Create Your Implementation Blueprint: Introduction

The idea of Response to Intervention (RTI) is simple. RTI involves regularly assessing proficiency in a skill, determining which students are behind, providing help in small groups for those students below benchmark, assessing regularly to monitor progress, and intensifying instruction for students whose progress is insufficient. Yet, many schools all across this country are discovering that implementing RTI is far from simple.


Some common pitfalls schools encounter in attempting to implement RTI are highlighted here and are explored in further detail in a brief article focused on these pitfalls:


  • Underestimating the magnitude of change
  • Taking on too many grade levels, tiers, or buildings in the first year
  • Jumping in without a comprehensive implementation plan
  • Failing to view the implementation as a systems-wide change
  • Lacking a designated intervention block time in the master schedule
  • Focusing too many resources on administering and collecting assessment data rather than on helping staff learn to use the data
  • Viewing purchased instructional programs as silver bullets rather than aids to help well-trained teachers make informed instructional decisions
  • Forming groups based on a limited review of the data
  • Overrelying on curriculum-based measurement (CBM) data instead of also using informal diagnostic assessments to further pinpoint needs (The CBM identifies the WHO and monitors progress – the diagnostics pinpoint the WHAT to teach.)
  • Confusing awareness training with implementation training
  • Using approaches to train teachers that are ineffective given the practices that have to be changed.


Implementing RTI requires a broadening in focus. To implement this innovation in a school setting, one has to pay attention not only to research about effective instruction, but also to the change management process. For too long education has underestimated what it will take for the adults in a school setting to change their practices and behaviors. The benefit of RTI is for our students, and success will be measured in how much their achievement scores improve. However, when it comes to implementation planning, the focus has to be on the adults—the teachers who will use the new practices.


Where can we look to understand implementation processes? Fixsen, codirector of the National Implementation Research Network, and his colleagues (Fixsen, Naoom, Blasé, & Wallace, 2007) recently completed a review of the human services implementation literature, including the literature on education. Although their review was about innovation and implementation in general, rather than being specific to RTI, they did describe implementation as the “missing link” between research and practice. Fixsen and colleagues released two frameworks as a product of their extensive review, and these frameworks also form the basis for the articles in this section on implementing your plan:


  • A model describing six stages of implementation
  • A description of key "implementation drivers"


A brief overview of the six stages of implementation is provided below with more details provided in the related articles. The stage names are those of Fixsen and his colleagues; the details about the activities that occur in an implementation of RTI are those of Susan Hall.


  1. Exploration—a small team does research to learn as much as they can about RTI in determining whether to implement such an approach
  2. Installation——begins when the decision to implement is made and continues until the first use of the innovation (may include planning, assigning job responsibilities, determining how it will be organized, initial team building)
  3. Initial implementation—where the “rubber meets the road” as many teachers try to use new practices in their day
  4. Full Implementation—practices have been installed and most professionals are comfortable, with practices operating smoothly
  5. Innovation—after implementing the innovation the way it was laid out, this is the time to try to make improvements
  6. Sustainability—in which the focus is on figuring out how to sustain the innovation over the long term


Although this stage approach may seem linear, Fixsen et al. (2007) are clear that it is actually more recursive. What happens in one stage affects another stage. Fixsen et al. are also clear that implementation is not an overnight process. Fixsen’s suggestion that it may take 3–5 years to fully implement a human services innovation is consistent with my observation that most schools require at least 3 years to implement RTI.




Fixsen, D., Naoom, S., Blase, K., & Wallace, F. (2007, Winter/Spring). Implementation: The missing link between research and practice. The APSAC Advisor, pp. 4–10.

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