Examples of Effective RtI Use and Decision Making: Part 1—Overview

This three-part series of articles provides an overview of Response to Intervention (RtI) decision making, how-to RtI examples of decision making in reading, and how-to examples of RtI decision making in mathematics. Implementers who wish to obtain strong effects can use this overview part of the series to identify where implementation efforts can be tightened up for more accurate decision making and stronger learning effects. 

The first section of this overview summarizes signs of effective RtI implementation and then breaks down the elements of accurate decision making at each decision-making step in RtI—from screening to making resource allocation decisions. The steps detailed below include 1) checking the adequacy of screening data; 2) planning, implementing, managing, and evaluating adjustments to core instruction and gradewide, classwide, and small-group interventions; 3) planning, implementing, managing, and evaluating individual interventions; 4) evaluating and troubleshooting RtI implementation in the school and district; and 5) using data to allocate instructional resources at the system level and determine the need for eligibility for special education.

Regardless of the system of RtI you are using, the following decisions must be made for RtI to occur. Successful RtI implementations depend on these decisions being made correctly throughout the school building. Buying and installing a general supplemental intervention program does not constitute RtI implementation. Neither does use of a web-based progress-monitoring software system. Successful RtI implementation occurs when the right data are collected, those data are correctly interpreted and acted upon, and solutions are integrated with resource allocation decisions at the system level.

Effective RtI is apparent where…

  • learning is accelerated
  • fewer students are at risk over time
  • decisions about who needs Tier 2 or Tier 3 intervention are reliable and can be made rapidly
  • rates of intervention success are high
  • system goals are defined in terms of improved achievement, improved achievement for students who are vulnerable in the system, and improved efficiency of resource allocation decisions
  • key decision makers look at the effects of implementation and troubleshoot regularly

To get results, implementers must follow particular steps to identify and define learning problems in their schools, to plan and deploy interventions effectively, and to interpret and respond to intervention data each week.

STEP 1: Check the adequacy of your screening data.

  • Was an appropriate screening measure used to document student performance in reading and mathematics? (The measure should be aligned with learning expectations at each grade level, should use content-controlled materials, and should have evidence indicating that scores will yield reliable and valid estimates of student performance that predict future success at that grade level.)
  • Was the screening measure aligned with learning expectations for that point in the year?
  • Were the data collected following standard administration procedures, and was correct administration and scoring verified?

If you have answered “yes” to each of the above questions, then you can use your data to plan intervention at your school.

STEP 2: Plan, implement, manage, and evaluate adjustments to core instruction and gradewide, classwide, and small-group interventions.

Note: figure created on iSTEEP.

Where large numbers of students in a grade or class are performing in the risk range (i.e., below benchmark), examine the adequacy of core instruction and plan to make adjustments and monitor the success of those adjustments. Common adjustments to core instruction are listed below. To determine whether these adjustments are working, repeat the screening and look for a reduction in the percentage of students performing in the risk range. Where the number of students at risk is not decreasing, provide in-class support to verify and coach for instructional quality. The accuracy of all subsequent decisions and the effects of RtI implementation depend on successful resolution of gradewide and classwide learning problems.

  • Are research-based curricula and materials available? Are they being used correctly?
  • Is a calendar of instruction available to guide instruction? Is the calendar being followed by teachers? Does the calendar need revision?
  • Is adequate instructional time devoted to the problem area? Are materials and instruction optimized?
  • Is assessment used to verify mastery of skills according to the instructional calendar?
  • Have students mastered prerequisite skills? Does instruction in the classroom match student proficiency?
  • Where problems are detected, is the screening being repeated at regular intervals to monitor improvements?
  • Has gradewide and classwide supplemental intervention produced performance improvements for most students in the grade or class?
  • Have planning periods been restructured as data-team meetings? Have school- and grade-level leaders been mentored to use RtI data to evaluate the effects of instructional changes made for large groups of students?
  • Have the data been examined to identify patterns (e.g., characteristics of teachers or teaching environment, common features between classes, inadvertent tracking, deficient skills from the previous year, disproportionality)? Where a pattern is identified, has support been planned and delivered to address that pattern? For example, if the lowest-performing classes represent recently hired teachers, did the school provide in-class coaching and support for new teachers?
  • Have professional development opportunities been selected based on their ability to address the unique needs of the site and implementation?

If you have answered “yes” to each of the above questions, then you can move to individual student assessment and intervention.

Step 3: Plan, implement, manage, and evaluate individual interventions.

  • Was an assessment conducted to verify that the intervention works for the student prior to starting the intervention in the classroom?
  • Was the interventionist provided with materials and support to correctly implement the interventio?
  • Was the intervention planned for daily us?
  • Was student performance assessed each week to monitor intervention effect
  • If performance was unimproved at the weekly monitoring, did an intervention coach watch intervention implementation to ensure correct use
  • If the intervention was correctly used, was the intervention adjusted to accelerate student responding? Common adjustments include reducing task difficulty and adjusting reward systems.
  • Were data on intervention use collected? The intervention must occur consistently and correctly to determine whether a child has had a successful or unsuccessful response to intervention.

If you have answered “yes” to each of the above questions, then you can use your intervention data for individual student decision making.

Step 4: Evaluate and troubleshoot RtI implementation in the school and district.

  • Are the implementation steps well defined for each school and district?
  • Is there a database in place to track effects of RtI implementation on school and district outcomes?
  • Is there a school and district leadership team for implementation that meets at least monthly to evaluate and troubleshoot implementation?
  • Has each school implemented steps of the model correctly?
  • Is implementation producing desired effects (e.g., reduced numbers of students at risk across screenings, most children responding successfully to intervention)?

If you have answered “yes” to each of the above questions, then you can use RtI data as a basis for allocating resources at the school and district level.

Step 5: Use data to allocate instructional resources at the system level and determine the need for eligibility for special education.

  • Adjust instructional time allocations based on student performance data across content areas.
  • Evaluate curricula and supplemental instructional programs based on local data showing that student learning is improved when those resources are used.
  • Make professional development decisions based on identified system gaps and needs. Emphasize in-school and in-class coaching rather than workshop-style didactic trainings.
  • Link teacher evaluation and support to student performance data.
  • Use RtI data to determine when student educational needs outpace the capacity of general education and when a child should be considered eligible for special education services.

A significant challenge in RtI use is that the effects of later steps depend on the efficacy with which the earlier steps were carried out. For example, if the screening data were not meaningful, then intervention efforts will be compromised (because the wrong children will be selected for intervention). Similarly, if the screening data were accurate, but terribly inefficient, then intervention effects will be attenuated because less time will be available to manage and support intervention. There exist many opportunities for error in RtI implementation that can ultimately cost the system their effects. Sites must be vigilant to complete each step with quality to obtain the outcomes they are after.

In the second article in this series, we’ll walk you through the series of RtI decisions using case examples in the area of reading to concretely show how decisions are reached. You’ll be guided through a series of three questions for each school:

  1. Is there a gradewide learning problem? If yes, what is causing the problem?
  2. Is there a classwide or individual learning problem? If yes, what is causing the problem?
  3. Did intervention successfully resolve the problem?

Read the next article - Part 2 - Reading >>
 Back To Top