Learn About RtI

Why implement RTI?

The purpose of taking an RTI approach to service delivery in schools is to improve instruction and educational outcomes for ALL students. Response to Intervention is about providing high quality instruction to students and using reliable and valid data to make decisions about whether instruction is meeting students’ needs.

RTI is an educational service delivery system designed to provide effective instruction for all students using a comprehensive and preventive problem solving approach. It employs a tiered method of instructional delivery, in which the core curriculum addresses and meets the needs of most students (Tier 1), additional instruction is provided for those needing supplementary intervention support (Tier 2), and intensive and individualized services are provided for the students who continue to demonstrate more intensive needs (Tier 3). At its foundation, RTI includes measuring the performance of all students, and basing educational decisions regarding curriculum, instruction, and intervention intensity on student data. Though most educators have learned about RTI as a result of its inclusion in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004; PL 108-446), verifying students as eligible for special education is only a small part of RTI implementation that should not be undertaken unless successful implementation of a continuum of instructional supports for all students is achieved. Because most of the research and implementation of RTI has been conducted within the area of reading and successful reading achievement is imperative for our students to be successful, the focus of this website will be on implementation of RTI for improving reading instruction and outcomes. However, the same basic principles can be applied to other content areas. Research on other content areas will be added in the future.
Origins and Support for RTI: An Overview
Children begin school with varying early language and literacy experiences (Hart & Risley, 1995) so we must do as much possible early on to catch any students who may be behind in early literacy skills up to their peers. Children who are at risk of reading difficulty can be identified as early as preschool (Felton & Pepper, 1995). Research has also shown that students who struggle early on in their school careers will continue to struggle. For example, ninety percent of struggling readers will continue to struggle at the end of elementary school if they are not provided intervention (Juel, 1988). Further, seventy-four percent of students who are poor readers in third grade will be poor readers in ninth grade, and, in general, struggling readers have a higher risk of academic failure and school dropout (Francis et al., 1996; Shaywitz et al., 1999; Slavin, 1994; Walker & Shinn, 2002; Torgesen & Burgess, 1998). Research has also shown that poor reading skills are correlated with motivation to read, and this relationship is established early (Morgan et al., 2008). Thus, we need to focus on preventing academic difficulties and must set up our school service delivery systems to be prevention oriented rather than reactive.

There is extensive research to show that readers who are at risk of reading difficulties can be identified early and when provided intervention can catch up with their peers. Many studies have shown the effectiveness of early intervention on students’ early reading skills (Al Otaiba & Torgesen, 2007; Scammacca, Vaughn, Roberts, Wanzek, & Torgesen, 2007; Wanzek & Vaughn, 2007); additional research has shown that early intervention also improves outcomes for students who are English language learners (Heally, Vanderwood, & Edelston, 2005; Gerber et al., 2004). Prevention and early intervention efforts are effective for improving students’ skills.

RTI type, prevention-oriented practices are not new in the field of education; specific practices incorporated within an RTI approach to service delivery date back to the 1970s and 1980s and include the use of curriculum-based measurement (CBM) to inform and modify instruction (Deno, 1985; Deno & Mirkin, 1977) and the use of a problem solving model in the consultation process (Bergan, 1977; Bergan & Kratochwill, 1990). Both involve taking a systematic approach to defining a student problem using high quality data, developing data-based goals for students, providing scientifically based instruction, implementing interventions with fidelity, monitoring progress with measures that are sensitive to change, and modifying, continuing, or phasing out interventions based on the data (Batsche et al., 2006). These models were most often used at the individual student level.

These data-based problem solving approaches are now being applied at the school level. Multi-tiered models have been modified from the public health literature for implementing a continuum of instructional supports for all students in a school. In a multi-tiered response to intervention framework, interventions are designed to prevent academic problems from occurring in addition to remediating existing academic skill deficits (Walker & Shinn, 2002). The research and development of commercially available CBM tools (e.g., DIBELS, AIMSweb) has also greatly impacted our capacity for implementing RTI at the school level as well as research on effective instruction, interventions, and core curricula. We know more now than ever before about the instructional strategies and programs that are most effective in preventing and remediating skill deficits for students (Carnine, Wilbert, Kame’enui, Tarver, & Jungjohann, 2006; Coyne, Conner, & Petscher, 2009; Haager, Klingner, & Vaughn, 2007; Shinn, Walker, & Stoner, 2002).

In addition, several national committees and commissions have made recommendations for educational practices that include or align with RTI models.
  • The President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education convened in 2001 recommended school-based service delivery that focuses on children with disabilities as general education students first, student outcomes rather than processes, and the implementation of evidence-based practices for prevention and early intervention.
  • The National Research Council Panel on Minority Overrepresentation (Donovan & Cross, 2002; Heller, Holtzman, & Messick, 1982) released two reports that emphasized the use of screening and multi-tiered interventions, equal access to high quality early childhood interventions, and the use of response to high quality interventions implemented with fidelity to determine eligibility for special education services.
  • Members of the National Summit on Learning Disabilities (Bradley, Danielson, & Hallahan, 2002) endorsed RTI as “the most promising method of alternative identification” and stated that RTI promotes the implementation of effective practices in schools.
These important national level committees have all endorsed practices that are in direct alignment with a high quality RTI approach to service delivery in schools. In addition, all reports highlighted the problems inherent in the current system of service delivery and means for verifying students as eligible for special education under the category of learning disabilities.

Guiding Questions:

  1. How does this information about the rationale for RTI align with what you already knew?
  2. Is it important for the rest of your staff to have an understanding of where RTI originated?
  3. How will you share this information with the rest of your staff members?
Problems With the Current Educational Service System
Several pieces of data indicate the need to rethink how we provide instruction to students as a nation and as a state. Data from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, a study that compares the reading achievement, behaviors, and attitudes of 4th grade aged students in approximately 45 countries, indicate that the number of countries outperforming the United States is increasing. In 2001, only three countries performed better than the United States, and in 2006, seven countries outperformed the United States. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have shown that large percentages of students in the United States and Nebraska are not proficient. For example, only 31% of fourth grade students in the United States were classified as proficient or better on the NAEP reading assessment while 35% of fourth grade students in Nebraska were classified as proficient or better. Further, only 29% of eight grade students in the United States and 35% of eight grade students in Nebraska were classified as proficient or better on the NAEP reading assessment.

The population of students in the United States and Nebraska is becoming more and more diverse in terms of race and ethnicity and socio-economic status. Approximately nine percent of the population of Nebraska is from an ethnic minority background. This means that about 155, 000 people in Nebraska come from an ethnic minority background. If ALL students are to receive a free and appropriate education, we must ensure that our schools serve all learners regardless of their backgrounds. The NAEP reading data have shown that there is an achievement gap in Nebraska; while 35% of all fourth grade students were identified as proficient, only 18% of Hispanic students and 10% of African American students achieved at a proficient level. Further, 29% of all fourth grade students were identified as below basic on the NAEP, while 53% of Hispanic fourth grade students and 59% of African American students achieved at below basic levels on the NAEP. Our current practices are not adequately addressing the needs of students from low socio-economic status and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Our population of students is becoming more and more diverse in terms of the background knowledge and skills that they bring to school. If our practices do not result in a closing of this achievement gap, they are not effective (Kukic, 2003).

Because of the lack of a prevention focus in typical school systems, students needing support are typically referred to special education in order to get the extra instruction and services needed. Data have also shown that children from minority groups are overrepresented in special education (Cartledge, n.d.; Donovan & Cross, 2002; Reschly, Tilly, & Grimes, 1999; Stuebing, Fletcher, LeDoux, Lyon, Shaywitz, & Shaywitz, 2002). This is especially problematic because special education has often not been found to be effective for students (Reschly, & Tilly, 1999), and when students are identified as needing special education services, they are often labeled, segregated from other students, and unlikely to return to the general education setting (Hosp & Madyun, 2007). The current system of special education service delivery set up in IDEA was created to provide a free and appropriate education to all students. At its inception, this system was the best option available. Though this system of referral, test and place was well intentioned and achieved its initial goals, it is not effectively meeting all the needs of all students today. Because the categorical approach is largely based on a medical model, the role of special education has been to sort students by disability and determine eligibility for special education services (Ysseldyke & Marston, 1999).

Goldstein et al. (as cited in Ysseldyke & Marston, 1999) has listed reasons why the categorical system does not work. First, the categorical system does not lead to improved instruction; a student’s label does not indicate which instructional practices will be most effective for the student. Further, labels become the explanation for a child’s struggles. The current system also ignores the fact that the student is constantly interacting with the environment and that the environment, particularly the instruction provided to the student, impacts student learning; rather, it focuses on within-child characteristics and traits. The focus is placed on the student’s problem or disability rather than on how the individual student can best be supported within the classroom and school context. These problems with the system have lead to practices that do not help to meet students needs, prevent problems, and improve outcomes for all students in the most effective and efficient ways possible and, furthermore, are extremely problematic. Typically, in the traditional system, interventions that are created are not based on what the student needs, are not evidence-based, and are not monitored using data, which has contributed to their ineffectiveness. Assessments are completed to diagnose a child with a disability rather than to determine what skills the child is lacking and to link such data to the intervention that is created (Reshly & Tilly, 1999). Further, in this system, a “wait to fail” approach is in place. Students only receive extra instructional supports once they have shown a problem instead of being provided evidence-based interventions and instruction in the general education setting in a prevention-oriented manner. In traditional service delivery models, general and special education are seen as two separate entities (Batsche et al., 2006).

Based on our increasing knowledge of effective practices and service delivery models, recommendations from researchers and practitioners alike, and problems with traditional approaches to providing instruction to students, the implementation of evidence-based instruction and intervention and the use of RTI as a method for verifying students as eligible for special education services under the category of learning disabilities are now included in the federal law. Both IDEA 2004 and the No Child Left Behind Act emphasize the use of scientifically based instruction and interventions and the need to implement effective reading programs that improve student performance and reduce the number of students who require special education services (Batsche et al., 2006). IDEA 2004 explicitly states that local educational agencies “may use a process that determines if the child responds to scientific research-based intervention as part of the evaluation procedures.” Rule 51 in Nebraska reflects language included in IDEA 2004 and includes RTI as an option for verifying students under the category of learning disabilities. Thus, there are many compelling reasons for taking an RTI approach to service delivery in a school.
  • High quality RTI models are based on the most current research on what works for students.
  • Leaders in the field are recommending RTI as the best practice approach for providing instruction to all students.
  • RTI and the use of scientifically-based instruction is included in the law.
  • Most importantly, taking an RTI approach to service delivery has improved outcomes for students in both research and real school settings. Setting up an RTI service delivery system creates a focus on prevention and early intervention and improvement of achievement for all students.
RTI as a Potential Solution
Setting up a systematic RTI service delivery model in a district or school can address many of the problems associated with our current educational systems to make them more prevention and early intervention focused. In contrast to the undocumented benefits of traditional service delivery models, there is empirical support for improved student achievement and decreases in over-representation of students from minority backgrounds when RTI approaches are implemented IMarston, Muyskens, Lau, & Canter, 2003). Rather than taking a reactive wait-to-fail approach to providing extra supports to students who need them, early intervention and prevention are key pieces of any RTI model. RTI involves the creation of a continuum of high quality scientifically research-based and research-based instructional supports in general and special education. Assessment using reliable and valid measures is conducted for the purposes of planning and evaluating instructional supports. These data are used to document student improvement.
Traditional System RTI Approach
Separation of special education from general education Continuum of effective instructional supports provided in general and special education for all students
Undocumented benefits Empirical evidence for improved achievement for all students
Eligibility assessments and procedures unrelated to intervention Assessment conducted for the purposes of planning and evaluating instruction and intervention effectiveness
Wait-to-fail model (reactive) Focus on prevention/early intervention
Over-representation of some minority students Decrease in over-representation of some minority students in special education programs in some districts
Failure of traditional assumptions of matching instruction to student label Focus on evidence-based practices for all students

Guiding Questions:

  1. Have you seen any of these problems with the current system of educational service delivery?
  2. What other reasons are there for taking an RTI approach in your school?
  3. Which of the information provided thus far do you think is the most important?
  4. Do you think taking an RTI approach will address concerns with the traditional system?




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