be referred for a full and individual evaluation under IDEA.

The data gathered on the child’s response to interventions in Tiers 1, 2, and 3 become part of the information available during the evaluation process and afterwards, when a determination must be made as to disability and the child’s possible eligibility for special education and related services. Considering the amount of data typically collected in an RTI approach, thanks to its monitoring of student progress all along the way, the information that will now be available should be very helpful to the team of individuals involved in evaluating the child and determining his or her eligibility for special education services.

Important Note: At any point in this multileveled process, a child may be referred for evaluation under IDEA to determine if he or she is a “child with a disability” as IDEA 2004’s regulation defines that term at §300.8. Becoming involved in RTI does not mean that a child has to complete a level, or all levels, of an RTI approach before he or she may be evaluated for eligibility for special education and related services. The IDEA 2004’s regulation is very clear about this. RTI may not be used as a means of delaying or refusing to conduct such an evaluation if the school suspects that the child has a disability or if the parents request that the school system evaluate the child.

For more information

Immediately visit the National Center on RTI and have a look at its Essential Components of RTI – A Closer Look at Response to Intervention.

Fuchs and Fuchs present a “blueprint” for understanding RTI.

Visit the IDEA Partnership’s collection.
Sixty five individuals representing state, local and family perspectives have crafted this collection for your use.   It includes a “beginner’s collection” (as well as collections for those who are intermediate or advanced in the RTI framework).

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Essential Elements of RTI

Although there is no specific definition of RTI, essential elements can be found when we take a look at how states, schools, and districts fit RTI into their work. In general, RTI includes:

  • screening children within the general curriculum,
  • tiered instruction of increasing intensity,
  • evidence-based instruction,
  • close monitoring of student progress, and
  • informed decision making regarding next steps for individual students.

Universal screening means all students are involved in an initial assessment of knowledge and skills. From this universal screening, it’s possible to identify which students appear to be struggling or lacking specific knowledge or skills in a given area. Assessment of early reading skills has received particular attention as screening tools have been developed.

Tiered instruction. We mentioned tiered instruction above, and this is certainly a central concept of RTI. Students identified through the universal screening as “at risk” or “struggling” then move through the general education curriculum with adapted and individualized interventions that increase in intensity (the tiers) for specific students who do not show sufficient learning or skill development.  RTI models vary with respect to the number of tiers involved in the process. There is no “official” recommendation as to the most effective number of tiers. Three tiers of instructional intervention is a common practice.

For more information

From the RTI Action Network comes this resource, Tiered Instruction and Intervention in a Response-to-Intervention Model.

And another from the RTI Action Network, this one a gateway into describing the various tiers one by one.

Evidenced-based interventions are a cornerstone of instruction within an RTI process. Within an RTI process, instructional strategies and interventions are based on what research has shown to be effective with students. Using evidence-based practices ensures better results for students—the thinking goes, “it has been proven to work before for other students, therefore, it may likely work with my students as well.”

So, how do you know what practices are evidenced-based? The United States Department of Education has created a guide that walks people through the process of finding evidence-based practices, “Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported by Rigorous Evidence.” This guide is available online at: http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/rigorousevid/index.html

For more information
The following websites present examples of evidenced-based interventions.  They are, for the most part, organized by subject matter and grade-level.

What Works Clearinghouse

Best Evidence Encyclopedia

Progress monitoring is very much what it sounds like. It is a constant checking of student progress with whatever evidence-based instruction is being used. Progress monitoring helps pinpoint where each individual student is having difficulties.  Speece (2006), writing for the National Center on Child Progress Monitoring (a former OSEP-funded project), summarizes the role of progress monitoring within RTI as follows:

Progress monitoring is a method of keeping track of children’s academic development. Progress monitoring requires frequent data collection (i.e., weekly) with technically adequate measures, interpretation of the data at regular intervals, and changes to instruction based on the interpretation of child progress….The approach requires a different way of thinking about children’s learning but is a powerful method of judging responsiveness. (p. 3)

The information gathered through progress monitoring directly informs decision making  for individual students. Is the student making progress in this approach? Where? Where not? Is moving to the next tier of RTI appropriate, given that evidence? Does the student need to be referred for special education evaluation?

For more information

Visit the National Center on Student Progress Monitoring for a quick understanding of the subject.

Again, visit the National Center on RTI’s website, this time to take advantage of its progress monitoring resources.

What tools and checklists exist for monitoring student progress, and how reliable/valid are they?

RTI Action Network also takes a look at progress monitoring in RTI.

Informed decision making for individual students. When used as part of a tiered instructional process, progress monitoring can provide the information by which informed judgments can be made about the student’s development. This includes the need to move to the next tier of instructional intensity, or perhaps be referred for a comprehensive and individualized evaluation under IDEA.

For more information

“How Progress Monitoring Assists Decision Making in a Response-to-Instruction Framework.”

Data-based Decision Making | Web resources of—-you guessed it—-the National Center on RTI.

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Models of RTI

Two predominant RTI program models include the problem-solving and the standard protocol.

  • The problem solving model, which evolved out of  the school problem-solving team approach, uses individually designed prevention interventions (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2007) with students who have academic and/or behavioral challenges.
  • The standard protocol model uses specific, predetermined, instructional techniques that have been demonstrated to improve student achievement in research studies.

As state and local education agencies have learned about the unique needs of their districts and schools, hybrids of the models have also evolved.

For more information

National Center on RTI has an entire section of its website devoted to “models of RTI.”

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RTI and Families

Communication with parents and family plays a key role in an RTI process. Certainly, parents need to be informed when their child is not making expected academic or behavioral progress, the very reasons that a public agency might involve a child in an RTI approach.  The sticky issue is that RTI is typically used before a child is evaluated under IDEA, before the public agency is even proposing to evaluate the child, so many of IDEA’s provisions for parent notification have not yet come into play.

What’s clear from practice in the field—and, indeed, from the longtime underpinnings of IDEA—is that informing parents along the way is important, valuable, and good policy. In practice, parents are generally informed when the child is unsuccessful in Tier 1 and moves on to Tier 2.  Interventions here are typically more intensive, with the instructional intervention delivered to small groups of children, not the entire class. It is at this point that parents may meet with school staff to discuss their child’s lack of progress and hear what the school has in mind. This would include:

  • What type of performance data will be collected, and how much;
  • What general education services are planned; and
  • What strategies the school will use to increase the child’s rate of learning.

Parents would also be informed that they have the right to request that their child be evaluated under IDEA—a full and individual evaluation. If they do request such an evaluation, the school must promptly ask for parents’ written consent and conduct the evaluation in keeping with IDEA’s timeframe requirements (60 days from receiving parental permission, or within the timeframe designated by the state).

For more information

Parent primer, put together by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) I.

Parent’s guide to RTI, from the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

“Helping Educators Discuss Responsiveness to Intervention with Parents and Students.”

Video (6 minutes) | What role do parents play in the RTI process, including when do they become involved, are they on the decision making team, and where can they learn more about RTI?

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RTI and Specific Learning Disabilities

The role of RTI is to address the needs of children who are not succeeding within the general instructional approach by identifying and implementing research-based interventions that will work with those children. The probability exists that some of those children will have learning disabilities and will not respond in the same way to these interventions as children without LD. This is where the intersection of RTI and LD occurs and why RTI is seen as a promising component in identifying LD.

LD determinations in the past. To date, the “severe discrepancy” model has been the prevailing tool for determining LD. This is because many children with LD manifest a “severe discrepancy” between intellectual ability and academic achievement. This approach has been faulted in several areas, including the lack of agreement on how severe a discrepancy has to be in order for a learning disability to be determined. Another genuine concern has been the amount of time needed to establish the “discrepancy “ between achievement and ability. A child might literally fail year after year before a disability determination would be made.

Current determinations of LD. Under IDEA 2004, states may no longer require the use of a severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability. Additionally, states must allow school systems to include a child’s response to scientific, research-based intervention as part of determining whether or not that child has a specific learning disability (SLD). Not responding or making sufficient progress within that intervention is an indication that learning disabilities may lie at the root of the child’s academic difficulties.

As a result of these changes in law, RTI has become an important part in many states’ criteria for how specific learning disabilities are to be identified.

For more information

National Research Center on Learning Disabilities.
Now, you know the NRCLD has to be an expert in all things RTI and LD.

Back to the National Center on RTI.
A wealth of specific info here.

90-minute video archive of the RTI National Online Form | “The Role of RTI in LD Identification.”

Training materials on identifying LD.
For a detailed examination of what IDEA requires with respect to identifying specific learning disabilities, read NICHCY’s training module on that very subject. Module 11 is part of our Building the Legacy curriculum on IDEA 2004, and is available online at:

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RTI State Resources

RTI is an initiative that state and local education agencies develop and implement. Therefore, an important piece of the RTI puzzle is looking specifically at state and local contexts and what is going on there. To find out more about what is happening with respect to RTI in specific state and local areas, several resources can be found to guide the journey.

The State Database @ the National Center on RTI.
The State Database provides resources on a number of topics related to response to intervention (RTI). The resources, which range from policy documents and briefs to trainings and tools, were developed by states, districts, or territories, in the U.S. who are in different stages of implementing Response to Intervention.

The bigger picture of the nation: What are state doing, and how are they doing it?

Examples from the state and local levels.

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RTI Materials in Spanish

If you need to tell Spanish-speaking families about RTI, here are some resources you might use.

NICHCY’s training module on EIS and RTI.
EIS are early intervening services, and they are closely tied to the use of RTI in schools. This is all explained in Module 6 of NICHCY’s Building the Legacy training curriculum on IDEA 2004. Module 6 has also been translated into Spanish—including all its handouts for participants and the slideshow that trainers can use. Find all materials (in English and Spanish) at:

Lots of Spanish language resources from a school district in TX.

On RTI…now a 19-page summary for Spanish-speaking parents.
From the Texas Education Agency.

A Powerpoint you can use in Spanish.
From the New Jersey Parent Training and Information Center, SPAN.

On RTI…30 pages worth!
From Parents Reaching Out, in New Mexico.

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