Response to Intervention, or RTI, may seem like a new concept, but in reality, effective teachers have always used this approach in their teaching.
That is, when students are taught a specific concept, skill, or strategy, teachers assess whether it has been learned. Based on the assessment results, teachers reteach students who need additional instruction by selecting a different method, material, or technique. If one or more students continue to struggle, the teacher might ask a colleague or reading professional for other ideas. After working with students for a period of time with this alternate instruction, teachers reassess them. Hopefully, students succeed and continue their work in the classroom. Those who require more intensive support after these classroom interventions are referred to outside specialists for more extensive instruction and testing.
RTI and the Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004
The RTI model seeks to formalize this sequence of teach-assess-intervene, and it has gained significance as a result of the Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004). This federal regulation concerning the placement of students into special education encourages the development of RTI programs in schools to better evaluate students before identifying them as learning disabled.
Prior to this 2004 regulation, students could only be identified as learning disabled if there was a discrepancy between the student’s ability and academic progress, which was typically identified after extensive testing by outside specialists, such as the reading teacher and the school psychologist. This new regulation impacts classroom teachers in their daily instruction because it asks them to more formally monitor and document students’ progress.
Miller and Giugno (2008) identified some general principles to be considered in developing an RTI program, including monitoring student progress over time, incorporating a variety of research based instructional methods, using collaborative problem solving, encouraging parent involvement, and implementing a school-wide effort.
In some states, such as New York (Letter to Superintendents, April 2008), the development and implementation of RTI programs is being mandated on the school and district levels. Educators support RTI programs because, as Shanahan (2008) states, “It is a particularly effective institutional way to be aggressive about kids’ learning.” By generalizing and formalizing effective practice into a school-wide program, schools seek to provide the best instruction for every student.
There is no one correct structure for RTI programs, but the predominate concept associated with RTI is that the intensity and type of instruction will increase over time for students who continue to struggle.
Most structures include at least three tiers (National Joint Commission on Learning Disability, 2005; Shanahan, 2008), spanning regular classroom instruction, targeted interventions, and evaluations for specific learning disabilities. Moving from one tier to another requires the evaluation of a range of assessment data for each student.
The other components of RTI programs include quality instruction, monitoring assessments, collaborative problem-solving teams, and parent involvement. Looking more closely into these components will help the teacher understand the purpose and importance of them in the RTI program.