Response to Intervention

Response to intervention (RTI) is an instructional framework that focuses on addressing problems early with students who show signs of academic weakness. Other terms that reference the systematic support of struggling students include multitiered systems of supports, positive behavioral supports and interventions. Among its essential components are:

  • High-quality education for all students
  • Universal screening so that teachers can spot children who are struggling
  • Targeted, research-based “interventions” of increasing intensity designed to help students improve in problem areas
  • Frequent progress monitoring so that teachers can see how well students are responding to the targeted interventions, and
  • Data-based decision-making based on the information gathered from that monitoring

 The elements that make up what we call response to intervention have been around for decades, but the term first showed up in federal law in 2004, when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act  (IDEA)was last reauthorized. In the special education law, the RTI process was put forward as an alternative method of identifying students with learning disabilities. Congress’ intent was to make sure that students diagnosed with disabilities weren’t just the victims of poor teaching. Over the years, the educational framework has grown beyond the special education field. It is now seen as a method of improving instruction and academic results for all students.

 RTI is generally conceptualized as different levels of instruction known as a Multitier System of Support (MTSS) such as:

  • Tier 1 is the strong instruction that every student in a school should be receiving.
  • Tier 2 includes students who are receiving extra academic support, often provided in small groups.
  • Tier 3 is for students who have severe or persistent needs who require individualized help.

RTI proponents have said that movement among those tiers should be fluid. For example, a student with acute needs doesn’t need to progress through the tiers to get individualized support; and a student who needs some extra support should not miss out on the general instruction that is provided on Tier 1.

 Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) predates RTI in its inclusion in federal law; it was first introduced in the 1997 reauthorization of IDEA as a research-based framework for supporting children with behavior disorders. As with RTI, PBIS operates on tiers. All students are taught certain behavioral expectations and rewarded for following them (see: Achievement Motivation), and students with more needs are provided increasingly intensive interventions.

 Some districts use RTI and MTSS as synonyms but usually, “multitiered systems of supports” is used as an umbrella term that encompasses both response to intervention and positive behavioral interventions and supports. Schools implementing MTSS are usually trying to tackle both behavioral and academic concerns at the same time, recognizing that they often go hand in hand: A student who can’t understand what’s going on in the classroom is more likely to act out, and a student who is grappling with behavior problems is not going to be able to focus on academics. (See: Executive Functions above)

 School districts have largely adopted the multi-tiered framework as a schoolwide improvement process because of its focus on screening all children, improving overall instruction, and making decisions based on data. RTI has a stronger research base for early reading, however. District leaders say that setting up a multitiered framework for older children and in different subject areas has been more challenging because there are fewer research-based interventions in those areas and because it becomes more challenging with older students to create time for interventions during the school day.

 The text of the law mentions multitiered systems of supports only briefly, in the context of helping students with disabilities and English-language learners’ access challenging academic standards. State leaders may choose to use multitiered frameworks as a way to organize school improvement efforts in the improvement plans they must submit to the U.S. Department of Education.

 RTI Action Network; Center for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports Vol. 36, Issue 15, Pages s8, s9, retrieved 12/23/2016.