A Parent’s Guide to Response to Intervention (RtI)

All parents want to their children to do well in school.  They know that children need to be proficient in reading and math and have good “people skills” to flourish in 21st century jobs.  Children learn from their parents and teachers that they are expected to master the curriculum and keep pace with their peers.  Not surprisingly, when they don’t meet these expectations, they become demoralized.  Response to Intervention (RtI) is a multi-step approach to provide early academic and behavioral supports to struggling students rather than waiting for a child to fail before offering help.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and Questions To Ask (QTA) about “Response to Intervention” (RtI)

FAQ:  What is Response to Intervention (RtI)?                  
RtI is a three-tier (or three-step) prevention, early identification and intervention strategy provided in general education.  The learning of ALL students is assessed early and often.  RtI refers to a process that emphasizes how well students respond to changes in instruction.    RtI uses standards-aligned and research-based interventions at increasing levels of intensity to support students who struggle with reading and math and to help them reach state standards.  RtI depends on a strong, standards-aligned, research-based core curriculum (the “general education curriculum”) and school-wide behavior program.  Perhaps the most important benefit of an RtI approach is that it is not a “wait to fail” model because students get help promptly in the general education setting.  In Pennsylvania, ALL students have the opportunity to get help when and at the level needed in general education classes, potentially significantly reducing the number of students referred for special education services.  In the RtI model, students who continue to struggle in Tier 3 are referred for a special education evaluation and data from the RtI process can be used in the eligibility determination.   RtI is not a “pre-referral system, an individual teacher, classroom, special education program, an added period of reading instruction, or a separate stand-alone initiative”.  RtI is not preferential seating, shortened assignments, classroom observations, suspension, or retention.   Finally, “RtI is not a one shot attempt at remediation”

FAQ: What are the key features of RtI?  

ü        High quality Standards aligned and research-based instruction and behavioral support in general education (core curriculum).  (PA Standards for Reading, Writing,  Speaking and Listening:  http://www.pde.state.pa.us/k12/lib/k12/Reading.pdf)

ü       Universal screening of academics and behavior: All students are screened early in the school year to determine which students are “at risk” for not meeting grade level academic and behavioral standards and benchmarks.

ü       Shared ownership of all students: All staff use a collaborative approach and assume an active role in student assessment and instruction.

ü       Data-based decision-making

         Progress monitoring: Continuous progress monitoring of student performance and use of progress monitoring data to determine intervention effectiveness, and drive instructional adjustments, and to identify/measure progress toward instructional and grade level goals.  Results of student progress monitoring must be provided to parents.

         Benchmark and Outcome assessment: Student progress is assessed periodically throughout the year, and at the end of the year against grade level benchmarks and standards.

ü       Tiered interventions: Students receive increasingly intense levels of targeted, scientifically research-based interventions based on student needs.

         Research-based interventions:  Research-based curriculum and interventions have been proven by research to be effective for most students  (http://www.ncld.org/images/stories/downloads/parent_center/rti_final.pdf).

               “The principle of using research-based practices is to guard against wasting time on
                ineffective practices.” (Dr. Judy Elliott)                                                                                                       

         Flexible grouping: Students move among flexible instructional groups based on need and skill mastery.

ü       Fidelity of Implementations: Research-based interventions can deliver what is promised in the research only if they are implemented as intended (or with fidelity).  Research-based educational programs are like the medicine your physician prescribes.  Improvement in a medical condition requires that the medicine be taken as prescribed.  Likewise, to provide the intended results, research-based educational programs must be delivered as the publisher specifies.

ü       Parental Engagement: Parents are informed of their child’s needs, interventions, intervention schedule, progress and their right to request a special education evaluation at any time.


RtI: A Public Health Analogy                   

We can think of RTI as similar to a public health model.  In public health, everyone gets wellness information on how to stay healthy and receives basic, broad vaccinations. That’s the first tier of intervention.  In spite of this first tier of intervention, some people will get ill.  Or, we might discover as the result of large-scale screening of the population, that some people need more specialized treatment. This level of specialized treatment is considered the second level of intervention, which is not for the general population, but for a smaller segment of maybe 10 to 15% of the total population.  Even within this second-tier group, though, some persons, 5% or so, are going to need further, very specialized treatment. This highest level is referred to as the third level of intervention and is the most intensive and most costly level of intervention.

RTI can work as the public health model applied to students’ school performance. School staff provides a high-quality education for all students and conduct screenings to ensure that everyone is benefiting from that education. For students whose academic screening results suggest that a closer look — including a more refined/specific assessment — and a more intense intervention is needed, the schools will have procedures to ensure that the appropriate services are provided, and that the student’s progress (or lack of progress) in response to that intervention is monitored.  (Adapted from “Basic Principles of the Responsiveness-to-Intervention Approach” http://www.schwablearning.org/articles.aspx?r=1056

Questions Parents Should Ask         

 FAQ: What is scientific, research-based instruction?
Scientific, research-based instruction refers to specific, curriculum and educational interventions that have been proven to be effective – that is, the research reported in scientific peer-reviewed journals.” (http://www.nasponline.org/resources/factsheets/rtiprimer.aspx)

Questions Parents Should Ask

Ø      What research-based programs are being used and What research supports the effectiveness of the program(s)?

Ø      What process is used to match the intervention(s) to my child needs?

Ø      How many weeks and minutes per day of instruction will my child receive in this program?

Ø      Is a written intervention plan provided to parents as part of the RtI process?

Ø      How can parents know that the interventions are being carried out as intended (with fidelity)  

Ø      What training is required to effectively teach the research-based programs? 

Ø      Is my child’s teacher trained in the intervention program as recommended by the publisher?


FAQ: What is progress monitoring?

Both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) require that students are provided with research-based instruction and progress monitoring before entering special education.  Progress monitoring involves frequent, brief measures of progress using curriculum-based measurements (CBM) to determine whether students are learning what is taught and what specific skill(s) may need more intensive instruction.  Research has found that the best method of progress-monitoring is Curriculum-Based Measurement such as fluency measures (e.g.,  “words correct per minute” or wcpm). (http://www.nrcld.org/resource_kit/parent/What_Is_Progress_Monitoring2007.pdf Progress monitoring of ALL students begins with screening early and often against grade level standards, usually three times a year (e.g., DIBELS, Aimsweb).  If a student needs a more intensive intervention, the frequency of progress monitoring increases. Baseline data is the starting point in progress monitoring. 

      Weight-WaWeight Watcher Analogy        

Think about the Weight Watcher's model.  Assume you weigh 150 pounds (Baseline Data). You want to lose 10 pounds in ten weeks (Goal). You decide whether you want to be on the Flex Plan or the Core Plan (Curriculum.) You weigh yourself every week. (Progress Monitoring). At the end of 10 weeks, you should have made progress toward your goal. This is impossible to determine without baseline data.


             The Seven Steps of Progress Monitoring for ALL Students

Questions Parents Should Ask

Ø      What school-wide screening measures are in place?                                                                                         

Ø      How will my child be screened to spot a possible need for intervention?

Ø      What are my child’s progress monitoring “baseline” scores?

Ø      How long will an intervention be tried before determining that a child is or is not making adequate progress?

Ø      What curriculum-based measures (CBM) will be used to measure my child’s progress?

Ø      When and how will information about my child’s progress be provided to me?                                                              


FAQ: What role can RtI play in determining special education eligibility?

“The law gives school district the option of using RtI procedures as part of the evaluation process for special education eligibility.  Comprehensive assessment is still required under the reauthorized IDEA…. RtI is not advocating to stop the use of achievement testing.  It is simply putting into motion a way to assess student learning using multiple measures.” http://www.ncld.org/images/stories/downloads/parent_center/rti_final.pdf  Once the Three-Tier process is in place, schools will consider using RtI as part of the process for determining special education eligibility.


                                                              Questions Parents Should Ask

When can I request a special education evaluation for my child?

Ø      How will the school determine if my child has a learning disability?

Ø      What are the timelines for the completion of a special education evaluation?


FAQ: How can my child’s school district fund RtI supports?

EIS Early Intervening Services (EIS) are a set of coordinated services for students in kindergarten through grade 12 (with a particular emphasis on students in kindergarten through grade three) who are not currently identified as needing special education or related services, but who need additional academic and behavioral support to succeed in a general education environment. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provide for the use of up to 15 percent of Part B funds to develop and implement early intervening services. Response to Intervention is an Early Intervening strategy.(“Early Intervening Services (EIS) and Response to Intervention” (RtI)

FAQ: How can parents be involved in the various phases of RtI?

As a parent and taxpayer or member of parent group in your district, you can request that your school board allocate 15% of the district’s IDEA funds for Early Intervening Services (http://www.pattan.k12.pa.us/files/RTI/EIS-RtI-Ftsht.pdf).

Parents can ask their child’s teacher how parents can help their children benefit from RtI interventions.




                                                       RtI Resources for Parents                                                         


*      Response to Intervention: What It Is and What It’s Not

*      Early Intervening Services (EIS) and Response to Intervention (RtI)

*      Response to Intervention: A Primer for Parents

*      Parent’s Guide to Response-to-Intervention

*      Student Progress Monitoring: What This Means for Your Child

*Learning Disabilities Resource Kit: Specific Learning Disabilities Determination Procedures and Responsiveness to Intervention