CRITERION 2: Lack of progress in response to scientific, research- based intervention.


"The child does not make sufficient progress to meet age or state-approved grade-level standards in one or more of the areas identified in 34 C.F.R. 300.309(a)(1) when using a process based on the child’s response to scientific, research-based intervention; or the child exhibits a pattern of strengths and weaknesses in performance, achievement, or both, relative to age, state-approved grade-level standards, or intellectual development, that is determined by the group to be relevant to the identification of a specific learning disability, using appropriate assessments, consistent with 34 C.F.R. 300.304 and 300.305…”

  Federal regulations provide two options for determining that the student is not making sufficient progress (see below). This guide focuses exclusively on the first option, the use of response to scientific, research-based intervention when making a determination regarding Criterion 2.

Making a determination of Criterion 2, using Option 1, requires several forms of documentation.

Validating Delivery of Scientific, Research-Based Interventions

First, documentation is needed regarding the scientific, research-based interventions that were provided to supplement core curricular instruction during the intervention period.

The school team should document that the interventions are supported by scientific research. A standard intervention protocol should be developed with interventions that

  • are appropriate for the group of students receiving the intervention,

  • have yielded successful responses and outcomes from other students for whom the interventions are appropriate,

  • have been implemented by staff who were adequately trained and have demonstrated proficiency providing the interventions, and

  • were delivered with a high degree of fidelity (as intended by the program authors) and for a sufficient length of time, as evidenced by progress monitoring data.

Issues that arise during the process of validating delivery of scientific, research-based interventions—such as fidelity—should be addressed before the school team proceeds to the next step. 


  “The most common reason for a lack of response to an evidence-based intervention well matched to a student and skill area is the failure to implement the intervention as designed” (VanDerHeyden & Tilly, 2010).


Determining Rate of Improvement


The school team must document the student’s rate of improvement throughout the implementation of increasingly intensive interventions. The rate of improvement must


  • identify the specific area(s) of concern—oral expression; listening comprehension; written expression; basic reading skill; reading fluency; reading comprehension; mathematical calculation; and/or mathematical reasoning (defined in Criterion 1);

  • identify the rate of growth necessary to meet grade-level expectations (norms or benchmarks based on age- or grade-level state standards; i.e., close the gap with typical peers), with such analysis being based on research based norms or criterion‐referenced benchmarks (see note below); and

  • compare the student’s actual growth against rate of growth expected or required.


  Some measures used for Criterion 1 (e.g., norm-referenced tests) are not designed for the frequent monitoring of progress that is needed to establish a student's RtI (i.e., rate of improvement).

Research‐based norms: Research is available that identifies average rates of student progress in basic academic skills over time. Research‐based norms can be a helpful starting point for estimating expected student rates of growth. (See Lipsey et al. 2012 IES guide for more information).
Criterion‐referenced benchmarks: Benchmarks are set as a standard of mastery (and must be aligned with grade-level state standards) against which a student’s performance on an academic task or behavior can be compared. The evaluation team sets rates of student improvement necessary to achieve the benchmark in a reasonable time period. The time period would be determined based on the magnitude (e.g., size) of the gap between the student’s current skills and the goal, the time expected for typical learners to acquire the skill(s) and the rate of growth based on student history.


Sufficient Progress With Intense Intervention

Insufficient Progress - Possible Special Education Referral/Determination



The school team, including the student’s parents, must determine based on valid and reliable data whether the student’s rate of improvement is

  • sufficient or insufficient for the student to reach the average range of his or her same age peers’ achievement within a reasonable period of time


  • whether the intensity of the interventions that produced the adequate rate of improvement can or cannot be maintained within general education.

Federal regulations do not indicate how inadequate a rate of improvement must be to qualify for special education under the SLD designation. Some states and/or districts have established criteria for different rates of growth. In the absence of such guidance, school teams have access to criteria in other states and research-based criteria for visual analysis of RTI to inform their data driven professional judgment regarding adequate rates of growth.


  • First, a professional judgment is data driven. Neither bias nor tradition are reasons for judgment that are professional. Data collected through the RTI-based process provide the foundation for this significant decision.

  • Second, a professional judgment is a competent application of the expertise, experience, and training of those making the judgment. Commitment to collaborative problem-solving and optimism about student outcome gives the judgment the best chance of having a positive effect.

  • Third, and most importantly, a professional judgment is student centered and not made based on the needs of the educators and/or parents. Student-centered judgments provide the best chance for improving educational outcomes.

(Kukic, personal communication, April 12, 2014)

The school team must also determine that the factors discussed in Criterion 3 are not the primary cause of the student’s inadequate rate of improvement.

At this juncture the team may decide that it has insufficient and/or unreliable data on which to make a determination regarding the student’s rate of improvement. In such cases the team may recommend additional assessments, intervention, or other information gathering as part of the comprehensive evaluation. See Comprehensive Evaluation in Cautions When Using an RTI-Based SLD Identification Process.

Extending the Evaluation Timeline

The district and the student’s parent(s) may agree to extend the evaluation timeline to allow for the collection of necessary data. For example, the school team and the parent(s) may agree to allow additional time to complete an intensive intervention and collect progress-monitoring data. In accordance with federal regulations, this agreement must be made in writing. Federal regulations do not limit the amount of time an evaluation can be extended. Specific state regulations always must be consulted.

Timeline extensions may not, however, be used to unnecessarily delay special education evaluations. (§300.309 (c))

  The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidance on evaluation timeframes involving students who transfer districts with an evaluation in progress and students who are highly mobile and transfer school districts frequently. In both situations, districts have specific responsibilities regarding completion of evaluations. For more information, see Students Transferring With an Evaluation in Progress and Highly Mobile Children in Cautions When Using an RTI-Based SLD Identification Process.



The RTI-Based Specific Learning Disability Determination Worksheet

Treatment Integrity Protocols, compiled by Joseph F. Kovaleski


Validated Forms of Progress Monitoring in Reading and Mathematics, by Lynn S. Fuchs

Rate of Improvement website

National Center on Intensive Intervention 


Suggested resources on determining significant changes in growth as a function of exposure to instruction/interventions:


Examples of Effective RtI Use and Decision Making: Part 1—Overview, by Amanda VanDerHeyden

What’s Your Plan? Accurate Decision Making Within a Multi-Tier System of Supports: Critical Areas in Tier 1, by Terri Metcalf

What’s Your Plan? Accurate Decision Making Within a Multi-Tier System of Supports: Critical Areas in Tier 2, by Terri Metcalf






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