Education Chat

Helping Struggling Students: 'Response to Intervention'

Our guests discussed the growing use of and interest in the educational framework.

February 20, 2008

Helping Struggling Students: ‘Response to Intervention’


  • Maurice McInerney is the managing director of the American Institutes for Research and the co-project director of the National Center on Response to Intervention, a federally-funded center that seeks to support widespread use of evidence-based practices in RTI.
  • Evelyn Johnson is an assistant professor at Boise State University and the co-author of RTI: A Practitioner’s Guide to Implementing Response to Intervention.
  • Jane Thompson is the principal of Loring Elementary School, Minneapolis.
  • Laurie Emery is the principal of Old Vail Middle School, Vail, Ariz.

Christina Samuels (Moderator):

Hello, and welcome to our live chat on response to intervention. We have many excellent questions pending, and we’re happy today to welcome four guests. Maurice McInerney is the co-project director of the federally-funded National Center on Response to Intervention. Evelyn Johnson is the co-author of RTI: A Practioner’s Guide to Response to Intervention. Laurie Emery is the principal of Old Vail Middle School, which has 760 students. She has worked with response to intervention both at the middle school and elementary school level. Jane Thompson, the principal of Loring Elementary School in Minneapolis, has a great deal of experience working with RTI in her ethnically and socioeconomically diverse school.

Christina Samuels (Moderator):

There are a large number of questions pending, so let’s jump right in.

Question from Christina Samuels:

Mr. McInerney, could you briefly tell us about the work of the National Center on Response to Intervention?

Maurice McInerney:

The National Center on RTI is working to support educators and families in learning about and using proven and promising models for RTI. The Office of Special Education Programs (U.S. Department of Education) has funded the National Center to provide technical assistance (TA) that helps states build their own capacity to support local school districts in implementing RTI effectively. The National Center is also disseminating information briefs, training manuals and other RTI products through its website: The American Institutes for Research has a 5-year grant to conduct the National Center in partnership with RTI research consultants at Vanderbilt University and the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. We realize that the National Center is working in an era of high interest and even higher expectations for the promise of RTI to improve public school education. Our vision is to be an honest broker of scientific knowledge – we seek to help educators and families become knowledgeable about what rigorous science knows and does not know about RTI. We also want stakeholders to learn about and use proven TA strategies when they implement RTI and other scientifically-based practices. Our long-term goal is to proactively support the widespread use of proven RTI models, while also pushing the boundaries on RTI models that are promising but need more research validation. Achieving this goal will hopefully help educators and families improve educational results for all students, including students with disabilities and their non-disabled friends, classmates, and neighbors in states and localities across the country.

Question from Joe Petrosino, EdD, Vo Tech:

A lot is written on RTI-Is this a general education or special education initiative? How can we get educators to trust that it will work in schools?

Maurice McInerney:

Your question is a good one that goes to the heart of both the promise and the challenge of RTI. RTI is a general education initiative that holds the promise of supporting increased learning and achievement for all students – those in general education and special education alike. However, achieving this promise will require that general and special educators develop a collaborative trust in working together to improve educational results for each of their students. The National Center on RTI seeks to empower educators and families to become good consumers of scientific research on RTI – to help them learn about RTI models that are based on rigorous science and then empower them to decide for themselves which proven RTI practices can best meet their unique needs and circumstances. Such empowerment of stakeholders will, I believe, help them build the trust that they need to work together to implement RTI effectively.

Question from Sheri Hunter, Director of Professional Development, Clinton Central School:

Is there a basic, research-based “toolkit” of strategies teachers can use for RtI purposes? I see a lot of information on why we should be using the RtI model, but not so much on specific, acceptable intervention strategies. Are these simply “good teaching practices” that every teacher should know, or are there specific strategies that have been shown to work with students who lag behind their peers?

Evelyn Johnson:

There is a growing research base on effective strategies for general education instruction, as well as for targeted interventions. Some of this work can be found at a variety of technical assistance centers on the internet. For example, the new National Center on Response to Intervention co-directed by Maury McInerney and Darren Woodruff has begun the process of compiling this information. Additional resources include the What Works Clearinghouse sponsored by the Department of Education, and the National Research Center on Learning Disabilities Each of these centers has some information about evidence based instruction and interventions. A final source of information is found at the K-8 Access Center which contains a number of resources about effective teaching strategies and practices that provide access to the general curriculum for students with disabilities.

Question from Mia Birdsong, Project Manager, MetisNet:

I’m interested in finding out more about what ages groups RTI has been used for and evaluated for. I’m particularly interested in how it works for older youth.

Maurice McInerney:

Good question. There are, in fact, differences in the scientific evidence base for RTI for students in different grades. The evidence base is strongest for elementary school – especially the early elementary grades. For these students, the intervention and assessment dimensions of RTI have very strong potential to substantially enhance student achievement and to reduce the prevalence of reading disabilities, mathematics disabilities, and behavior problems. The work of Evelyn Johnson – my colleague on this panel – as well as Don Deshler and Daryl Mellard at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning – have done some very interesting and important research on applying the RTI framework in high schools. But more research on RTI with older children and youth is needed to help guide policy and practice at the secondary level.

Question from Lou D’Amico, Reading Support Teacher, Poinciana Elementary School:

Once a student responds positively to intervention, what procedures should be in place to continue them?

Laurie Emery:

It depends on the student and the amount of progress they demonstrate relative to where they are starting. Intervention data are combined with other data sources to make decisions about specific students. For students who make sufficient progress, we continue to monitor the student through our universal screening as well as other school-wide assessments. The school day is structured to offer daily opportunities for students to be retaught to master state standards. Additionally, the interventions are quick and structured enough to be continued by the general ed teacher in the classroom.

Question from Juan Reyneri:

Are states going to require LEA’s to provide RTI before a student can be referred to Special Ed? Are there any states currently mandating such action?

Maurice McInerney:

The 2004 Amendments to IDEA provides states with an option – but not a requirement – that RTI could be used as part of the special education referral process – in particular as an alternative to discrepancy formulas within the SLD identification process. The National Research Center on Learning Disabilities provides information about these new options for SLD identification (see, e.g., There is currently a lot of variation in RTI mandates for special education referrals across the 50 states as well as across school districts within a given state. In addition, many states and districts are currently reviewing – and in some cases changing – their mandates in response to the 2004 Amendments to IDEA. It will be important for educators and families to monitor how their state and school district responds to these IDEA amendments in the coming years.

Question from Christina Samuels:

Ms. Thompson, please tell us a little bit about your school and its work with response to intervention.

Jane Thompson:

Loring Community School is located in Minneapolis and is considered an urban school. We are a preK through 5 school with 360 students. 79% of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch, meaning they are considered at or below the poverty level. We are very diverse with approximately 45% African American, White American 23%, Hispanic American 16%, Native American 6 % and Asian (Hmong) 10% students. 21% of our students receive English Language Learner support. We are highly committed to job embedded staff development and have participated in the Reading Excellence Act and Reading First grants. This is our second year with RTI although the elements of RTI were within the REA and RF expectations. As part of RTI effort we create our scheduling and staffing to support frequent assessments and monthly progress monitoring meetings where grade level teaching teams present data. These meetings analyze the data and then discuss appropriate and effective interventions that will be implemented and monitored over the next month. Loring is proud to say that we make Annual Yearly Progress even though our demographics would suggest otherwise.

Question from Karen Rowe, curriculum coordinator, Oneonta City Schools:

We are just beginning to use dibels as an assessment tool. do you know of other tools that are currently being used that would be better than DIBELS, especially for reading comprehension.

Evelyn Johnson:

The National Center on Student Progress Monitoring has a ‘tool review’ section that includes information about a variety of assessment tools, to include DIBELS. That site might be of value to your staff as you select appropriate assessment tools. Additionally, you will find a lot of helpful information about progress monitoring tools at as well as at the University of Minnesota’s Research Institute on Progress Monitoring at There is a growing body of research related to screening for reading difficulties within an RTI framework. Some of that research indicates that including comprehension measures (for example, Ed Shapiro’s work in Pennsylvania found that the use of an assessment called 4Sight Benchmark improved accuracy of prediction) may result in improved classification accuracy and diagnostic information about a student’s performance & progress in a number of reading related constructs. Finally, I am hearing from some schools that they are using the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI), and I believe there is an emerging literature on its use, though I unfortunately cannot direct you to anything specific.

Question from Dr. Heather Wilson, Montgomery County Public Schools:

How are systems/schools addressing the issues around ‘fidelity of implementation’ regrading interventions? How are schools/systems addressing the issue of whether or not a high-quality, research based general education curriculum was implemented? Said another way, how are general educators in school systems choosing to implement an RtI model making sure the curriculum is implemented and implemented well?

Maurice McInerney:

This question is very important but – unfortunately – not frequently asked. There are perhaps two key parts to issues of fidelity. First, I would suggest that educators and families ask whether or not the RTI tools and practices themselves have strong evidence base. Second, I would suggest that stakeholders examine how well these tools and practices are being implemented in local schools and classrooms. I think these are separate but inter-related questions. The National Center on Student Progress Monitoring ( has established a Technical Review Committee (TRC) of independent national experts. These experts have set standards for rigorous progress monitoring tools. The National Center on RTI is currently working to extend these progress monitoring standards for use within an RTI framework – as well as establishing similar standards for tools and practices for screening and tiered instruction. Additionally, our TRC will be asked to review guidelines for how rigorous tools and practices can be implemented effectively. This effort will include providing practical suggestions for assessing the appropriateness of RTI tools and practices for use with students from culturally and linguistically diverse families. Our goal is to provide educators and families with the information they need to become informed consumers of RTI research who can make sound, evidenced-based decisions about which RTI tools and practices best meet their own unique needs and circumstances.

Question from Leigh E Rohde, University of New Hampshire:

What are some successful strategies of using the RTI model in middle and high schools? What are some ideas to deal with supporting reading in content-area classes for students who are not able to read the required textbooks?

Laurie Emery:

We do a universal screening three times a year in reading, writing, and math. We use a three person team composed of the school psychologist, the principal, and a curriculum/data specialist. All screening tools are class-wide.We use MAZE for reading, correct word sequence for writing, and math fact fluency (all Curriculum Based Measures). We look to see if there are any class-wide problems. If so, we address it at the Tier I level in the classroom. If not, we do Can’t Do/Won’t Do assessments with the bottom 16% who must also be in the frustrational range. After identifying students who continue to be in the frustrational range, we set up protocol-based intervention, a direct instruction peer-coaching model. This is a scripted intervention that we train peers to deliver. We monitor the integrity and do a generalization probe once a week for three weeks. Data are graphed to look at student growth and slope and level changes. We meet to review progress and make decisions about how to proceed. We view our intervention as a form of assessment as well. We support students in several ways, including lower level text, assistive technology, teacher and peer support. We also usse a co-teaching model of instructional delivery with a special education and general education teacher in the classroom of students with specific learning disabilities.

Question from Mary Lou Ley, Consultant:

What factors have you witnessed that influence ownership of and the sustainability of the process past the initial implementation phase? What data do you have on sustainability of the process?

Laurie Emery:

We started small with one school and worked very hard to make the model successful at that level. We were then able to share data with other schools and district level administrators. The model is now integrated into other district expectations and initiatives and supported with financial and human resources. The model is supported by our district curriculum and instruction department as well as special ed. It is included as a part of our new teacher induction. One of the keys is that it takes place in the classroom. The process is transparent. Teachers use universal screening graphs to communicate with parents. Data are apart of every conversation at the school and district. This has all facilitated an understanding of the need to monitor student progress and take action when progress is poor. We haven’t collected data on the sustainability; however, because it is a district initiative, it has survived changes in teachers, psychologists, and principals at schools. It is now a part of our culture. As an example, with class-wide math interventions, after initial reluctance to participate, teachers will now not let go of the interventions that are no longer necessary.

Question from Marsha Boutelle, Staff Writer, California School Boards Association:

Is RtI only for students with diagnosed learning disabilities?

Evelyn Johnson:

No, RTI is a schoolwide initiative that is intended for use with all students.

Question from Sheryl Ferlito, special education teacher, Chippewa Valley Schools:

What recommendations do you have for implementing RtI in secondary schools? How long should a reading intervention class be for tier 3 students at the high school level?

Evelyn Johnson:

Unfortunately, there is not much information about what RTI should/will look like in secondary schools. However, the general framework of the RTI process should be somewhat similar. That is, secondary schools will first need to ensure that they are using evidence-based instruction that is generally effective for students in the general class. Next, they will need to implement universal screening for academic problems (most likely related to reading/writing/math), as well as to structure targeted interventions for students who need help in these areas. Finally, progress monitoring tools to determine whether these interventions are effective will need to be put in place. I worked with a junior high school to implement RTI according to these best practices. In that school, the initial focus of screening and intervention was on reading. The school used their state reading assessment as the screening instrument - students who were 2 or more grades below reading level were identified as in need of ‘layered interventions’ for reading. Those students received accommodations in the content classes (like science) that accommodated their reading problems. For example, the use of graphic organizers, the use of multi-media to explain and practice concepts, the use of partner readings etc... These students also had an elective called ‘literacy lab’ during which they received instruction to improve their reading ability - for example, focusing on decoding, vocabulary & comprehension. The school is working on how to monitor progress for these students, but will probably use a combination of class work, common assessments & state assessments.

Question from Mark Dyar, Special Education Coordinator, Houston MN Public Schools:

How does RtI factor in the amount of engaged learning time for the student? Is there any consideration for student’s doing home work or working with parents to increase their child’s motivation to learn? As schools work to create tier II interventions, are there any models that encourage more engaged learning time outside of the school day or hold students and parents accountable for learning? As a special educator, I am concerned that RtI could open the doors to labeling students as being disabled who lack motivation or are disengaged from schooling for other social and economic reasons. It concerns me that few special educators are willing to address the “learner’s role” in the learning process. Can schools implementing RtI objectively balance the characteristics of the learner and the schools ability to demonstrate high quality instruction?

Laurie Emery:

We objectively assess students as part of the RTI process to determine whether they have a skill or performance/motivational deficit. Our general ed curriculum piece, Tier I, incorporates those researched teaching behaviors that are highly correlated with academic engaged time. One of the things that we may collect data on for a particular student may be his/her time on task versus a peer or the rest of the class. As a part of our district philosophy we encourage parents to be actively engaged in their child’s learning. Interventions which are done to gather progress monitoring data to assess RTI are done only at school to maintain the integrity of the intervention.

Question from Frank J. Hagen, Adjunct Professor - Wilmington University; Principal - Retired MD/DE:

What is the primary role of the principal as the instructional leader in the implementation, monitoring, and assessment of a Response to Intervention program?

Jane Thompson:

As a principal my role is to create a school structure (within the budget I am given) that supports the work. 1. Intensive job embedded staff development around assessment, instruction, use of materials (curriculum, etc). This includes weekly study groups where teachers delve into research and how to apply it in their classrooms. We are able to provide a variety of interventions delivered at every grade level by well trained teachers. 2. Create a daily,weekly schedule that gives teachers common planning and reading blocks. 3. Build in assessment time, monthly progress monitoring meetings (usually 2 hours in length per grade level) 4. I hire a .5 data/assessment coordinator to manage the data, run the progress monitoring meetings and provide some coaching. As the instructional leader I attend the progress monitoring meetings, observe instruction, and monitor the data. I challenge teachers to raise the bar and make adjustments in building resources to follow needs that the data presents. I see myself as supporting the study groups. It is most important to keep the priorities of staff development and RTI as the vision and focus. This means screening and protecting teachers from less necessary meetings.

Question from Jannette Reyes, Senior Education Specialist, Region One Education Service Center (Texas):

What is the recommendation for a progress monitoring schedule? Is it after every nth number of intervention session OR on a certain day every week? What if the student is absent, there is a holiday, or other absence. Wouldn’t the data points be skewed if each point does not reflect the same number of intervention opportunities? Thank you!

Evelyn Johnson:

The recommendations for progress monitoring vary somewhat. For students receiving interventions, the general guidelines recommend that progress is monitored once/weekly. The goal of progress monitoring is to show a student’s progress over time, so the data points do not need to occur after the same number of intervention opportunities. You can read more about progress monitoring at the National Center on Student Progress Monitoring Additionally, you can find information about standard rates of improvement (ROI) that are used to help determine whether growth is adequate at

Question from Charisse Stenger, School Psychologist, Omaha Public Schools:

Besides DIBELS and Aimsweb, are there any other reearch-based reading universal screenings that are appropriate for use in RtI?

Maurice McInerney:

Another good and important question – but one that we will need more time to fully answer. The National Center on Student Progress Monitoring ( has identified tools that can be used to monitor the progress of students in different academic areas. Tools published by DIBELS and Aimsweb are among those that have been reviewed and judged to meet high standards for rigor in measuring student progress. The rigor of these tools for screening has not yet been assessed. The National Center on RTI is currently replicating and extending this process for screening tools. We will be establishing at Technical Review Committee of independent national experts on RTI and screening. We will support the TRC for Screening in both establishing standards fro rigorous screening tools as assessing tools that meet those standards – including determining whether or not individual screening tools can be used in an RTI framework with students from culturally and linguistically diverse families. Please be patient, “stay tuned” and look for information about our TRC for Screening on the center website ( You can also join our center mailing list by writing to us at We will update you about our progress on the TRC for Screening and other on-going center activities throughout the year.

Question from Justine jam, GEAR UP Grant Manager, OPI, IEFA (Montana):

What means would school administration take to establish specific time DURING the school periods for middle and high school students who require intervention for reading and/or math?

Laurie Emery:

It requires a little creativity and weekly monitoring. Most of the interventions are done within the general ed classroom. Reading interventions are conducted daily, but are brief. The teachers set it up so that interventions occur during bellwork or independent practice time. Math interventions may be done during advisory base, reteach elective, or during math class. It helps with buy-in if teachers are involved with monitoring or conducting the intervention. Interventions are conducted to measure the students response and therefore are done over a relatively short structured amount of time.

Question from mary jackson school psychologist, moore county schools:

if a child is identified for after rti interventions and receives support, how/when does a child exit sp.ed.? by evaluation? by teacher opinion? thank you.

Evelyn Johnson:

The answer to this question will depend on the specific criteria that the state education agency & local (district) education agency have determined. In general, a child will ‘exit’ special education when the three criteria for eligibility do not apply: 1. Does the student have a diagnosed impairment? 2. Does the impairment have an adverse effect on educational performance? 3. Is specially designed instruction needed?

Question from Scott McLeod, Director, CASTLE:

RTI is typically used within a special education context. However, would you agree that the current focus for schools generally on frequent formative assessment, professional learning communities, and alterations to classroom instruction is very much the RTI progress monitoring model? How are these two approaches different, if at all?

Maurice McInerney:

You are correct in asserting that RTI has different labels and takes different forms in states and school districts across the country. One of the key features of our approach to RTI is our emphasis on using the RTI framework to help educators make data based instructional decisions. When educators use scientifically rigorous tools and practices to systematically monitor students’ academic progress, they can plan their instruction more effectively and the academic achievement of their students increases considerably. The National Center on Student Progress Monitoring has indentified 34 progress monitoring tools that meet high standards for scientific rigor (see The National Center on RTI is currently working to establish similar standards and evaluate the rigor of tools and practices for student progress monitoring that can be used within an RTI framework – as well as establishing standards for their use with students from culturally and linguistically diverse families.

Question from Elizabeth, Library Teacher, NYCDOE:

When response to intervention tools are “rolled out” in large institutions (like sections of the NYCDOE) what are the best ways to insure that the focus remains on providing the best education for students and not on evaluating teachers and schools?

Evelyn Johnson:

This is a terrific question. One way that we can help ensure the focus remains on improving education is through the use of Professional Learning Communities (PLC), as described in the work of Dufour & Eaker (1998). There is a consistency with the PLC model and RTI, in that the focus is on a collaborative and professional process that investigates and researches information related to best practices; applies this research; collects data and information on implementation and outcomes; evaluates this data; and, develops plans for continuous improvement. Continuous improvement could include an emphasis on professional development as well as staying current with the emerging research on best practices for instruction, intervention and assessment.

Question from Corey Pierce, Assistant Professor, University of Northern Colorado:

What do you believe are the primary components of RtI that pre-service special education teachers need to learn/master before entering the field?

Evelyn Johnson:

I work in pre-service teacher preparation, and I believe that our new special education teachers need to know the following: 1. understand the nature & current conceptualization of disability (especially learning disability) 2. understand/know the component processes of academic constructs of reading, math & writing; as well as appropriate & effective instruction, interventions & assessments related to these constructs 3. an understanding of the RTI model/framework and the role of special education in tiered service delivery model 4. a focus on becoming an analytic & reflective practitioner 5. a very strong assessment literacy 6. a desire/ability to continue learning about these processes as the knowledge base is updated.

Question from Mary Watanabe, Educational Publisher:

How does a teacher keep the Tier 1 children purposefully occupied during times when she is running Tier 2 intervention groups? How does he/she make sure she is not holding other children back while helping some children catch up?

Jane Thompson:

This requires significant planning. Teachers have been studying differentiation and appropriate grouping in their weekly study groups. Some of the things we are using include: literature circles/book clubs; writing in response to literature; using leveled books for independent reading. Important to the success of children working independently is modeling and teaching the process and expectations of quality, independent work.

Question from Alain Mollinedo, School Social Worker - Elizabeth Public Schools NJ:

Can someone explain how the 15% allocation from IDEA came about? Are there any district using 15% of their IDEA funding to fund RTI interventions/programs? Thank you in advance for your cooperation

Maurice McInerney:

This question is very important as the 15 percent mandate is influencing how IDEA is supporting the use of RTI nationally. The 2004 Amendment to IDEA authorizes the use of 15 percent of IDEA funds to be used for Early Intervening Services (EIS). The law defines EIS as a set of coordinated services for students who are currently not identified as needing special education or related services, but who need additional academic and behavioral support to succeed in a general education environment. Students in grades K- 12 are eligible for EIS but there is a particular emphasis on EIS for students in grades K-3. Current federal regulations for IDEA provide more details of this mandate {see 34 CFR §300.226(a)}. In addition, individual states and district are currently developing their own regulations for the use of IDEA funds for EIS. I would suggest that stakeholders contact their state agency or local school district to find out more about how IDEA provisions for EIS are being implemented in their local community.

Question from Diane Mercier Facilitator of Secondary Interventions District 38 Colorado:

After a student has moved through the pyramid of interventions and eligibilty for special education is considered, what happens if the student does not qualify? Since interventions have probably been exhausted, what interventions remain for a student who does not qualify?

Evelyn Johnson:

This is a complex question to answer, so I will do my best but I’m sure I will leave some unanswered questions. In many models of RTI, a student does not have to move through the pyramid of interventions before special education can be considered. Many states are considering models in which special education can be considered at any point in the process, depending on the specific needs of the individual student. Some states are also including a ‘non categorical’ classification that would allow eligibility for special education after following a rigorous RTI process that has been implemented with fidelity. Interventions can vary in the intensity, duration and frequency with which they are implemented, so one answer to your second question may be to manipulate some of those variables and determine the effect on the student’s learning. Another possible answer is to use an analytic problem solving method to try and determine the nature of the student’s difficulty and design (and/or locate) interventions that may address those specific problems.

Question from Rhonda Walenda, Parent:

Schools do not want to deal with these types of programs. Where do I as a parent, go to get the infomation I need to help my child when the school district treats such practices as new disease? One size fits all offers do not seem to be in context of good teaching or IDEA.

Laurie Emery:

RTI is not a new thing, people just think it is. RTI is good educational practice. We need to try interventions/instruction with a student and monitor whether it is effective. Unfortunately, it is new for many. Most states have RTI models they are working on. The National Association of State Directors of Special Education has some good materials as do the websites, Schools and states are developing systems as we type to for RTI to help educators learn new skills and change traditional practices. Good luck!

Question from r. Hochhauser, Principal, HANC:

1. What is the legal responsiblity of private schools to implement RTI, given that they are receiving no funding from the public school district? 2. How does RTI impact on new referrals to the public school from a private school?

Maurice McInerney:

I believe that state and local policies would govern the legal responsibilities of private schools to implement RTI. There are no federal mandates for those private schools which, as you suggest, receive no public school funding. I also believe that procedures for public school referrals from private schools would be governed by state and local policies.

Question from Jeannie Sims, Ph.D., psychologist:

Is there research about how RTI works or does not work for children with complex learning needs (e.g., gifted/learning disabled children, children with visual or auditory processing disorders)?

Evelyn Johnson:

Yes, there is some research on the use of RTI has a means of support for students with learning disabilities. Sharon Vaughn and colleagues at the University of Texas, the Fuchs’ at Vanderbilt, and Rollanda O’Connor at the University of California have published studies that investigate how the process of RTI might be used to provide intervention and monitor progress for students with learning disabilities (LD). To answer your question more generally, the key to a successful RTI process is to ensure that the components align to address the needs of the students. That is, interventions and related monitoring tools should be based on evidence that is related to the needs of the learner, and the process should allow for frequent movement through various tiers of support. As work by O’Connor & colleagues demonstrated, students with disabilities may require more or less intensive support depending upon the demands of the learning task/concepts. To the best of my knowledge, I’m unaware of specific research that addresses the learning needs of gifted students, or that speaks to specific processing disorders that you mention, however, the general framework of RTI remains the same, and as the research basis develops to help identify appropriate screening tools, interventions and monitoring tools, we will understand more about how the framework applies across a variety of student learning needs.

Question from James, Principal, Public Schools:

I keep hearing various things about RtI. Some say that it is almost a requirement...others say it’s an option. Others say that it’s an option for local districts, but states can’t opt one way or the other. Yet I hear others say that some states are mandating certain aspects of RtI. Confused yet? :) it a mandate, an option, or a hybrid, depending on which state or LEA you work in? And will future versions of NCLB or IDEA reduce this ambuiguity about doing what’s right for educating all kids? Thanks.

Maurice McInerney:

Another good question! I think that the confusion is due largely to the fact that – within our system of government and its concerns for the federal government not superseding state and local rights – public school education is largely determined at the state and local levels. The 2004 Amendments to IDEA authorize the use of federal monies for RTI. However, individual states are establishing their own policies and regulations for RTI – and individual school districts are then establishing their own RTI guidelines. I would suggest that stakeholders contact their state agency or local school district to learn about RTI mandates for schools in their local community.

Question from Denise Gelberg, recently retired teacher, Ithaca,New York:

In my district “response to intervention” was used to delay testing when the classroom teacher suspected serious emotional or learning disabilities. We went through all the procedures required by RTI, but it was clear that the child needed more than RTI could provide. It was as though a new “gatekeeper” was put in place to keep down the number of referrals to the Committee on Special Education. Has that been the case in other districts?

Laurie Emery:

Probably, but not in our district. We are collecting data all the time and testing is only one type of data. The point of RTI is to find a process that works because special education is only effacacious to the extent that teachers are using specific strategies and instruction that meet students needs. Progress monitoring, or monitoring a student’s response to instruction, is still a necessity in all Tiers.

Question from Marsha Boutelle, staff writer, California School Boards Association:

In an EdWeek print story (Jan. 23), the writer said that skeptics “note that the research base is less solid for older students ... [and] some parent groups are concerned about how RTI fits into the legal process created by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.” What is your response to these statements?

Evelyn Johnson:

Yes, it is true that less is known about applications of RTI at the secondary level, but there is a growing literature base. For example, researchers from the University of Kansas are working on applying effective literacy strategies for adolescents within an RTI framework. In the meantime, there are general principles for developing an effective RTI model. Lynn & Doug Fuchs from Vanderbilt University have published several articles that provide helpful frameworks for building capacity for RTI - one of these articles was published recently in the journal, Teaching Exceptional Children. As Maury McInerney responded earlier to a question about RTI and IDEA, the 2004 Amendments to IDEA provides states the option (not requirement) to use RTI as a part of the process of special education identification. The National Research Center on Learning Disabilities (NRCLD) provides information about these new options for SLD identification (see, e.g., The NRCLD is focusing its efforts on examining how RTI fits within the LD identification process.

Question from Deborah Daly, Director Special Education:

Math interventions other than doing more practice appear to be limited. Are there tools available to support different learning styles and address specific math skills like are available for language arts?

Maurice McInerney:

Math intervention is another important area – one that is of increasing concern to educators and families across the country. Innovative and effective approaches to math instruction include instructional techniques to support students in accessing and integrating prior math knowledge to solve new math problems. You can learn more about explicit math interventions that have a strong evidence base by visiting the website of the K-8 Access Center (

Question from NaShetta Lowe, Special Education teacher and grade chair, Rockdale County Schools:

What do you say to the special education teachers who have to spend valuable time serving students under RTI but the system is not receiving any funding for these students? There are teachers with caseloads where half are students served under RTI. These students usually end up not receiving special services.

Evelyn Johnson:

The IDEA 2004 allows for up to 15% of funding to be used for early intervening services. The rationale is that for some students, a brief but intense intervention may be all that is needed for them to reach levels of proficiency so that they later do not require special education services.

Question from Kelly Chase, Team Chairperson/Quabbin Regional:

Are there research based, recommended ways in which to collect data to measure RTI? I’m looking for data collection templates to encourage staff to gather information to compare to a student’s baseline data after beginning interventions.

Maurice McInerney:

Scientifically rigorous tools and practices for student progress monitoring (SPM) can be used for this purpose. SPM helps educators determine both the student’s current level of achievement as well as goals for the student’s learning over time. Progress toward meeting the student’s goals is measured by comparing expected versus actual rates of learning. The National Center on Student Progress Monitoring has developed training manuals (with PowerPoint slides and written materials) that help educators learn how to set goals and monitor student progress over time. You can visit our website to learn more about scientifically proven practices for a SPM in reading (
) and mathematics (

Question from Kim Moore, Executive Director, Voyager Expanded Learning, Georgia:

Funding and scheduling seem to be the biggest issues as we move to an RtI model. Do you see any changes at the Federal level in regards to increases or changes in funding for IDEA so districts can embrace this model? Also, how are schools without block scheduling accomodating RtI?

Maurice McInerney:

You are absolutely correct about the importance of these two issues. For example, at the recent RTI Summit, over 700 state educators and other stakeholders cited lack of funding for RTI as one of their biggest challenges in implementing RTI. A large majority of Summit participants also reported that the Summit helped increase their knowledge of the research base for RTI as well as resources from the federal government that can help support RTI implementation. However, I believe that -- in addition to information sharing events like the Summit -- educators and families also need state and local leadership to help them “think outside the box” in developing innovative strategies to address issues of block scheduling and other implementation challenges. I think that the experiences of Laurie Emery and Jane Thompson, my two principal colleagues on the panel, attest to the fact that such leadership is an important key to successful RTI implementation.

Question from Andrea Trasher, principal, Memorial School, Medfield, MA:

We utilize the DIBELS tool to assess children and set benchmark goals to measure the effectiveness of the intervention strategies used in ELA instruction. Do you have a recommendation for a similar tool for math assessment and benchmarking?

Maurice McInerney:

The National Center on Student Progress Monitoring has identified five (5) progress monitoring tools that meet high standards for scientific rigor and can be used for math assessments. The tool chart on our website ( provides information about the standards that our Technical Review Committee of national experts used to assess the rigor of these math tools. You can also find answers to implementation questions, such as how to purchase each tool, its costs, and where you can get training to use the tool effectively.

Question from Beth Kallimani, teacher(grade one),Jimtown South Elementary and student in a principal licensure program at Indiana University:

We are in the beginning stages of implementing RTI in my building. In the 5 months since we started the initiative, our team has only discussed one student. Several are waiting to be brought to the table. Does it normally take this long? The staff is also very concerned about more work being piled on top of their load.We don’t have alot of extra hands.How will the staff deal with what appears to be alot of work? Can’t our Special Ed teacher and building principal help us out?

Jane Thompson:

Our school is structured to ensure all students are addressed monthly. Grade level teams meet monthly for two hour blocks. There is an RTI coordinator assigned to run the meetings. As the principal I am present at all meetings. At the meeting the data for each child is presented on a projection screen. Teachers (including special ed.) have provided data to the coordinator prior to the meeting and she has organized it for the discussion. For example, we monitor reading proficiency using timed reading passage (CBM progress monitoring). Students in Tier 3 have weekly data points. Students in Tier 2 have data points every two weeks. Students in Tier one have less frequent measures. At the meeting the team talks about the students’ data. We do not spend time with anecdotal stories of why students cannot learn. We talk about how we will instruct them during the next month, based on their response to the previous month’s intervention. We are able to review 360 students each month. Students not making adequate progress do take more time at the meeting.

Question from Sheri Hunter, Director of Professional Development, Clinton Central School:

Ideally, we know that RtI should be administered by the regualr classroom teacher. However, we also know that, because of time constraints and class size issues, it is not always possible for the classroom teacher to see the process all the way through to the end. At what point is it acceptable to bring the Special Education/Resource staff into the process to help bring students up to a proficient level?

Evelyn Johnson:

RTI is a schoolwide initiative that requires collaboration across general and special education, as well as an alignment of effective instruction, intervention and assessment. A school will have to examine its existing needs and resources to determine the best way to allocate staff, materials and schedules. In some schools, that may require the use of special education staff to provide interventions, even for students without a diagnosed disability.

Question from Barbara Andrews, reading specialist, Las Virgenes Unified School District, CA:

Some districts want to purchase prepackaged intervention programs such as Successmaker (computer reading intervention) and Language. However, as a reading specialist with more than 25 years of teaching, I find these rigid, ineffective programs benefiting sales reps and company shareholders more than students. A reading workshop approach seems to be far more effective in remediating students and creating critical thinkers and life-long readers. What does research say about effective reading curriculum?

Evelyn Johnson:

The idea behind the intervention component of an RTI framework is that it should address the specific needs of the student. While some packaged programs will address some needs of some students, there is no one size fits all approach to effective intervention. There are many component processes related to reading, and students may experience problems in one or a combination of areas, and interventions that support skill/content/process knowledge in those areas will need to be aligned with the student’s specific concerns.

Question from Jason Beals, Assistant Principal, Northern York County School District:

Most of the articles I’ve read or workshops attended look at RTI at the earliest grades (K-3). As a middle school administrator I’m interested in knowing what evidence-based measures are available at the middle level? The problem I foresee is that interventions will be provided at the elementary level and students will be successful. They’ll enter the middle school with few options available, right at the time when we begin to expect more independent reading, content area specialization, and increased organizational skills. Won’t this leave middle level schools unprepared to address the interventions provided at the elementary level? With regards, Jason Beals

Laurie Emery:

We started at the elementary level and expanded to the middle school level. This was done systematically and the main differences are in the logistics and pragmatics. It is not very different. The overall process is the same. What you have to figure out at the middle level is who, when, and where. CBMs are research-based measures and are not confined to just K-3. You have to collect your own evidence and research as you try interventions and work through the process. There isn’t a lot of middle school research so you use what is there and do your own local research to determine what works. Keep going back to the literature because new information is coming out everyday!

Question from Mrs. G., Reading Teacher:

Are there “federal-approved” RtI programs?

Maurice McInerney:

No and I don’t think there should be a federal “stamp of approval” for RTI programs. In the 1970s, the federal government tried “top-down” models that were not successful in prescribing which instructional programs local schools should use. I believe that the local educators and families are in the best position to determine which evidenced-based practices best meet their individual needs and circumstances. Thus, our National Center on RTI is using a “top-down/ bottom-up” model for technical assistance. We are supporting educators and families in learning about the scientific evidence base for RTI models (top-down component). We are also supporting these stakeholders in determining for themselves which RTI tools and practices work best for them (bottom-up component).

Question from J. B. Hale, PCOM:

How can RtI be used to determine whether a child has a specific learning disability?

Evelyn Johnson:

The IDEA 2004 amendments provide the states the option to use a response to intervention process as a component of SLD identification. In the research literature, there are two general roles for RTI within the SLD identification process. If an RTI process is implemented with fidelity and rigor, then for a child who is non-responsive to general class instruction and targeted, evidence-based intervention, the multi-disciplinary team will have evidence that despite receiving appropriate learning experiences, the child has been unable to make adequate progress. This helps provide evidence regarding the ‘unexpected’ nature of an SLD. In other conceptualizations of RTI (see the work of L.S. Fuchs and D. Speece for more information), a dual discrepancy model is used. Students who are below proficiency and fail to make adequate growth (again, despite having received effective instruction and intervention) may be considered a child with a learning disability.

Question from Terri Postlethwait, Professional Development Coordinator, SDE:

What do you feel is the biggest barrier to teachers/administrators embracing RTI?

Jane Thompson:

I think that staff development for teachers and principal is a overlooked element that is necessary to prepare for the work of RTI . In order for RTI to work, one must understand assessments ( which ones to use, for what purpose, how to use it to drive instruction), and a range of interventions.

Question from Mrs. G, Reading Coach:

What are some great ways to get teachers excited about this process?

Laurie Emery:

It is about ownership and outcomes and a shift to thinking about data to inform instruction. Teachers have to have some say in the logistics of how it is going to work. They have to be able to indentify what is and isn’t working and to make suggestions. Teachers need an understanding of the purpose and they need the data in their hands fast to see the value. Teachers need professional development on how to use the data to inform instruction and then support from an administrator to provide the resources teachers need to be successful (e.g., timers, paper, extra person to monitor, time). Another critical component in our district is data team meetings every two weeks to review current data and plan instruction based on those data. It helps if the administrator is excited about it too!

Question from LaDawn Druce President of local teacher’s association:

We have several elementary schools using the RTI model in Kenai, Alaska. The teachers have been trained in the model, however, they are finding it difficult to implement. Does the RTI model assume there are intervention specialitst in the building to assist classroom teachers with implementing this program? If so, how many specialists would be recommended for a school of 400 students?

Jane Thompson:

Yes, the existing intervention specialists such as Title One, ELL and Special Ed. do participate in RTI. In addition to our classroom teachers we have Special Education teacher (1),Title One teacher(1) and one part time English Language Learner teacher. There are also three educational assistants trained in intervention work. Our reading blocks are two hours long. The first hour is in the classroom with all the students and the material is all at grade level.. During the second hour we level the students based on data and they are placed in groupings at their instructional level. This is where I utilize SP.ED, Title One and ELL teachers and Educational assistants. Our school has 360 students.

Question from Bill Harshbarger, Consultant to Mattoon School District:

The law requires an intervention response by classroom teachers. The solution seems to be to give those teachers the tools and skills to succeed. What tools do they need? What specific skills must they learn? Where will they get the training?

Laurie Emery:

Training is ongoing but starts with teacher induction and preservice training in our district. We have a small group of people that have been well trained who provide training in specific areas. We have criteria for when a person is ready to train or implement and integrity checks are used to make sure we maintain the integrity of the components of the model over time. Broadly the tools and skills teachers need are knowledge of the measurement tools and the kind of data they produce. Teachers need to be able to follow the rules of standardization. They need to know the big picture, and the details of how to understand and use the data in instruction. They also need to know who to ask if they don’t know how to do something.

Question from Diane Ravis, Principal R. K. Mellon Elementary in Ligonier Valley School District, Ligonier, PA:

From what classes do you take students to give them more help?

Laurie Emery:

We don’t take students out of classes to give them more help; however, at the end of the day in our elective period we have classes designed to give them more help on the skills they’ve not yet mastered. The scripted, protocol-based interventions are delivered in the general ed classroom, are brief (10 minutes) and may occur during something such as bellwork.

Question from Melodie Henderson, Sped Teacher, Chesterfield County Schols, VA:

What can school divisions do to train teachers who have absolutely no idea about the implementation of RtI? Knowing that a “2-hour” workshop will not suffice--what is the suggested training preparation needed especially in the area of data collection?

Maurice McInerney:

This is a very good and important question – as very few pre-service training programs nationally offer university courses on student progress monitoring and data colection. Our National Center on Student Progress Monitoring has developed a series of training manuals (with PowerPoints and written materials) that provide detailed “how to do it” training on curriculum-based measurement for reading (
) and mathematics (
). Several universities have included these manuals as “stand alone” modules that were integrated within an existing course on assessment or other appropriate content areas. The National Center on RTI plans on developing similar training manuals on RTI-relevant topics.

Question from Robin M.Suter, Educational Consultant, Alpharetta, GA:

RTI has become another framework for addressing the needs of students that are struggling in reading and math. Question 1: Should RTI be used as a prevention or intervention framework? Question 2. In order to effectively implement the RTI practice, educators are using the TIER 3 and TIER 4 Pyramids of Intervention. What is the difference?

Jane Thompson:

RTI is seen as both a prevention and intervention framework. By intervening early and monitoring progress and adjusting instruction it has prevented students from being referred to special ed assessment. Students improve their academic performance when interventions are carefully chosen. Please note that our experience shows all students improve their academic performance using RTI as a framework for organizing a school’s efforts.

Question from Viki Bozeman, 2nd grade teacher, Futral Road Elementary Charter School, Griffinn, GA.:

Embracing RTI is not a problem at my school. Finding ways to help those children while effectively using time wisely with others too is an issue! I would like to know how other teachers justify working with an extra group of children for 30-45 minutes in addition to working with the regular small groups we have in our classroom for that amount of time. Many of us do NOT have the luxury of 300 kids in a school. Most of us have between 600-800 in Georgia. I would love to hear about some creative ways to do this (RTI small group instruction) using regular classroom teachers and meeting the requirements of RTI. I would especially like to know about Georgia schools and how they are doing this. * My school system has been working on this for a year and everyone is very supportive. We are just always looking for a better way!

Laurie Emery:

The key is being flexible about the way that additional support is provided. Some interventions can be conducted without pulling kids out of the classroom into into a different setting. There are shorter interventions out there. Our elementary schools have enrollment of 600 to 800 students. We also minimize the number of kids who need individualized interventions by examining the success of our general ed curriculum first.

Question from Wayne Barry, Student Services Specialist, Virginia Department of Education:

I am currently reading the October, 2007 issue of Educational Leadership; the article “No More Waiting to Fail” is the first treatment of RtI in what I would call the general education professional literature. Could you share with us the near and long-range plans the National Center on Response to Intervention might have for facilitating the collaboration of general education and special education on this very important “every ed” instructional initiative?

Maurice McInerney:

Your question raises a key issue that, I believe, must be addressed if RTI is to be implemented successfully. Simply put – RTI works best when it is implemented collegially by general and special educators with the full and active support of families. The National Center on RTI is working to support such collaboration by empowering local teachers and families to become good consumers of RTI research. Rather than assuming that a “one size fits all” model is best – we are helping educators and families to work together to identify their shared needs to using RTI and then determine which proven or promising models for RTI (and model component) work best for them. We believe that this approach – which is itself evidenced-based – is most likely to support the successful and sustained use of RTI to improve results for all children.

Question from Barbara Trice, Special Ed Instructional Aid:

Can this program be utilized and help students that have not been identified with a learning disability? I would like to know how this can work with students that are just having a hard time with the pace in the classroom and are falling behind. Thank You

Laurie Emery:

RTI is primarily used with students who are not identified with special needs. It is a framework for good teaching practice and is a great way to monitor the progress of students who may be falling behind.

Question from John Denning, State Programs and Policy, All Kinds of Minds:

I’m concerned that states don’t see RtI as “simply” an alternative means to identify students for special education services, and not as what I would hope we all move more toward; and that is that the framework of RtI serves as a sound, solid framework for how all kids are taught and instructional decisions are made. What suggestions or ideas do you have for educators want to see this vision for teaching and learning as more of the reality for RtI, an not “just” another fad, identification process or trend?

Maurice McInerney:

My short answer would be to get involved in supporting RTI initiatives in your state of local school district. The RTI Summit was attended by over 700 state agency officials and other stakeholders. A total of 56 states and territories sent teams to the Summit. The National Center on RTI is currently working with these state teams to plan and support the implementation of the state’s RTI initiative. These state and local leaders need to the active support of knowledgeable and concerned stakeholders who share your vision of the potential of RTI to improve educational results in states and local school districts across the country.

Christina Samuels (Moderator):

Thanks to everyone for participating. Unfortunately, there were a number of questions we were unable to answer during this hour. However, our guests have provided a number of links to other resources that will be helpful to you as you investigate the response to intervention process.

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