RTI Action Network

Conditions and Context Matter – A Lot!

By: Donald A. Deshler, Ph.D.Published: June 20, 2008
Topics: Implementation Planning and Evaluation

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At a national education conference I attended recently, there were numerous sessions on RTI and its application (in excess of 20 sessions). Each of the seven sessions on RTI that I attended was presented by those who were centrally involved in implementing an RTI program at the school level. There were two common threads running through each of these presentations. First, there was a detailed description of the various components of their RTI system (e.g., how universal screening was conducted — including tools used and mechanics of scoring and interpreting the data, decision rules used to make instructional decisions about students based on screening results, a description of the evidence-based practices used and how their fidelity of implementation was measured and the frequency of doing these checks, and how progress monitoring was conducted). Second, there was very little, if any, time spent describing the conditions or contextual factors that existed in their schools and/or districts that supported the successful implementation of the RTI program that they were describing.

When practitioners hear about effective RTI models at conferences or read about their successful implementation in the professional literature, they need to understand the conditions or contextual factors in the school or district in which RTI was successfully implemented as much as they understand the elements or features of the RTI program being implemented. In other words, educational innovations like RTI gain most traction in settings that provide the necessary conditions to support their use. Less successful implementations elsewhere may be caused by an absence of supporting conditions, rather than because of the particular RTI procedures, per se. If this is the case, we need to spend much more time describing the supporting conditions that exist in a given school or district that enable an RTI program to be successful.

Because RTI consists of numerous components (e.g., multiple instructional tiers, progress monitoring), it must function as a well-orchestrated system to be effective. Effective implementation is dependent on:


In short, a failure to ask questions about the factors that surround and support RTI implementation may prevent practitioners from understanding the complete picture. This may lead to adoption of another site's RTI model based on the incorrect assumption that the success of the other site’s model (as reported in the literature) is due to what happens in the classroom during the RTI implementation process. In reality, there are many situational factors that have supported and account for its successful implementation. These factors are as important to identify and understand as are the actual components of the RTI model itself.

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Read what others had to say...

After reading this article, all I can say is "yes, yes!" I was just remarking in another discussion, that there's this emphasis on RTI, and yet, there's no specific recipe for each school to follow. The problem for many is that there isn't even a starting point, and many will make the mistake of adopting another school's plan instead of implementing RTI is a manner that will best benefit each individual school.

This article really resonated with me. We've had a solid degree of success with our RtI implementation and I attribute it to the unique environment we have. Our school has long held a culture that fixated on student needs. This culture has made the movement to RtI much easier. Additionally, it has enabled bottom up innovations to develop very easily. Having long had permission to innovate, many of the staff appreciate innovating in a broader, systems-wide context.

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