History of Response to Intervention (RTI)

Instructor: Linda Winfree

Linda has taught English at grades 6-12 and holds graduate degrees in curriculum and teacher leadership.

In this lesson, you will learn about the history of the Response to Intervention (RTI) model. Included is an overview of the model's development as well as how and why it is implemented.

History of Response to Intervention (RTI)

Teachers want their students to succeed; however, every teacher encounters students who struggle academically. How do you know if a student requires special education services or might benefit instead from more intensive instruction?

Response to Intervention (RTI) is a systematic, data-driven method for providing support to students struggling academically. As an educator, you need an understanding of the development and implementation of RTI because students within your classroom may need research-based interventions to succeed.

Special Education Identification Before RTI

Prior to the use of RTI, students were provided special education services based on the discrepancy model. This model compared students' results on a battery of IQ tests to their actual academic achievement levels and expected grade level performance. A significant discrepancy between expected and actual achievement resulted in placement in special education services. In other scenarios, students who struggled academically might test directly into special education based solely on IQ test scores. Special education services often included classes separate from the regular classroom.

Educators and psychologists recognized two major weaknesses in this practice.

  1. The discrepancy model could give skewed results, making it difficult to show if a student truly had a learning disability or if the child might respond to intensive instruction rather than special education accommodations.
  2. IQ tests could be biased, with students from non-dominant cultures or impoverished backgrounds often scoring lower than their actual ability level.

As a result of IQ test bias, students of color and those living in poverty were often deemed in need of special education services at a disproportionate level by simply testing into services. These students then languished in special education classes.

For example, Roland and Sarah were third grade students struggling academically prior to RTI and were referred for special education testing. Roland's IQ scores automatically placed him in a special education classroom, and he was removed from the regular classroom. Sarah's verbal IQ scores were much lower than her math IQ scores and also far below the expected grade level performance. Because of the significant discrepancy, Sarah also received pullout services.

The Development of RTI

In the 70s and 80s, psychologists worked to develop a new framework to:

  • Identify students who needed special education services more accurately.
  • Serve the needs of students who required more instruction to succeed but did not necessarily display a learning disability.

Researchers and teachers experimented with identifying students who were not achieving and providing extra systematic instruction. The results were monitored for student growth. If students did not show success, additional instruction was implemented.

A key aspect of this developing framework was the idea of a team approach to systematic student learning. Rather than having instructional interventions taking place in an isolation of one classroom, teachers and other team members, such as a school counselor, would meet to identify students in need of interventions and determine the interventions to be used. As teachers then systematically applied the interventions and collected data, the team would reconvene to discuss student progress. This framework grew into the idea of a Student Support Team (SST), the multi-member teams in RTI that include teachers, counselors, parents and sometimes special educators.

Implementation of RTI

As the framework of RTI emerged, the concept was refined and gained traction. Response to Intervention was believed to benefit students because the model kept students out of special education if what they truly needed was simply greater opportunity to learn through increased or specialized instruction.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 further encouraged the use of RTI as an alternative to traditional special education services. This act allowed for the use of funding to be used for interventions. RTI began to appear in more and more districts and schools as a means to help children succeed.

The general model divides children into tiers, with approximately 80 percent of students in Tier 1, meaning they succeed within the regular curriculum with regular instruction. Another 15 percent may need interventions to succeed; those students are placed in Tier 2, with interventions monitored for progress in three-week cycles. The five percent of students for whom strategic intervention is not successful fall into Tier 3. These students may then qualify through testing for special education services.

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