While RTI represents a systematic set of supports for all students – one of the most highly-effective researched-based practices in which schools can engage, RTI entered the educational discourse most prominently from the reauthorization and amendment of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) in 2004. IDEA altered the landscape for schools. Whereas practitioners previously used the IQ-achievement discrepancy model to identify children with learning disabilities, the reauthorization allowed schools to employ a lack of “Response to Intervention” or RTI as an alternative method for determining eligibility for special education and as a rationale for providing early intervention to children at risk for school failure.
While the reauthorized law seems, at first glance, to relate to eligibility determinations for special education, using a lack of response to intervention for such determinations has obvious implications for all of education. RTI implies that we must intervene and monitor the extent to which students are responding. IDEA 2004 encourages this intervention and monitoring to be done early—early in a student’s school career (in grades K–3) and also early upon the identification of a difficulty or deficit—and permits districts to use as much as 15 percent of their special education monies to fund these early intervention services.
Response to Intervention (RTI) is a framework for achieving the ongoing improvement of student outcomes (Buffum, Mattos, and Weber, 2009, 2010, and 2012; Hierck, Coleman, and Weber, 2011). It is a school-wide construct that provides high-quality instruction and research-based systematic interventions for all student needs—academic, social-emotional, and behavioral. From struggling students striving to meet minimum proficiency to gifted students striving to reach their potential, RTI invites a partnership between students, teachers, parents, and the community whereby all students achieving positive outcomes is the priority.
Unfortunately, challenges remain, and they are largely due to a lack of clarity about the positive impact of a well-constructed approach to RTI that can be realized by all schools. The critical components of an effective RTI system are:
• High-quality instruction and learning opportunities for all students.
• Identification of students struggling to meet grade-level expectations.
• Attention to the learning rates and levels of performance for all students.
• Increasing intensity and targetedness of instruction/intervention based on identified student needs.
• Data-informed decision-making using the skills of the team to solve problems.
The process of RTI involves screening for at-risk students, monitoring the responsiveness of students to instruction and intervention, and problem solving to determine the appropriate course of action. The latter two steps are repeated as necessary until educators see the desired outcomes achieved. Within an RTI-based system of supports, students who are struggling are identified in a proactive and timely manner and teams determine early intervention solutions to minimize the impact of struggles. This information is garnered by assessing student response to high-quality instruction that has been demonstrated to be effective. In this sense, RTI emphasizes “student outcomes instead of student deficits” (Kavale, et al., 2005, p. 4). RTI is equally impactful for students who are not identified as struggling, but who are considered gifted or above level, but whose needs may not be met. RTI must be applied to all students; educators must work to ensure that every student has access to appropriate learning experiences.