RTI: A Work in Progress

Response to Intervention (RTI) is a multi-tiered system of support that was created to provide students the academic support they need.  In theory, RTI would decrease the number of students misidentified for special education services, provide students with the support they need before they fail, and provide students with high-quality differentiated classroom instruction/interventions.  Although RTI was introduced 15 years ago in 2004, schools continue to have some work to do in order for students to fully benefit from RTI’s intentions.  I would like to highlight some of our responsibilities as required by the RTI process and where we might need to continue to make some adjustments.

High-quality instruction matched to students

RTI requires that schools provide high-quality instruction and interventions matched to student needs.  This makes me question decisions to adopt packaged programs AND require absolute fidelity from teachers regardless of their students’ needs.  How can teachers follow the best practice of differentiating instruction if they are locked into following a scripted program page-by-page?

In order to meet the demand for high-quality instruction that follows their students’ needs, teachers need to know their students and have opportunities for high-quality, relevant, and personalized professional learning.

For more on scripted programs:

Scripted Programs: NOT a “Quick Fix”

Appropriate educational programs

I could go in a few different directions with this one, but instead, I am going to focus on one concept –  “tracking”.  Back in the 60s, it was popular to place students in classrooms by their ability level. For example, one teacher would be assigned the “high” students, another teacher had the “average” students and the last teacher would have the “low” students. Research on this model showed that the average to high students did not have significant benefits and that placing students in the low track actually hurt their progress (Allington, ).

We acknowledged that tracking in this fashion did not work and for the most part this model is not seen in schools today.  Unfortunately, there seems to be a modern-day version of tracking popping up in schools.  Currently, there are many schools that have moved to grouping students with similar abilities and having them switch classes for reading, math, and/or intervention during their school day.  Besides the lack of research that supports this model, some other glaring problems can be seen.  The first is the wasted time.  A lot of valuable instruction time is wasted as students transition back and forth between classes.  The second problem is with what is lost when students work with multiple teachers.  When a student is with one teacher for the majority of the day the student-teacher relationship can be strengthened.  The classroom teacher also has the added benefits of:

  • More time to get to know their students really well
  • The ability to provide students with appropriate learning opportunities that build on their strengths and fit their needs throughout their entire school day

School-wide screening & progress monitoring to identify students in need of extra support

Schools across the country have adopted various universal screening tools that many of us are familiar with –  AIMSweb, DIBELS, FAST, i-Ready, etc.  Universal screening assessments are often quick to administer and given to all of the students in the school at 2-3 intervals during the school year.  Universal screening tools are used to predict which students are at risk for learning difficulties.  Universal screening assessments are not diagnostic tools.  Teachers will need to use other assessments to find more information about their students’ instructional needs (running records, anecdotal notes from independent reading conferences, etc.). 

To read more about my thoughts on assessments:

Let’s think outside of the box

Prevent insurmountable gaps in learning

Educators should look at movement through the tiered levels of support as a fluid and flexible process.  There should always be a sense of urgency in regards to our struggling students.  For example, if we have evidence to show that a student needs tier 3 support it is not necessary for the student to receive tier 2 support first before they can move to tier 3.  When deemed appropriate, the tier 3 student can move to a tier 2 intervention or even back to solely tier 1 classroom instruction.  When working with the tiered system too rigidly we move into the dangerous territory of the “wait to fail” model.  The academic gap will grower wider and wider for our students who are not given the appropriate intensity of support right away.

In Summary

The process of RTI has the potential to lead educators/administrators on the right path for our students.  If schools

  • Keep teaching student-centered (not program-centered)
  • Use research to back educational program decisions
  • Use the screening tool as a predictor and other assessments to pinpoint student needs
  • Allow students to move between the tiers that best fit their needs

If you enjoyed this post you might also be interested in:

Decrease the Need for Intervention: Strengthen Classroom Instruction

Back to School: Assessing my Tier 3 Students

Have We Gone Intervention Crazy?

If you are interested in reading more regarding Response to Intervention I highly recommend the following books:

What Really Matters in Response to Intervention:  Research-Based Designs by Richard Allington

RTI From All Sides:  What Every Teacher Needs to Know by Mary Howard

RTI in Literacy – Responsive and Comprehensive edited by Peter Johnston



Allington, R. L., & Cunningham, P. M. (1999).  Classrooms that work:  They can all read and write (2nd ed.).  New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc.


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