Responding When Students Don't Learn (RTI)

Response To Intervention

Response to Intervention ('RTI') is a three tiered screening process developed to identify students in need of increasingly intense levels of instructional support. Learning progress is closely monitored to determine the need for supplemental instruction and/or intervention. Although there is some variation in models, RTI typically consists of three tiers–'Universal', 'Targeted', and 'Intensive'—each providing increased intensity, frequency, and duration of instruction and assessment that varies on several dimensions according to the learning needs of the student.

Tier 1

Tier 1 is the 'universal', core curriculum delivered to all students in a classroom. 80% of the students are expected to reach proficiency when the program is high quality with established outcomes and teachers receive the ongoing training needed to implement the program in the way it was intended. Tier 1 instructional strategies include additional instructional time, presenting information to students in smaller 'chunks', guided practice, and accommodating learning style preferences.

Tier 2

Tier 2 is 'targeted' instruction adapted for the hypothetical 15% of students who fall below expected levels of proficiency and are at some risk for failure. Instruction focuses on specific areas of need with increased frequency and duration of instruction. Intervention can take the form of a study skills class, before or after school tutoring, and work with a reading/math coach.

Tier 3

Tier 3 is 'intensive' interventions intended for the 5% of students who have not responded to Tiers 1 and 2 instructional strategies. In some models Tier 3 is synonymous with Special Education, but in other models students who are not identified as needing Special Education receive Tier 3 level instructional strategies due to their intensive level of need. “Intensive” instructional strategies include individualized intervention, modification of the learning environment, and evaluation of teaching style.

The Challenges of Implementing RTI

The differences in instructional approaches underscore the importance of accurately assessing student learning needs. Students who require supplemental instruction but fail to be identified will continue to struggle and perform below proficiency levels. Falsely identifying students who do not require supplemental instruction poorly utilizes limited time and stretches limited resources. Additional factors can compromise the effectiveness of the RTI system.

Instructional Level vs. Grade Level

Students learning needs are not the same in all subject areas and may require different Tier levels of intervention. Teachers must utilize differentiated instructional strategies while teaching the student during the core instruction time, as well as monitoring progress at the instructional level rather than grade level.

The Quality of the Instruction

Although the assessment components of RTI are essential elements of implementation, it is the instruction that …that truly drives the changes we hope to see in students who are identified as being at some level of risk for not meeting academic expectations. (Shapiro, E.)

The effectiveness of the RTI process depends upon the teachers’ expertise and compliance in delivering the instruction. An effective RTI system includes a process for monitoring teachers’ effectiveness at delivering the instruction in order to determine whether students’ failure to respond is due to a need for further teacher training.

The Quality of the Assessment

The extent to which the RTI system serves students and teachers also depends upon the quality and administration of the assessment tools used to screen students and to monitor their learning progress. Several factors impact the quality of the assessment including: the sensitivity/validity of the assessment itself; the frequency of administration; and the accuracy of administration and scoring.

Distinguishing 'My' and 'All' Students

In an educational system in which teachers have little opportunity for collaboration, classrooms have often been described as 'silos'. An extension of this context has been a mindset that differentiates 'my' students from 'all' students. This attitude, along with limited opportunity to collaborate, undermines the capacity of teachers to support one another in a time of limited resources.

The Challenge of Viability

Ideally the RTI process would accurately and efficiently assure that students at all instructional levels are experiencing learning gains and that timely instructional adaptations are made according to each student’s learning needs. However, the reality is that most classroom teachers do not have adequate time or expertise to implement the process in the way it is designed to work.

A Tool for Operationalizing RTI

KW21 offers a tool for viably implementing the RTI screening and monitoring process that can increase the accuracy of Tier placement, identify professional development needs, and provide a shared platform for virtual collaboration among teachers. The use of Learning Items derived from Standards (including the Common Core) can increase the accuracy of assessment as well as providing powerful summary analytics for determining professional development needs and school or district trends.

Progress Monitoring for All Students

Progress monitoring is a central feature of KW21. The system can identify the learning needs of all students, including those performing above proficiency levels. Each student’s learning progress can be summarized in the form of a Student Proficiency Profile displaying what have been 'Taught', 'Assessed', and 'Learned' in 'real time.

Powerful Analytics

KW21 provides multiple ways in which to view student data. At the school level, data can be analyzed according to specific Tier levels, subject areas, grade levels, and classrooms. Student data can also be aggregated across schools within a district to show performance trends according to subject areas, on standardized testing, and within Tier levels. The ability to identify the actual percentages of students receiving instruction at each Tier level across a district, in 'real time', provides timely feedback that can focus support on struggling schools and increase the efficacy of the RTI system.

Targeted Professional Development

Ongoing teacher training is a requisite feature of an effective RTI process. Using KW21 school and district leaders can identify the instructional strategies and assessments that are challenging teachers’ implementation of the program and develop professional development targeting those strategies.

Increased Support through Virtual Collaboration

Further support can be provided to teachers through greater collaboration between general education and Special Needs teachers. Using KW21 teachers can virtually collaborate and share materials with each other within the school or within the district.

Shared Use

Much of the literature on RTI underscores the benefit to all teachers of closer collaboration among Special Needs, English Second Language (ESL), specialist, and general education classroom teachers. KW21 was designed and intended for shared use. Several teachers can view the same student data and virtually discuss the appropriate Tier assignment. They can share successful instructional strategies, lessons, assessments, and external resources with each other and store them in a central location.

Increasing Viability

KW21 can increase the viability of RTI by providing time saving operations and analytics, and a way to collaborate virtually. The increased accuracy of identifying students’ learning needs and adapting instruction accordingly fosters more efficient use of labor intensive resources. KW21 provides a tool that makes 'smarter' use of limited available time.

Teachers will be more open to the system if they perceive it as viable: can be adequately implemented in the available instructional time of a school year and they are supported with the training they need.

Many schools will need several years of implementing the process in order to reach the expected percentages of students in each Tier. KW21 has the capacity to shorten that time by pinpointing the learning needs of students and matching them with the appropriate instructional strategies and increasing the quality of implementation with ongoing training.


Ainsworth, L.(2010). Rigorous Curriculum Design: How to Create Curricular Units of Student that Align Standards, Instruction, and Assessment. Lean + Learn Press: Englewood.

Diamond, L. Assessment-Driven Instruction: A Systems Approach. Perspectives, Fall 2005, pp. 33-37.

Edyburn, D.L. Response to Intervention (RTI): Is there a Role for Assistive Technology? Special Education Technology Practice. 10/15/13. http://www.setp.net/articles/article0903-1.html.

National Center on Response to Intervention (January 2013). Progress Monitoring Brief #1 Common Progress Monitoring Omissions: Planning and Practice. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, National Center on Response to Intervention

Shapiro, E.S. Tiered Instruction and Intervention in a Response-to-Intervention Model. RTI Action Network. Copyright 1999-2013 National Center for Learning Disabilities. http://www.rtinetwork.org.

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