In 2011, Education Week published its first special report on response to intervention, or RTI, an instructional framework that was becoming increasingly popular in schools across the country. The approach was often linked to special education then, and the idea behind it was simple: Identify students early who might be in need of extra help, intervene with increasingly intense lessons, and, in the process, address learning problems before they became entrenched.
Five years later, in researching and writing this pullout special report, Education Week found that RTI is still spreading and expanding into new forms and new educational uses. For instance, positive behavioral intervention and supports, or PBIS, a tiered model for improving discipline, is at heart a form of RTI. And both RTI and PBIS can be combined to form “multitiered systems of support"—a broader term that recognizes the framework’s use in bringing about schoolwide improvements in multiple areas.
Educators in the rural Appalachian community of Martin County, Ky., for example, are putting in place a multitiered intervention approach aimed at improving both school climate and behavior.
With the instructional model’s continued expansion, however, have come growing pains. The more complex and multifaceted that multitiered systems have become, the trickier it has been to implement them. Faithful implementation, it turns out, is crucial to the model’s success and survival. Studies show that RTI-like approaches can be effective when educators adhere to the framework, but not so much when implementation is looser.
That’s a lesson Michigan educators learned in launching a multitiered-systems-of-support initiative to improve academics and behavior in half of the state’s 900 elementary and secondary schools. As Steve Netzel, the executive director of curriculum and staff development for the Holt, Mich., public schools, notes in this report, the multitiered model is not “a McDonald’s ‘value menu’ where you go, ‘I like this part and this part and this part.’ ” All the parts must work together.
If the terms being bandied about around RTI still confuse you, see the primer on Page 8 or read advice from a Georgia administrator who helps implement a multitiered model in his suburban Atlanta district. At bottom, the aim of this report is to provide clarity on an instructional approach that is still evolving.
A version of this article appeared in the December 14, 2016 edition of Education Week as Editor’s Note