The Basics of RTI In the Classroom

In 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) was it reauthorized. Part of this reauthorization included a description of and support for the Response to Intervention (RTI) process. The legislators who renewed IDEA wanted a way to help school districts use intervention before relying on special education referrals. RTI is a multi-tiered approach that is used by classroom teachers and education specialist to help students who are struggling with a particular skill. Every teacher uses interventions as part of the teaching process but RTI is a little more structured than simply giving kids a little extra help.

How is RTI different?

The Response to Intervention model seeks to identify students’ needs before those struggles become barriers to learning. RTI can support both learning and behavioral needs. The heart of RTI is high-quality instruction and universal screening of all children. The general education classroom provides students with research-based instruction. Classroom teachers give ongoing assessments to learn more about students’ learning and levels of achievement. That data is then used in the RTI process. Based on assessment data, it may be determined that a student needs additional support in a certain area.

How is RTI structured?

RTI involves a three-tiered model. Tier 1 is given to all students as the high-quality, researched-based curriculum adopted by the school. This curriculum includes periodic assessments as well as behavioral screenings to look at student progress. If the student is identified as being at-risk in a screening, he or she will be given a certain length of time to make progress. If the student does not make adequate progress, they moved to Tier 2 instruction.

Students receive targeted interventions at Tier 2. This includes more intensive instruction of the specific skills that students weren’t making progress on. The time spent learning the skills, as well as the frequency of assessment of the skill, is increased in Tier 2. This targeted instruction is given in small groups so that the student gets the attention he or she needs to succeed. Students receiving Tier 2 intervention are all still receiving the high-quality instruction at Tier 1. The targeted intervention happens during small group work time. If a student shows little progress after a certain amount of time receiving Tier 2 intervention, the student is considered for Tier 3, which includes even more intensive intervention. This intervention may be developed and executed by a curriculum or intervention specialist who can also do a comprehensive evaluation of the student. Students who do not make progress in Tier 3 may be considered eligible for special education services. All of the data collected from Tiers 1 through 3 can be used in the special education eligibility decision.

What’s the role of progress monitoring?

In order to identify a student as at-risk, progress monitoring needs to be frequent. Student progress is the actual rate of learning compared to the expected rate of learning. Progress monitoring helps the RTI process in many ways when it is implemented properly. All students receive more appropriate instruction and feedback. Teachers can make decisions about instructional content based on real-time data. Progress monitoring provides data and documentation of student achievement.

Frequent progress monitoring can be short and simple. Assessments like fluency passages, mathematics fluency, and spelling tests are all quick opportunities for progress monitoring. Reading comprehension and writing may take longer to assess and may also take longer to show growth in for students.

Why do schools use RTI?

RTI is designed to meet students at their current levels of achievement and help them make progress toward grade-level expectations. This makes RTI a more personalized approach for students who need special interventions. RTI is proactive in terms of helping the students make progress. Instead of waiting to see if the student will learn a skill or to see if the learning clicks, RTI ensures that students are receiving targeted practice and help. The RTI process also helps with parent communication. When a student moves through the tiers, teachers can communicate specific data and plans for an invention with parents so that nothing comes as a surprise later on.

RTI aims to help students who are struggling catch up to grade-level expectations. It’s not a specific program, and instead is a flexible model that supports students starting with high-quality whole class instruction and moving to specific targeted intervention. While RTI may eventually uncover a student’s need for special education services, the goal of the process is to actually remediate problems before those services are needed.

Amanda Ronan is an Austin-based writer. After many years as a teacher, Amanda transitioned out of the classroom and into educational publishing. She wrote and edited English, language arts, reading, and social studies content for grades K-12. Since becoming a full-time writer, Amanda has worked with a diverse set of clients, ranging from functional medicine doctors to design schools to moving companies. She blogs, writes long-form articles, and pens YA and children’s fiction. Her first YA series, My Brother is a Robot, is slated for release by Scobre Educational Press in September 2015.