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Response to intervention

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In education, Response To Intervention (commonly abbreviated RTI or RtI) is a method of academic intervention used in the United States designed to provide early, effective assistance to children who are having difficulty learning. Response to intervention was also designed to function as a data-based process of diagnosing learning disabilities. This method can be used at the group and individual level. The RTI method has been developed by researchers as an alternative to identifying learning disabilities with the ability-achievement discrepancy model, which requires children to exhibit a severe discrepancy between their IQ and academic achievement as measured by standardized tests. Further, the RTI process brings more clarity to the Specific Learning Disability (SLD) category of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004), which has been referred to as a residual category for children with moderate learning problems.[1]

RTI seeks to prevent academic failure through early intervention, frequent progress measurement, and increasingly intensive research-based instructional interventions for children who continue to have difficulty. Students who do not show a response to effective interventions are likely (or, more likely than students who respond) to have biologically-based learning disabilities and to be in need of special education.[2]

The traditional means to identify children with learning disabilities has been through the discrepancy model which looks at the difference between a child's scores on both an IQ (such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-IV) and an Achievement test (such as the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT)[3] However, there are many criticisms associated with this model. For example, the primary argument against the model is that it does not allow for early identification and intervention.[4] Another criticism includes the lack of a universal definition or formula for identifying a significant IQ-Achievement discrepancy.[5] For children with learning disabilities, RTI may assist schools in avoiding the so-called "wait-to-fail" method by providing intervention as soon as children exhibit difficulty.

One criticism of the RTI method suggests that RTI is really a means for limiting access to special education services. The intervention model puts the onus on individual teachers to prove that they have done everything possible in the classroom before the child can be assessed. Because the RTI model is often implemented across years, assessment and classification of a student can be unreasonably delayed or never provided when each new year the student has a new teacher and a new RTI. Critics charge that requiring an extensive and lengthy paper trail prior to evaluation of a child is primarily used as a bureaucratic means for delaying that evaluation. They point to the fact that the cost of special ed services is a powerful incentive for districts to systematically delay services to as many children as possible as long as possible. However, it should be noted that public schools tend to receive more federal and state dollars the more students they identify as qualifying for special education.Template:POV-statement That said, RTI would if anything delay receipt of funding at the school level.

Which set of financial contingencies tend to influence the special education identification and referral policies of school district administrators has yet to be fully documented and researched; therefore, it would seem prudent, especially given that the process or results of RTI are rarely documented in a manner that allows for the evaluation of either implementation integrity or effect, and given that the financial gain of not identifying students as needing special education services far outweigh the monies gained from State and Federal sources, to err on the side of the argument that RTI is used as a budget management tool seems prudent. That is, until the null hypothesis can be demonstrably shown.Template:POV-statement

An additional criticism of this program is associated with the model that it replaces. Because the RTI model only results in evaluation of the most critical failures in the regular classroom, students in special education classrooms are less likely to succeed generally. The previous model which addressed discrepancy cast a net to students who could be said to possess areas of relative strength and were more likely to benefit from services. However, the body of relevant research suggests that slow-learners likewise benefit from services.


Response to Intervention (RTI) is a philosophy that encompasses alternative assessment which utilizes quality interventions matched to student needs, coupled with formative evaluation to obtain data over time to make critical educational decisions[6]

RTI follows the following core assumptions[6]:

  1. that the educational system can effectively teach all children
  2. that early intervention is critical to preventing problems from getting out of control
  3. that the implementation of a multi-tiered service delivery model is necessary
  4. that a problem solving model should be used to make decisions between tiers
  5. that research based interventions should be implemented to the extent possible
  6. that progress monitoring must be implemented to inform instruction
  7. that data should drive decision making.

In this regard, RTI is not simply a set of interventions but a systematic model within general education and special education areas. In addition, RTI should be viewed as a systematic process for providing preventive, supplementary instructional services to students who are having challenges meeting benchmark levels.Template:POV-statement RTI is superior to the mathematical discrepancy approach in that it takes the focus away from within-child deficits to issues relative to the context of instruction or the extent to which a student has had the opportunity to learn.Template:POV-statement The assumption that a student cannot learn is typically attributed to some neurological or processing disorder residing within the child. This assumption fails to account for the possibility that interacting variables such as the lack of good instruction, the lack of an opportunity to learn, cultural variables, and/or language proficiency levels in the second language, for example, might be reasons for the lack of academic progress. The literature is clear that the traditional psychometric discrepancy model does more harm to students and actually has created a special education system that serves a disproportionate number of minority students.Template:POV-statement

What follows is an opinion from a person with 30 years experience in the public school systemTemplate:Who?
The statement above about disproportionality is questionable; there are many categories of disability that are recognized in IDEA legislation as making a student eligible for Special Education (for example - blindness, deafness, mental retardation, autism, emotional disturbance, speech/language impairments, orthopedic impairments, specific medical syndromes (such as ADHD), etc.
Learning Disabilities are only one of about a dozen such categories. No LD definition by itself could "create" a discriminatory Special Education system. The net effect of some actions to address the statistic that a higher proportion of minority students in some school districts are classified as eligible for Special Education can itself be discriminatory; that is, if minority students with similar educational profiles to non-minority students become less likely to be classified out of a misplaced concern about proportions, the minority students could actually be denied services that their tax dollars pay for. But what are the possible sources of disproportionate classification? That is the real question here. The discrepancy model of LD, even with its flaws, was not the culprit. In some school districts where pre-referral interventions are not an economic option, Special Ed has provided the most intensive and individualized services to students who are not making it. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion, not fact. RTI has its own major limitations and perhaps unintended consequences as well. RTI as currently defined applies mainly to reading (decoding and comprehension). But there are writing LDs as well (encoding) and math LDs that affect some students. The RTI requirements for tiered services makes documenting non-reading LDs nearly impossible, because schools generally do not have staff to address writing and math with multiple levels of remedial services; the funding does not exist for such things, especially in urban and lower income areas. Remember how schools are funded (local property taxes). Until there is more government support for education, richer neighborhoods will have better schools. However RTI is a subtle way for Special Education legislation to affect non-Special Ed (general ed) practices in a major way. Notice that the steps prior to classification affect the way every school must handle their general education remedial reading programs. How prepared are lower income school districts to fund such services, which must be paid for out of local monies (because remedial programs fall within general ed; additional state funding is available only for Special Ed programs). An unintended consequence of RTI definitions of LD is that anyone at a below average IQ level could be considered LD if they have received the various tiers of instruction and fail to progress. Such traditional "slow learners" were previously ineligible for Special Ed when classification as LD was based on a discrepancy model. Be prepared for larger overall numbers of classified students once the slow learner population becomes eligible for Special Ed under RTI.)

RTI is conceptualized as a multi-tiered service delivery model including primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of support. The primary, or first tier is focused specifically at the school core curriculum level, meaning that the target level of intervention is the core curriculum. In this tier approximately 80% to 85% of the general student body should be able to meet grade level norms without additional assistance. The 15% to 20% of students who consistently show a discrepancy between their current level of performance and that of the expected level of performance are then given Tier 2 or secondary, supplementary instruction services (not to be confused with special education) targeting the problems the student is having. Of the students who are provided with intervention services at Tier 2, approximately 3 to 6% of them will continue to have difficulties and continue to show resistance to intervention. At this point in time, these students will then receive Tier 3 intervention services (not to be confused with special education at this point either).[6] Hence, the intensity of intervention increases as the severity of the problem increases.[7]

RTI has three basic components: School-wide screening, Progress monitoring and Tiered service delivery, and Fidelity of implementation

School-wide screening

For a screening measure to be useful, it should satisfy three criteria: a. It needs to identify students who require further assessment b. It needs to be practical c. It needs to generate positive outcomes (accurately identifies students without consuming resources that could be put to better use) A screening procedure must be brief as well as simple enough to be implemented reliably by teachers. Screening measures can use either a criterion referenced or normative comparison standard of performance. In the former, a specific criterion level of skills is specified as indicating an acceptable level of proficiency or mastery. In the normative comparison, the screening results are compared to an appropriate peer group (e.g., other students in first grade). Criterion measures are preferred because they give more accurate information about performance on relevant skills. Screening is not a one-time process but an iterative system during the school year and across grade levels. During the course of primary instruction (Tier 1), the school uses school-wide screening (consistency) in essential academic areas to identify each student’s level of proficiency (usually three times per year).[8] The National Research Center on Learning Disabilities recommends that schools use school-wide screening in combination with at least five weeks of weekly progress monitoring in response to general education to identify students who require preventative intervention. Their rationale is that one-time universal screening at the beginning of the year can over-identify students who require preventative intervention.

Progress monitoring and Tiered service delivery

Progress monitoring is a set of assessment procedures for determining the extent to which students are benefiting from classroom instruction and for monitoring effectiveness of curriculum. Progress monitoring is the scientifically based practice of assessing students’ academic performance on a regular basis for three purposes:

  • To determine whether children are profiting appropriately from the instructional program, including the curriculum
  • To build more effective programs for the children who do not benefit
  • To estimate rates of student improvement.

In Tier 1, progress monitoring procedures serve several functions. First, progress monitoring displays individual student growth over time, to determine whether the student is progressing as expected. The steps in Tier 1 are: data is collected, students are identified using benchmark scores, and measurable goals are set for next data collection point for the class and students displaying difficulties. Then, the team problem-solves to determine scientifically research-based interventions for at-risk students that will work in whole-class instructions. Observations are conducted to ensure the fidelity of the classroom instruction. The teacher implements the interventions and the team reviews progress of students.

In Tier 2, the main purpose of progress monitoring and beyond interventions is to determine whether the intervention is successful in helping the student learn at an appropriate rate. Decision rules need to be created to determine when a student might no longer require Tier 2 and beyond services and can be returned to the general classroom (Tier 1), when the intervention needs to be changed, or when a student might be identified for special education. The steps in Tier 2 are: see if the child has not met benchmarks in Tier 1, has significantly lower performance levels, exhibit significant deviation from their grade-level peers in academic or behavioral issues, and are learning at a much slower rate and falling farther behind.

Tier 2 and beyond consists of general education instruction plus specialized intervention that has the following features: Size of instructional group. Tier 2 and beyond instruction is provided in small groups (two to four students). Cut scores identified on screening measures and continued growth as demonstrated by routine progress monitoring are indicators of content mastery. Although recommendations vary, weekly to three times per week monitoring of progress is typical. Tier 2 and beyond interventions last for nine to 12 weeks and can be repeated as needed. Tier 2 and beyond provides for three to four intervention sessions per week, each lasting 30 to 60 minutes. Instruction is conducted by trained and supervised personnel.

Tier 3 demands more intense interventions. The steps are: see if the child is having marked difficulties and have not responded to Tier 2 interventions, requires more frequent, intense interventions and more frequent progress monitoring.

In Tier 3, special education instruction is provided to individual students or small groups. Special education programs, strategies, and procedures are designed and employed to supplement, enhance, and support Tier 1 and Tier 2 and beyond instruction by remediation of the relevant area and development of compensatory strategies. Mastery is relative to the student’s functioning and determined by individualized education program (IEP) goal setting and through results of comprehensive evaluation. Continuous progress monitoring informs the teaching process. Special education instruction likely will be considerably longer than the 10 to 12 weeks of supplemental instruction delivered in Tier 2 and beyond. The frequency of special education instruction depends upon student need. Special education teachers deliver the instruction. Exit criteria are specified and monitored so that placement is flexible.

Fidelity of implementation

In an RTI model, fidelity is important at both the school level (e.g., implementation of the process) and the teacher level (e.g., implementation of instruction). Although both common sense and research support the concept of fidelity of implementation to ensure an intervention’s successful outcome, the practical challenges associated with achieving high levels of fidelity are well documented. Factors that reduce fidelity of implementation[9]:

  • Complexity. The more complex the intervention, the lower the fidelity because of the level of difficulty. (This factor includes time needed for instruction in the intervention).
  • Materials and resources required. If new or substantial resources are required, they need to be readily accessible.
  • Perceived and actual effectiveness (credibility). Even with a solid research base, if teachers believe the approach will not be effective, or if it is inconsistent with their teaching style, they will not implement it well.
  • Interventionists. The number, expertise, and motivation of individuals who deliver the intervention are factors in the level of fidelity of implementation.

Classification of RTI

In the educational literature, RTI is either referred to as a Standard Protocol Approach or as a Problem Solving Model.[10] Both models incorporate problem solving to identify the academic problem the student is having. The main difference among these approaches is that the former uses a systematic, universal screening procedure during Tier 1 to determine which students are having difficulties meeting age or grade level benchmarks for a specific skill. Typically, Curriculum Based Measurement (CBM), or other methods are used to flag the students who are not meeting expected levels of performance. In the problem solving model approach, the teacher typically refers the student to the student success team or multidisciplinary team to ascertain the challenges a student is having within the classroom. Using information collected from the classroom teacher, observations, etc, the team determines what additional supports the student might need to address the learning gap.

Response To Intervention (RTI) is a method, or process, of educational intervention which includes, but is not limited to: reading tutoring, peer tutoring, phonological awareness, and phonics interventions. Key to the RTI method is the application of scientifically-based interventions that have been demonstrated to work in randomized controlled trials. The RTI method assumes accountability to the consumers of an educational program by ensuring the application of programs that work rather than programs that simply look, sound, or feel good. In terms of its methods, after the intervention, collecting of data on change in student performance is undertaken. Curriculum Based Measurement[11] (CBM) is often used to collect data on interventions and their effectiveness. CBM has over 30 years of scientific support ( Response to intervention is based on discovering what works best for an individual student, not what might be the 'best' intervention for everyone. Additional methods are tried until students 'respond' to the intervention and improve their skills. Students that do not respond, or respond at significantly low rates, are deemed to have biologically-based learning disabilities, not simply learning difficulties.

RTI provides an alternative or additional means of gathering information to be used when classifying students for special education. When a student is identified as having difficulties in school, a team provides interventions of increasing intensity to help the child catch up with the rest of his or her peers. After interventions have been tried and proven ineffective, the child may then be referred for additional, special education services (IDEA). RTI is a way to ensure each student is afforded the opportunity to learn.

When interventions work, fewer children, particularly minority children, are referred for special education. The RTI model acts as a safeguard, insuring that a child is not given a label of a disability inappropriately. RTI also helps school districts by eliminating unnecessary referrals, which drain time and resources.[12]

Relationship between IDEA and RTI

IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) was revised and signed into law in 2004 and became effective in July, 2005. The 2004 reauthorization of IDEA makes mention of Response to Intervention as a pre-referral intervention model and encourages its implementation in three significant ways:

  1. In diagnosing learning disabilities, LEAs are no longer required to use the discrepancy model. The act states that, “a local educational agency shall not be required to take into consideration whether a child has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability…”
  2. Response to Intervention is specifically mentioned in the regulations in conjunction with the identification of a specific learning disability.
  3. Early Intervening Services (EIS) are prominently mentioned in IDEA for the first time. These services are directed at interventions for students prior to referral in an attempt to avoid classification, such as in an RTI model. IDEA now authorizes the use of up to 15% of IDEA allocated funds for EIS.[13]

RTI was included in the regulations due to considerable concerns raised by both the House and Senate Committees regarding the use of IQ tests to identify learning disabled students. There was also recognition in these committees of a growing body of scientific research supporting methods of pre-referral interventions that resolved learning difficulties short of classification.

The IDEA Committee Conference Report (CCR) discusses the use of scientifically based early intervention programs, describes a model Response to Intervention program, and recommends the development of the most effective implementation of responsiveness to intervention models. The report describes such a model as an essential service for reducing the need to label children as disabled.[14]

Response to RTI

Stop hand
The neutrality of this article is disputed.
Please see the discussion on the talk page.

As RTI has recently entered U.S. schools, some teachers believe that it has brought about tension between regular education teachers and special education teachers. In other schools, RTI has led to increased cooperation and understanding between regular education teachers and special education teachers. Regardless of teachers' responses, students are benefiting from the RTI process.

RTI has brought more than tension into the regular education teacher's classroom. It is a whole new way of doing things, including evidence-based instructional practices and more focus on students individual needs (which ultimately create more stress for today's teachers). Most teachers are used to referring students to special education who they 'can't get through to.' RTI forces teachers with little or no experience teaching children with learning disabilities to keep these students in their classrooms and to search for research-based ways to help them. All in all, it requires additional work from already overworked teachers than the old discrepancy model; this perhaps unreasonable change in expectations represents perhaps the greatest resistance towards RTI.[15]

Among the school psychologists, multi-tiered progress monitoring approaches have been around as early as 1977 (Kovaleski, 2007). For school psychology, RTI is not so much a revolution as a return to the problem-solving that should've been going on all along.[16]


  1. Haager, Diane et al. Evidence-Based Reading Practices for Response to Intervention, Brooks Publishing, 2007.
  2. Cortiella, Candace, Response-to-Intervention — An Emerging Method for LD Identification, Schwab Learning, Retrieved August 2, 2007.
  3. Vellutino, F. R., Scanlon, D. M., Small, S., & Fanuele, D. P. (2006). Response to Intervention as a Vehicle for Distinguishing Between Children With and Without Reading Disabilities: Evidence for the Role of Kindergarten and First-Grade Interventions. Journal of Learning Disabilities , 39 (2), 157-169.
  4. Restori, A. F., Gresham, F. M., & Cook, C. R. (2008, January 1). "Old habits die hard:" past and current issues pertaining to response-to-intervention. Retrieved July 6, 2009, from The Free Library:
  5. Fuchs, D., Mock, D., Morgan, P. L., & Young, C. L. (2003). Responsiveness-to-Intervention: Definitions, Evidence, and Implications for the Learning Disabilities Construct. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice , 18 (3), 157-171.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 National Association of State Directors of Special Education. (2005). Response to intervention: Policy considerations and implementation. Alexandria, VA: NASDSE, Inc.
  7. Gresham, F.M. (2004). Current status and future directions of school-based behavioral interventions. School Psychology Review, 33, 326-343.
  8. Jenkins, J.R. (2003, December). Candidate measures for screening at-risk students. Paper presented at the NRCLD Responsiveness-to-Intervention Symposium, Kansas City, MO. Retrieved April 3, 2006, from¬sium2003/jenkins/index.html.
  9. Johnson, E., Mellard, D.F., Fuchs, D., & McKnight, M.A. (2006). Responsiveness to intervention (RTI): How to do it. Lawrence, KS: National Research Center on Learning Disabilities.
  10. Fuchs, D., Mock, D., Morgan, P. L., & Young, C. L. (2003). Responsiveness-to-Intervention: Definitions, evidence, and implications for the learning disabilities construct. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 18, 157-171.
  11. Deno, S. L. (1985). Curriculum-based measurement: The emerging alternative. Exceptional Children, 52, 219-232.
  12. AE Farstrup (2007). RTI: A vital concern for reading professionals. Reading Today, 25.3, 17.
  13. Q&A on Response to Intervention and Early Intervening Services
  14. Response to Intervention in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 2004 [1]
  15. Richards, C., et al., Response to Intervention: Building the Capacity of Teachers To Serve Students with Learning Difficulties. Issues in Teacher Education v. 16 no. 2 (Fall 2007) p. 55-64
  16. Kovaleski, J. F. Response to Intervention: Considerations for Research and Systems Change. The School Psychology Review v. 36 no. 4 (December 2007) p. 638-46

External links

  • Jimerson, S. R., Burns, M. K., & VanDerHeyden, A. M. (2007). Response to Intervention at School: The Science and Practice of Assessment and Intervention. In S. R. Jimerson, M. K. Burns, & A. M. VanDerHeyden, Handbook of Response to Intervention: The Science and Practice of Assessment and Intervention (pp. 3-9). New York: Springer.
  • Healy, K., Vanderwood, M., & Edelston, D. (2005). Early Literacy Interventions for English Language Learners: Support for an RTI Model. The California School Psychologist , 10, 55-63.
  • Fuchs, D., Compton, D. L., Fuchs, L. S., Bryant, J., & Davis, G. N. (2008). Making "Secondary Intervention" Work in a Three-Tier Responsiveness-to-Intervention Model: Findings from the First-grade Longitudinal Reading Study of the National Research Center on Learning Disabiltiies. Read Write , 21, 413-436.
  • Fuchs, L. S., & Fuchs, D. (2006). A Framework for Building Capacity for Responsiveness to Intervention. School Psychology Review , 35 (4), 621-626.

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