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Response to Intervention—A Primer for Parents

response-to-intervention-mother-helps-son-with-workResponse to Intervention (RTI) is not a new idea. In fact, features of this approach to teaching have been around for more than 20 years under names like Teacher Assistance Team Model, Pre-Referral Intervention Model, Mainstream Assistance Team Model, School-Based Consultation Team Model, and Multi-Tier Problem-Solving Model. Simply stated, RTI is an approach to instruction that combines the art and science of teaching, allows for (and encourages) creativity and innovation, and is solidly grounded in data-based decision-making (a very good thing!).

It demands a high level of commitment and increased collaboration among educators, increased flexibility and accountability on the part of school administrators, and renewed and enhanced partnerships with parents. Sounds good to me! And when implemented with fidelity, it results in better results for all students, including those with learning disabilities (LD) and other disorders that impact learning, attention and behavior.

RTI and Struggling Learners

For students who struggle with learning, RTI can be especially helpful in getting them the focused instruction they need before they experience frustration and failure. It can mean the difference between "waiting to see" how a student progresses over time (not a good thing!) and "monitoring student progress," determining what types of intervention have worked, what other strategies might prove beneficial, and what specific types of supplemental services and supports could result in classroom success. And all of this happens before a student is "referred" for special education evaluation.

In effective RTI programs, student success is a shared responsibility within the entire instructional community, meaning that teachers have easy access to specialists (i.e., reading teachers, psychologists, speech-language therapists) and don't have to wait for a formal special education evaluation process to take place before tapping the expertise of their colleagues. The result? Educators and parents have information about how well students have responded to targeted instruction, decisions can be more easily (and accurately) made about what additional knowledge is needed to plan for getting students the help they need, and students (because they too can reflect upon their progress data) can be helped to be active and informed participants in their educational journeys. And if a comprehensive evaluation is needed to determine eligibility for special education services and LD classification, data made available through the RTI process can add enormous value, helping the members of the special educational committee (which includes parents) to make good decisions about appropriate supports and services.

Some Core Features of RTI

RTI is not a place within a school, or an alternative educational program within a school system. It is a school-wide model that includes all students, paying attention to their progress in achieving goals and mastering the general curriculum. It presumes that:


  • the school-wide curriculum is of high quality and implemented with fidelity (if not, this could account for why students are not learning!)
  • that instruction takes place in a planful and systematic way
  • that (lots of) data are collected for every child, capturing the amount and rate of progress they are making in subject area learning and in other areas such as study skills, behavior and attention.

RTI models are framed in phases (often 3, sometimes 4 phases or "tiers") of increasing intensity over time. The major features of all successful RTI approaches include:

  • Data are collected to document how well students respond to targeted instruction, not just in a few areas of learning but across the entire curriculum
  • Decisions are made among teachers and other school personnel about how to adjust classroom instruction (and these discussion and decisions include close communication with parents)
  • Student progress is monitored with clear timelines to ensure that students don't "fall between the cracks" and that they receive the help they need in a timely manner
  • Schools tap all of their available professional talent as soon as a students shows signs of needing help, not delaying the provision of targeted instruction or specialized support until a formal special education evaluation is done
  • Formal referral for special education assessment takes place as needed, with parents and school personnel working as partners in deciding what additional supports or changes in instruction or interventions are needed to help children meet their learning goals and enjoy success In school


Some Helpful Resources on RTI 

While intended primarily for educator and school leaders, NCLD's RTI Action Network is a fabulous resource an all things RTI. Visit RTINetwork.org to experience these information resources and much more:

Other websites to visit include:


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