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Chapter 2: Response-to-Intervention

Response To Intervention - Special Education Law

A New Approach to Helping Students Most At-Risk for LD

Who is this for?

This chapter is for parents who know their child is struggling in school, but are unsure whether or not their child has a learning disability.

Why is this important?

This chapter describes Response-to-Intervention (RTI) - a comprehensive, multi-step process that closely monitors how students are responding to different types of services and instruction. RTI provides an improved process of pre-referral interventions.

What can parents do?

Parents can first find out if their school district uses an RTI process. If the answer is yes, then parents can learn more about RTI and ask key questions about how it will be used to help their child.

IDEA Words and Terms to Know

  • Response-to-Intervention (RTI)

    A comprehensive, multi-step process that closely monitors how the student is responding to different types of services and instruction.
  • Progress monitoring

    A scientifically based practice used to assess students’ academic performance and evaluate the effectiveness of instruction. Progress monitoring can be implemented with individual students or an entire class.
  • Curriculum based measurement (CBM)

    Tools for measuring student competency and progress in the basic skill areas of reading fluency, spelling, mathematics and written language.
  • Scientific, research-based instruction

    Curriculum and educational interventions that are research based and have been proven to be effective for most students
  • Universal screening

    A step taken by school personnel early in the school year to determine which students are "at risk" for not meeting grade level standards. Universal screening can be accomplished by reviewing a student's recent performance on state or district tests or by administering an academic screening to all students in a given grade. Students whose scores on the screening fall below a certain cut-off point are identified as needing continued progress monitoring and possibly more intensive interventions.


As you learned in Chapter 1: Pre-Referral Services, provisions in both IDEA 2004 and No Child Left Behind are designed to encourage school districts to provide additional support for struggling students within general education. In this chapter you’ll learn about a process known as Response-to-Intervention (or Responsiveness-to-Intervention)(RTI). IDEA 2004 encourages schools to begin using a process that determines if a student responds to a "scientific, research-based intervention" as a part of the evaluation procedures to determine which students may have a specific learning disability (SLD) and need special education.

green_exclamation[New] The growing interest in RTI is closely linked to another significant change made by IDEA 2004 -- the elimination of the requirement for schools to determine that a student shows a "severe discrepancy" between intellectual ability and academic achievement in order to be identified as having an SLD.

Before IDEA 2004, a student could not be identified as having a specific learning disability unless a "discrepancy" was found in one or more of the following areas:

  • Oral expression
  • Listening comprehension
  • Written expression
  • Basic reading skill
  • Reading comprehension
  • Mathematics calculation
  • Mathematics reasoning


This "discrepancy" requirement, which has been part of federal special education regulations since 1977, has been under attack for some time. Critics charge that the "discrepancy" approach requires students to fail for long periods of time before they can be found eligible for special education services. Equally important is the growing evidence that the "discrepancy" requirement is particularly problematic for students living in poverty, students of culturally different backgrounds and those whose native language was not English.

Relaxing the "discrepancy" requirement, which has been so deeply embedded in the identification of a specific learning disability, should lead to improvements in identification practices and better results for students.

What is RTI?

The RTI process is a multi-tiered approach to providing services and interventions to students who struggle with learning at increasing levels of intensity based on progress monitoring and data analysis.

The RTI process has the potential to limit the amount of academic failure that any student experiences and to increase the accuracy of special education evaluations. This could also reduce the number of children who have been mistakenly identified as having learning disabilities when their learning problems are actually due to cultural differences or lack of adequate instruction. Information and data gathered by an RTI process can lead to earlier identification of children who have true disabilities and are in need of special education services.

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