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What is response to intervention (RTI)?

By Amanda Morin

At a Glance

  • RTI aims to identify kids who are struggling in school.

  • It uses targeted teaching to help them catch up.

  • An important part of RTI is measuring progress and providing more support to kids who need it.

If you look inside any general education classroom, chances are good that you’d see different students struggling for different reasons. It can be hard for a teacher to tell right away which students are struggling or why. 

Response to intervention (RTI) aims to identify struggling students early on and give them the support they need to thrive in school. The word intervention is key to understanding what RTI is all about. The goal is for the school to intervene, or step in, and start helping before a student falls really far behind. 

Teachers can provide targeted teaching — called interventions — to help struggling students catch up. A big part of the RTI process involves closely monitoring student progress. That way the school can see which students need more academic support.

RTI isn’t a specific program or type of teaching. It’s a proactive approach: RTI measures students’ skills and uses this data to decide which interventions to use.

Dive deeper

How does RTI work?

The RTI process begins with a teacher assessing the skills of everyone in the class. This helps the school’s RTI teams tell which students need instructional interventions. That’s the term for focusing on specific skills in trying to improve them.

Interventions can be part of class-wide instruction. The teacher may break students into small groups. These groups are tailored for different skill levels or learning interests. 

Students who don’t make enough progress getting this kind of help during class may start to work on skills in small groups that meet during enrichment activities like music or art.

As part of the RTI process, schools help struggling students by using teaching interventions that researchers have studied and shown to be effective. Many of them deal with reading. But there are also some proven methods of improving writing and math skills. Some schools also use research-based behavior interventions.

Read more about instructional interventions .

How do teachers track student progress?

Another essential component of RTI is called progress monitoring. That means that teachers frequently assess students’ skills to decide whether an intervention is working.

During an intervention, a teacher or other member of the RTI team uses an assessment tool that measures certain skills. They assess the skills every week or every other week. That may sound like a lot of testing. But each assessment only takes a few minutes to complete.

Learn more about progress monitoring .

How much support do students get?

There’s no single way of doing RTI, but it’s often set up as a three-tiered system of support. Some school districts call this framework a multi-tiered system of supports, or MTSS , instead of RTI.

Think of this tiered system as a pyramid, with the intensity of support increasing from one level to the next:

  • Tier 1: The whole class

  • Tier 2: Small group interventions

  • Tier 3: Intensive interventions

Get deeper information about the three tiers of support .

How is RTI related to special education?

RTI isn’t a special education program. But it can help general education teachers pick up on early signs that kids are struggling. It also plays a key role in helping schools figure out who qualifies for special education.

Federal law says that when deciding if a student is eligible for special education, the school district can use a “process that determines if the child responds to scientific, research-based intervention.” That’s one of the reasons many states use RTI.

If a student qualifies for special education, the RTI interventions used can help the school decide which services and supports to include in the .

There are a few other key things to keep in mind about the relationship between RTI and special education:

  • RTI can’t be used to reduce a student’s workload. That kind of modification may be used for some special education students, but not for general education students.

  • If a student is getting extra help through RTI, it doesn’t mean a family has to wait to request a special education evaluation. They have the right to ask for an evaluation at any time.

  • As part of the evaluation, the school can gather information from the RTI process, like screening and progress monitoring data. But they still have to follow the time frame of completing an initial evaluation within 60 days of getting parent consent.

Learn about evaluations for special education .

What are the benefits of RTI?

RTI is effective for lots of reasons. For one, it can help more kids thrive in general education classrooms. 

It can also help schools save special education resources for kids who truly need them. Many students performing below grade level don’t have disabilities. Through the RTI process, they can make progress without special education services.

Here are some other reasons why RTI is beneficial:

  • Students continue to get their core instruction in the general education classroom with their peers. 

  • It’s not a “wait and see” approach. Students can start to get extra help before falling so far behind that they have to go to summer school or repeat a grade.

  • If a student is referred for special education services, there’s already documentation about which type of instruction has not been helpful. 

If a school doesn’t use RTI, families can still ask for extra help . But it might not be provided as extensively or as systematically as it would in a school that uses RTI.

Does the school provide a written intervention plan?

Schools aren’t required to give families a written intervention plan. All the school needs to tell families about RTI is:

  • That their child is getting extra support

  • That they have the right to request an evaluation for special education services at any time

But many schools provide much more information. That’s because they know that parent involvement plays a big role in helping kids thrive in school. In fact, some schools are already in the habit of giving parents a written intervention plan. 

If the school doesn’t automatically provide a written plan, families can ask for one. It might include:

  • A description of the skills the child struggles with, and documentation about these challenges, like assessment results or work samples

  • A description of the research-based intervention the child is getting

  • Details about how often the intervention will be provided and for what length of time — how many minutes per day over how many weeks

  • Details about who will be providing the intervention and in which schoolroom

  • The criteria for determining whether the intervention is successful

  • A description of how progress monitoring works and how often progress will be measured

Get answers to other common questions about RTI .

Parents and caregivers: How can you participate in RTI?

Requesting a written intervention plan can help you take an active role in RTI. But there are other ways you can be involved in the process:

  • Remember that RTI is a fluid process. At any time during the school year, you can talk to the teacher and find out which interventions are available to help your child. 

  • Ask the school for more information about the intervention your child is receiving, like which studies show it is effective.

  • Ask the school to give you a copy of your child’s progress monitoring graph after every assessment.

  • Give the intervention time to work. To know if it’s helping, the school needs data. Wait at least a few weeks before you ask the school if it’s time to try something different.

  • Ask the school how you can help your child at home.

  • If you think your child’s skills aren’t improving, you may want to request an evaluation for special education. Remember that you can make this request at any time.

Use this list of questions to learn about your school’s RTI process .

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