Volume: 5, Issue: 4


Response to Intervention in the United States
Уонг, Катрина [about] , Пиерсон, М. [about]

KEY WORDS: Response to Intervention (RTI), struggling students, learning disabilities, reading disabilities, general education, special education reform, special education.
ABSTRACT: Response to Intervention (RTI) is a new model in the United States for identifying students who are in need of academic support services.   This includes students with mild/moderate disabilities such as learning disabilities, and who may be struggling in the general education classroom. The authors present the RTI model in detail and outline factors essential for its successful implementation.

Response to Intervention (RTI) is the implementation of research-based curriculum that assists in the identification process of determining whether a student may possess a learning disability (Berkeley et al., 2009).  Though primarily a general education function, RTI traditionally can be divided into 3 tiers.  Each tier increases the intensity and intervention required for specific student needs (Brozo, 2010; Harlacher, Nelson Walker, & Sanford, 2010).  The first tier, hereafter referred to as Tier 1, is comprised of approximately 80% of students (Berkeley, Bender, Peaster, & Saunders, 2009), and is typically located in the general education core class.  Tier 1 is fueled by consistent, ongoing progress monitoring and instruction that is delivered by highly qualified teachers, as established by No Child Left Behind (PL 107-110 § 2101; Klinger & Edwards, 2006).  Tier 1 is a critical piece of RTI since it is the initial screening of all students.  It is purposeful in identifying students who are non-responsive and may require a more intensive intervention.  This tier is a critical level of RTI because it aggressively identifies possible reading deficits before they come into fruition later in the school year (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Compton, 2010; Hoover, 2010).  If deemed necessary, the student takes part in the second tier, or Tier 2, which is a moderate level of intervention.  These students may be classified as struggling readers and consist of approximately 15% of students (Berkeley et al., 2008; Graves, Duesbery, Pyle, Brandon, & McIntosh, 2011).  Dependent upon the amount of responsiveness a student has toward the intervention will prompt a special education referral or he/she will make progress towards “closing the gap,” essentially reverting back to Tier 1 (Tran, Sanchez, Arellano, & Swanson, 2011; Vaughn et al., 2010).  Ideally, the majority of students who require Tier 2 will readily respond to the curriculum and move back towards Tier 1, which is an underlying goal of the RTI model.  However, students who are non-responsive to the Tier 2 intervention will prompt a special education evaluation to assess for a specific learning disability.  If the student qualifies for special education services, then the third, most intensive intervention commences.  This third tier, also referred to as Tier 3, typically implements a remedial curriculum required by approximately 5% of the students (Berkeley et al., 2009). 

The foundation of a RTI model reaps a number of innate benefits that further encourage its success.  First, RTI ensures quality education for all students regardless of placement or ability level (Johnson & Smith, 2008).  This capitalizes on the federal law of IDEA and NCLB where teachers deliver quality instruction to students who have the right to a free and public education.  Additionally, RTI emphasizes the importance of research-based strategies for instructional delivery (Hoover, 2010; Sansosti, Noltemeyer, & Goss, 2010).  This notion ensures the continual development of best practices for a teacher and a school. 

Second, RTI adopts a proactive approach in assisting struggling students as opposed to the “wait to fail” mentality (Berkeley et al., 2009; Dupuis, 2010).  The inherent problem-solving thinking of this model promotes student achievement, as well as combats an influx of special education referrals.  When taking this into consideration, struggling students are identified, instead of preferentially referred based on cultural or behavioral bias (Klinger & Edwards, 2006).  Academics are the sole focus scrutinized in order to identify a discrepancy between cognitive and academic ability.  This helps to reduce the over identification of minority students (Denton, Wexler, Vaughn, & Bryan, 2008; NJCLD, 2005). 

Third, RTI is a systematic and straightforward approach that provides informative data regarding a student’s reading ability.  The continual progress monitoring of an intervention, in conjunction with routine benchmark examinations, can only assist educators toward accurate determinations.  The more accurate the data collected is to the nature of its assessment, the more accurate a special education referral will be.  

In theory, the driving principles of RTI seem to guarantee the production of positive results.  The entire concept of RTI was established in the hope that the number of special education referrals would be decreased.  Thus, the effectiveness of a Tier 2 intervention is essential on a state, district, and school level, as it is a decisive factor for whether a student is recommended for a referral or not.  However, a major factor in the success of the RTI implementation may, in fact, be an elementary versus secondary delivery and structure (Brozo, 2010; Graves, Duesbery, Pyle, et al., 2011).  Where an elementary school can closely monitor, provide responsive feedback, and explicitly deliver reading instruction throughout the day, a middle school or high school’s delivery may be more isolated and intermittent with the rotating periods and teachers.  So, how does an RTI model look at the middle school level?  The purpose of this study is to examine a school staff’s perceptions pertaining to the current Tier 2 reading intervention in its effectiveness for student achievement. 

RTI Factors Essential for Success

RTI is a complex educational reform.  With its novelty, RTI’s level of success is dependent upon a number of overlapping factors that need to be taken into consideration prior to implementation.  First, RTI needs to be upheld throughout all layers of support, including the teachers, administrators, and district personnel (Bean & Lillenstein, 2012; Fuchs & Deshler, 2007; Murawski & Hughes, 2008).  This means that all school staff members, including content area teachers and administrators, are co-owners of the RTI movement and its purpose (Lenski, 2012; Murawski & Hughes, 2008).  Second, the school site’s RTI program should reflect the school culture and be sensitive of its student demographics (Bean & Lillenstein, 2012; Kozleski & Huber, 2010; Mahdavi & Beebe-Frankenberger, 2009). 

Layers of support.  Response to intervention acts like concentric circles of support (Klein Friedman, 2010; Kozleski & Huber, 2010).  The RTI system surrounds the individual student as its focal point.  All efforts, decisions, trainings, and instructional strategies are based upon the belief that a student can learn in order to produce improved academic achievement (Barnes & Harlacher, 2008; Dupuis, 2010; Kupzyk, Daly, III, Ihio, & Young, 2012, Renaldi & Stuart, 2011).  Students are the heart of RTI and are the ones who drive the decisions, from Tier 1 all the way to Tier 3.  As all students are being serviced by the RTI model, the teachers in the classroom are the primary sources of support for each student and their learning.  As direct service providers, the teachers require sustainability from their site leadership team to direct them in the implementation.  This requires the administration team to be knowledgeable and cognizant of the intricate process on both the school and district level (Nellis, 2012; Sansosti, Noltemeyer, & Goss, 2010).  They need to be the encouraging leaders, in addition to sharing in the leadership role with their teachers, which promotes a communal responsibility for the staff as a whole (Nellis, 2012; Lenski, 2012; Mahdavi & Beebe-Frankenberger, 2009).  Moving further outward in the concentric circles of support, an administrator receives his/her directive from those at the district level.  Program specialists, directors, and superintendents have acquired insight that may not be known to those within the classroom.  Additionally, their understanding of RTI on a grander scale, such as at the state or national level, can provide the administrative teams with a specific type of support that necessitate the desired reform.  These layers of support are essential to any program’s effectiveness, and apply directly to a RTI model established at any school or district.  From the highest federal level to the individual classrooms, each decision, mandate, and push supports the belief that all students can learn and achieve (Barnes & Harlacher, 2008). 

Shared vision and purpose.  As imperative as it is to have the essential layers of support in place for success, the lack of these pillars can lead to the demise of an attempted reform.  A lack of communication, understanding, or conviction can cause disunity in RTI’s vision and purpose.  Naturally, the amount of sustenance provided on the district and administration level will be an indicator of its trickle-down effect to the classroom and its students.  All education professionals involved in RTI need to realize that they are a part of a unified team with a mutual purpose of improving student outcomes (Barnes & Harlacher, 2008; Nellis, 2012).  Site leadership teams are the decision-makers and can direct RTI’s implementation (Bean & Lillenstein, 2012; Dupuis, 2010; Fuchs & Deshler, 2007; Kozleski & Huber, 2010; Mahdavi & Beebe-Frankenberger, 2009; Nellis, 2012; Renaldi & Stuart, 2011).  A principal authenticating RTI’s values and demonstrating his/her beliefs in the model is a determining factor in how much a staff will cooperate and uphold it.  The principal or even a teacher in isolation cannot expect to see any transformational difference in their students.  It will be a futile effort unless it is a shared vision between all staff members of a school. 

Collective responsibility.  All teachers are active participants of RTI whether they are explicit instructors in reading or not.  RTI has been adopted nationwide and does not segregate between academic content areas (Sanger, Friedli, Brunken, Snow, & Ritzman, 2012; Lenski, 2012).  On a secondary campus, all staff members, regardless of academic subject area, are mutual collaborators and active participants in the development of the mission to push students toward graduation (Lenski, 2012; Pyle & Vaughn, 2012).  It is critical for teachers to take ownership and responsibility of the efforts to improve all students’ learning as it can be the driving force to a program’s effectiveness (Lenski, 2012).  When all students on campus are supported by every school employee with the emphasis on student learning, then the staff as a whole is empowered with the end goal of student growth and success (Lenski, 2012; Nellis, 2012).  This shared vision and responsibility can be motivating for a staff as they can collectively work toward a common goal (Beecher, 2011; Lenski, 2012; Mahdavi & Beebe-Frankenberger, 2009; Renaldi & Stuart, 2011).  This, in turn, can produce higher morale amongst staff members as opportunities to celebrate student progress toward achievement become more frequent (Mahdavi & Beebe-Frankenberger, 2009; Reinhartz & Beach, 2004). 

School culture.  As a school staff moves forward in the planning, development, and implementation of a RTI program, it is important for key stakeholders to be aware of how the program aligns with their school culture and student demographic (Bean & Lillenstein, 2012; Beecher, 2011; Hernandez Finch, 2012; Kozleski & Huber, 2010).  Educators need to be fully prepared for a change in perspective to move forward with reform.  With that mentality shift, team members will need to anticipate challenges that endorse higher expectations (Beecher, 2011).  The persistent push toward best practices will ensure the implementation of a culturally and linguistically appropriate intervention while being consistent with a school’s culture (Bean & Lillenstein, 2012; Reinhartz & Beach, 2004).  An RTI program must cater to the student as this model is student-focused.  The RTI curriculum cannot merely be a “one size fits all” program as students have a diverse range of needs in the realm of reading.  A program should include major components of reading literacy, which are not part of this paper.  However, a program should complement a school’s culture to maintain its health and make positive growth.


RTI has been implemented in all school districts around the United States to further support students who are struggling learners.  It is taking the place of the former discrepancy model of identifying children for special education services.  Students no longer have to “wait to fail”.  Instead, they can be identified for needing support much earlier in their educational careers through the RTI process being employed in schools.


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