Response to Intervention

widgetBy Ashley McFadin — I’m going to take a break from my normal technology post and talk about a little something that’s becoming more and more close to my heart – Response to Intervention (or RTI).

I attended the “Simplifying RTI Institute” with Mike Mattos (who, by the way, is amazing!) this past week and it was eye opening.  You see, RTI is a system of supports set up school-wide to help all students be successful.  One of my colleagues said, it’s like an IEP for everyone because it’s so individualized.  But, I think that’s oversimplifying it too much.  While there is no way I can summarize two days worth of material into a blog post, I’ll do my best.

Before we begin, as an educator, you must believe two things in order to have effective RTI:

  1. You believe that all students (those we expect to be independent adults) be able to learn to high-school+.  This means that the student will not only finish high school but will also attain an education beyond graduation.
  2. You will take responsibility for what you can control in terms of teaching them academic skills.

There are three tiers of intervention, starting with Tier 1.  Every student receives “Tier 1” instruction.  This is considered effective classroom teaching.  But, as most teachers can attest to, not every student learns it the first (or few) times the teacher presents the material.  In fact, only about 80% of students will understand the essential standard the first (few) times the teacher presents the material.  If the student is part of the other 20%, we move onto Tier 2.

Tier 2 is the stage where you have an out-of-class small group instruction or 1-on-1 help with the students who still do not understand the material.  While the “magic number” is a 30-minute lesson, there is no limit as to how long a student can be in Tier 2.  What matters here is the intensity of instruction.  Because a student is identified by the classroom teacher as “tier 2”, the teacher must provide more differentiated instruction that fits the students’ needs.

Here is the tricky part – if the student is lacking foundational skills (i.e.: below grade-level reading, lacking number sense, poor writing skills) or has behavioral, motivation, and/or attendance issues, the student can be recommended into Tier 3.  This is the most intensive level and may require some remedial classes be added to the student’s schedule to build foundational skills.  Here’s the catch – these are in addition to the grade-level courses…

If the student is always taught below grade-level, they will always stay below grade-level.  In order for all students to achieve high-school+ learning, we must teach them at grade-level in addition to giving them remediation.

But wait!  Where is special education?  They must be in Tier 3!  Well, no.  They’re in that whole mix of kids.  Just because a student has an academic goal doesn’t mean that they won’t fall into the Tier 1 category for an essential standard that you teach.  The same goes for a regular education student who might fall into months of tier 2 instruction for the same essential standard.

That’s the gist of RTI.  Why is it important?  It’s important because it focuses on maximizing student learning.  By identifying essential standards that students must know and ensuring that the students are proficient+ in those essential standards before they leave in June, we are giving them more of a chance to be successful in the long-term.  And, isn’t that our job as educators?

If you would like more information on the RTI process, the best (and most cost-effective) resource that I’ve found is “Simplifying Response to Intervention” by Austin Buffum, Mike Mattos, and Chris Weber.  You can also go to to see if Mike Mattos is coming to your area to speak.  It’s well worth the price tag.

Have you started to implement an RTI system in your school?  If so, how is it going?

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