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Response to Intervention (RTI) is a multi-tiered model designed to combine assessment and intervention to maximize student behavior. With RTI, schools identify students who may be at risk for learning or behavior difficulties and monitor progress. The Council for Exceptional Children is a proponent of RTI, and every state is implementing the model at some level in their schools.

Response to Intervention as a three-tiered system

RTI is a general education model encouraging collaboration with special education teachers. The core curricula designed by local school boards and systems serve as the basis for RTI. The RTI model is a three-tiered system. The first Tier, the primary level of prevention, requires universal screening of all students to determine the best educational strategies and also identify any students who may need more targeted interventions. The second Tier, the secondary level of prevention, calls for targeted assessment and explicit instruction for students who have shown to be at risk for behavior or learning problems. The third Tier, the tertiary level of prevention, defines intensive interventions for students who need the most assistance to succeed with the core curricula.

The model is typically presented as a triangle, with the primary level at the bottom affecting most students and the tertiary at the top affecting the fewest.

diagram illustrating the Response to Intervention model

This diagram represents the three-tiered RTI model. Click on the image for a larger version. Diagram by Daniel Lunk.

The five key components of RTI include:

  • tiered organization of supports and services
  • early intervention prior to “formal” identification for special education
  • screening, assessment, and progress monitoring (collecting data)
  • standard protocol/evidence-based practices
  • collaborative problem-solving

The roles of general and special educators have changed under the RTI model. Teachers are expected to collaborate with colleagues at a greater rate, increase their knowledge of standard protocols and evidence-based practices, use progress-monitoring and data-driven decision making, and collaborate more with parents. Special educators have a greater presence in the regular education classroom, co-plan lessons with general education teachers, and perform interventions in the space of the regular classroom rather than in separate settings.

Response to Intervention at work

In the primary level of RTI, struggling students are screened through a two-step process: the universal screening (e.g., diagnostic assessments) received by all students and then a more in-depth testing and progress monitoring to confirm the universal screening’s findings. At this point, both the general educator and special educator meet with other specialists, depending on the concern, to define the intervention needed.

In Tier II, teachers use evidence-based interventions to attend to the poor learning outcome or behavioral difficulty. This intervention typically takes place within the general education classroom. A special educator may work with a small group of students with a reading intervention during the literacy portion of a class, or a behavioral assistant may partner with a student during a group activity to help her meet her behavioral goals. In Tier II, there is consistent progress monitoring and the intensity of the intervention is adjusted depending on the student’s responsiveness.

If a student is not responding to group interventions at the Tier II level, he may be referred for Tier III interventions. These interventions are decided upon by the entire team of educators and specialists and are individualized to the student. Tier III interventions may mean frequent remediation sessions, individualized work in a separate setting, or using assistive technology.

What is necessary to remember for all tiers is that they are flexible. Students may move from one tier to another and back again depending on their response and their progress. Progress monitoring is integral to the RTI framework in order to ensure the IDEA 2004 requirements of least restrictive environment and free and appropriate education for all students.