Basics of LD: What is Response-To-Intervention or RTI?


What is Response-To-Intervention or RTI?

Additional Info:

A: Some educators concerned about Learning Disabilities believe that it is possible to correct the learning and behavior problems of many students in general education classrooms without having to identify students as having a disability. (Information for this item taken from Fuchs, Mock, Morgan, & Young, 2003; Vaughn & Fuchs, 2003. These articles are available to Members in Volume 18, Issue 3 of Learning Disabilities Research and Practice. Members sign in here to access the full articles.)

They suggest that by employing techniques and procedures with known effectiveness and monitoring the effects of those techniques and procedures, students’ difficulties can be remedied without resorting to special education services. One version of this approach was championed by some early leaders in Learning Disabilities under the term “pre-referrral intervention teams,” but it is known today as a “response-to-intervention” or “response-to-instruction” (RTI) approach.

In an RTI approach, students receive special services in general education classrooms. The benefits of the services are monitored and, if the student makes sufficient progress with the special services, he or she continues with general education instruction. If the student does not thrive under the special conditions, then a formal referral for special education services is initiated. Advocates of the RTI approach believe that using such an approach is preferable to determining eligibility based on a discrepancy between ability and achievement and that it will help students with learning problems to succeed while allowing those who have substantial problems to have access to special education.

This system of identification can take various forms in the schools. Two such forms are called the Problem Solving Approach and the Standard Protocol Approach. These forms are summarized in the accompanying table.

Please also see the position paper authorized by DLD’s board entitled “Intensive Interventions for Students With Learning Disabilities in the RTI Era” and written by Sharon Vaughn and colleagues.


Step 1: Problem Identification

  • Student problems are identified and described in observable, measurable terms. Information is collected about the problem.
  • Example: Student reads at 25 words per minute but peers in class read at 50 words per minute. Student gains .5 words per min on average each week. Class average gain is 1.5 words per week.

Step 2: Problem Analysis

  • Verify the problem. Identify factors contributing to the problem. Develop a plan.
  • Example: Student has difficulty with sound-symbol relationships. Student to receive one-to-one tutoring in a phonics-based program.

Step 3: Plan implementation

  • Plan implemented. Observations of plan implementation made and feedback given.
  • Example: Tutor meets with student 15 minutes each day. Implements Lindamood Program. Student oral reading performance improves slightly. Tutor begins meeting with student for 30 mins each day.

Step 4: Problem evaluation

  • Effectiveness of intervention evaluated. If ineffective, modifications made, intervention intensified, or referral to special education made.
  • Example: Student increases to 35 words per minute but peers at 75. Increase in oral reading averages .5 words per week but class average is 1.5 words. Student referred to special education.


Step 1: Teachers identify students struggling in content area.

  • Students identified by teachers as poorest readers in class or who score in lowest 15th percentile of standardized reading test.

Step 2: Students identified by teachers all receive same intervention. Progress is monitored.

  • Students receive one-to-one tutoring for 30 minutes per day. Students below the 40th percentile on a basic skills assessment referred to step 3.

Step 3: Students who do not make progress in Step 2 receive more intensive (but same) intervention. Progress is monitored.

  • Students receive an additional 8-10 weeks of tutoring. Students still in bottom 30th percentile referred to Step 4.

Step 4: Students who still do not make progress are referred for special education.

According to IDEA, schools may use alternative means of identification for students with learning disabilities. How school districts implement these alternative means is not prescribed and may not be exactly like the examples given. Regulatory language from the Department of Education may be more specific about how school districts should implement RTI.