RTI and Reading: Response to Intervention in a Nutshell

RTI is not a particular method or instructional approach, rather it is a process that aims to shift educational resources toward the delivery and evaluation of instruction that works best for students. This article provides a quick overview of RTI as it relates to reading.

The effort to understand Response to Intervention (RTI) has occupied many thousands of hours and hundreds of position and policy statements, white papers, consensus documents, and research articles. RTI is a process intended to shift educational resources toward the delivery and evaluation of instruction, and away from classification of disabilities. RTI is not a particular method or instructional approach. The success of RTI depends on the timely delivery of research-based instruction by highly qualified instructors. Although RTI can be implemented at any grade level, it is likely that the development of language and literacy skills will be addressed most prominently in the early grades, kindergarten though third grade.

The sheer volume of information that is available on RTI, much of which poses more questions than answers, makes it difficult for parents, educators, and other interested parties to develop a basic conceptual understanding of the process. The following is a brief guide to RTI and reading; it does not reflect how RTI will be implemented in all cases. The guide avoids detail on such issues as the changing roles of school professionals and parents; the need for reallocation of human and economic resources; staff development; or how to choose among methodological alternatives. However, this "nutshell" framework may provide a foundation upon which the interested, albeit not profoundly involved, individual can gradually build a working understanding of the process.


Valid screening measures predict who is, and who is not, at risk for future reading difficulty. These measures are administered to determine if a child is at risk for failing a state's "high stakes" end of year achievement test, by which the state measures a school's overall performance. Children considered to be "at risk" are expected to experience difficulty responding (not keeping up) in the core curriculum as traditionally delivered in the regular general education classroom. Note: Due to the desire to capture all children who are truly "at risk," the false positive rate of early screening may be as high as 50 percent. In other words, as many as half of all the children who are identified as "at risk" by early screening may not be truly "at risk."


Core curriculum in the regular general education class should be research-based and field tested. This means, based on evidence from converging research, that the core curriculum contains all the elements found necessary to effectively teach reading and has a known track record of success. Such curriculum is to be delivered by "highly qualified" teachers sufficiently trained to deliver the selected instruction as intended, i.e., with fidelity to design.


Provide "at risk" children with enhanced opportunities to learn, possibly including, but not limited to, additional time exposed to the core curriculum in small groups (3-6 students), other supplementary instruction, or special education.

Probe (progress monitoring)

Progress monitoring tests are brief measures of specific reading skills that are administered to determine if the child receiving intervention is responding as intended. They are given frequently, at least once every two weeks.


Progress is regularly charted to provide a visual record of actual rate of gain in specific reading skills in relation to a specified goal. The goal of intervention is for the child to improve relative standing and perform at or closer to grade level standards and is individualized according to the unique needs of the child.


Depending on whether the child is achieving a rate of progress determined by his or her individualized goal, the manner and intensity of intervention will be adjusted. The cycle of progress-monitoring and adjustment of intervention will continue, even if a determination for special education eligibility is made.

RTI as it may be implemented in a particular school

Tier 1 (general education)

In this school, all children start in Tier 1, which consists of a research-based core curriculum. All children are screened at this Tier to determine if they are responding appropriately to instruction before they experience any significant failure in comparison to their peers.

Tier 2 (early intervening services)

In this school, Tier 2 consists of increasing the time and intensity of the child's exposure to the core curriculum for children who do not appear to be responding appropriately to Tier 1 instruction. For instance, an additional 30 minutes per day may be devoted to reading in a small group (3-6 students), with a focus on building accurate and automatic recognition of words in text. Adjustments can be made within Tier 2 to increase time on task or decrease student/teacher ratio. (In some schools such adjustments may be referred to as Tier 3, Tier 4, and so on.)

Tier 3 (intensive intervention)

In this school, Tier 3 includes many children who have been found eligible for special education and related services, and some who have not. Special education eligibility may allow exposure to remedial methods and practices that, although research-based and aligned with the content of the core curriculum, are not necessarily a part of the core curriculum. The cycle of progress-monitoring and adjustment of intervention will continue, even if a determination for special education eligibility is made.

  • Note (1): Regular progress monitoring (probes) and charting are required during all Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions.
  • Note (2): For The purpose of clarification, this paper views special education as a service (not a place) that may be appropriate for a particular child in Tier 1 and not necessary for another child participating in the highest Tier of RTI. RTI and special education services are independent yet collaborative and share a common mission; that being to improve outcomes for all children.

Procedural Protections

My personal interpretation of the spirit and the letter of the law is that a child should not enter Tier 2 interventions without parents being told that the child has been identified as "at risk," advised as to the instructional strategies being used, and informed of the progress being experienced. Specific parental consent to interventions that don't require eligibility for special education services is not required. If a referral for special education services is made, it must be completed within the time limits required unless extended by mutual written agreement. The purpose of early parent involvement is to foster a relationship where the parent is engaged and empowered to be an "instructional partner." It should be noted that initial interventions serve as a form of dynamic assessment that will help identify many of the false positives (children that are not truly "at risk").

G. Emerson Dickman is the President of the Board of Directors of The International Dyslexia Association, and has been a member of the Board for ten years. He is an attorney who, for over twenty-five years, has specialized in the representation of children with disabilities. Among the cases he has handled are leading precedents protecting the due process rights of pupils in special education and the constitutional rights of adults with developmental disabilities. He was a member of the Professional Advisory Board for the National Center for Learning Disabilities for six years, and Chairman of the protection and advocacy agency for the State of New Jersey for five years.

Dickman, G.E. (2006). RTI and Reading: Response to Intervention in a Nutshell. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Special Conference Edition. International Dyslexia Association: Baltimore, MD.


For any reprint requests, please contact the author or publisher listed.


I enjoyed reading this article and learning that RTI is not a particular method of teaching but a process that aims to learn what form of instruction works best for the student as an individual. When children who are considered to be "at risk" are provided with more opportunities to learn core curriculum, they will have the same opportunities to succeed in academics as their non "at risk" peers.

I was excited to learn that RTI is not an actual method of teaching but a process that aims to learn what type of instruction works best for the individual students. Children learn in many different ways and by screening early it seems we can find what method of instruction works best for each student. By figuring this out early and identifying our "at risk" students, this can help teachers make learning a more positive experience.

Since as many as half of all the children who are identified as "at risk" by early screening may not be truly "at risk", when do they weed out the false positives?

My personally believe that when RTI is used appropriatley it can greatly effect the youth in on schools today. When the article talked about when a student is moved into Tier 2 the parent is notified that there student is AT-RISK, I believe this is a wake up call for most parents. The communication that is used in this stage of the development can be extreemly impactful on the student and the parent alike.

I found this article to be very useful for understanding and breaking down the tiers into intervention levels. I thinks this is helpful for my own kids and my students as well. I enjoyed reading peoples comments and how parents can respond and have input to the school as well.

I completely agree that RTI should be used at all grade levels and with all ages. I also liked the tiers and the section on Teach and intervening.

This article was very educational and helping brake down RTI and the process. I teach 4th and 5th special education and use RTI. This article has given me more insight on the direction I need to lead my students. I believe RTI is a very effective tool in progress monitoring and charting so we can see firsthand if the students are progressing.

I found this article ever educational and insightful. I have heard and read about RTI so many times, but until I read this article I have been confused about a the connection with things. I see now that RTI can be implemented in all classrooms and not just regular education. I teach high school self contained special ed. I would like more direction on how to implement this is my classroom.

I received a better understanding on the RTI and how they are implemented in all classes. Also I understand how the different tiers are broken down for a better understanding.

I am currently a high school special education teacher. I have a few students who could use this form of help with reading because several are below 4th grade reading level. How can I use this and implement it in the classroom?

I too was taken by the comment, "this article views special education as a service, not a place." I believe this is a great way to view special education services and I may have to use this quote and display it on my desk at school!I am also astounded by the simplicity and complexity of RTI. It appears to be such a simple process to follow, yet the sheer magnitude of research and development that has been conducted and implemented is astounding. I think this is a wonderful program and I believe in the near future, we will all be seeing great gains and benefits from this program.

My favorite quote from the article from note #2, " this artice views special education as a service, not a place." My school shares this view. The special education teachers spend much intervention time in the regular education classes serving a variety of tier 2 and tier 3 students. Love the article.

I believe that RTI will be very effective to help students become better readers. This helps for teachers to know where there students are as readers and how much help they need. Dividing students up into different Tier's is a very great way to help the students become better readers. Tier One faster pace students more advanced readersTier Two is the group that is a little slower needs more help so they will not fall behind. Tier Three is the more needed help one-on-one type the students who struggle reading.

RTI is a great process and seems to have many applications and supported results. However, when thinking about implementing, it seems incredibly time consuming. How can a general education classroom teacher keep up with this program with so many students under her? It seems much more applicable for special education.

I was researching about RTI, your article was really helpful. I like your explanation of the Tiers. As a parent concerned with my daughter's education I find schools have so much to improve. They still teaching our kids using an industrial model: one big group, all eyes on the teacher, all learn at the same pace. This leaves little room for creativity. Also, understand when they are supposed to refer them to Special Education is confusing. Some times the schools don't want to spend the money to provide the services students need. I learned some more about RTI and how it is supposed to look like in the school with this video of a School Psychologist:http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=4bOY888DDi0I don't think the paradygm is going to change anytime soon, but our kids deserve better than that.

Jo Beth Moses > EL316-474> Building Word Knowledge > > Young children should be introduced to informative text. I agree with these three techniques very helpful teaching student to read and understand what they are reading. Introducing words and discussing the purpose, asking questions what they think is going to happen, makes the students interested in reading to find out. Then retelling the story and after reading it, asking questions to see if they understood the story.>

RTI is a process that helps students who are "at risk" for future reading. This article helps me understand the simply way to and how the process works to help teachers know what level the student is on so they can get extra help on what they are having problems on.

RTI is a process in which schools create to meet the students needs. In the last 3 years, I taught at 3 different school districts and each school had very different processes to help students learn at their full potential. For instance, at one suburban school, the special ed teachers were required to track special ed, ESL, and lower achieving students testing scores and their weaknesses. The special ed teachers collaborated with the general ed teachers to develop strategies to increase their skills. In another state, that school district created tutoring times to help struggling students increase their grades and rewarded the achieving students with "time off" from the school day. At my current district, we are developing ways to assist struggling students through teacher collaboration, scaffolding instruction and assignments, reading and math strategies, and professional development. At this district, we are planning procedures to put into place to use RTI so that we meet struggling students needs.

Holly, I agree that the parents should have more input and given more information especially if they feel as though the child should return to the classroom. My son was in RTI initially for math and then reading in 3rd grade. In 4th grade, his grades are improved (passing all subjects) but not great. Again math is his weakest area (marking period grade 74). Since the end of September they have decided that not only does my child belong in RTI but he should also be tested with Child Study Team for disabilities. I am completely against it and declined for further testing. However, I have recently discovered that my son was taken out of the classroom weeks ago and put in a higher level tier for math with a special education teacher. Apparently, he has not had math with his regular teacher for several weeks. Can they do this without informing me or showing me any proof that this level is needed? I plan on getting opinions from other teachers out of district and consulting with a lawyer.

I am a parent of a student that has been in an RTI program for the last 5 years. At our school the RTI program has a teacher that only teaches RTI, and the children are removed from the classroom to go down to RTI for a certain period of time. While after the first couple of years of this my daughter showed remarkable benefits, the last 3 years she has not shown any improvement in her reading and comprehension. In fact leaving the classroom for RTI has actually started to negatively affect her grades in her other subjects, due to missing out on lessons and instructions. During these last five years I have only received a letter at the beginning of each year stating that my child is being placed in RTI. I recently sent a note to school to let them know I do not want my child to participate in RTI any longer. After looking through this website I believe this is a good program, but that there is no follow up to if the program is actually being used properly and effectively. Is there any way for me to find out if my school is implementing this program properly? I am extremely active in the school and I am even the PTO president, and if I am having these frustrations is there other parents that have the same issues that I am having?

I’m a firm believer of Response to Intervention (RTI), if a student can be identified early on in their education and properly tested to see what tier they need to be placed gives them a better chance of becoming better reader. The fact the this program was designed to filter all students and help the ones who may have fallen through the cracks and give them a chance to have the extra help so they can be successful.

The RTI program is a great program. This is my first year as a special ed teacher. I feel it is very important that these intervention tactics are used in early grades, but I also feel that all grades should be tested to check progression. We as a society must do everything possible to improve our children's literacy rate. This program is a great step in the right direction. This article did a great job in simplifying the RTI program.

This is my first year as a special education teacher. I have studied and read about RTI. This article helps me put together many of the things I that I am learning at my school and what I already knew about RTI.

I find RTI a helpful tool for most teachers. It is important to implement the tiers with knowledge knowing that there can be false positives or self-fulfilled prophecy. As a teacher who works with profoundly disabled students, I find that some teachers are too quick to skip steps of the RTI and place them in my school. Evidence based tools are important to follow and should be respected, not only for the student, but for the teacher to give the best instruction possible to help the student succeed.

RTI is a great intervention to help students become better readers. It is unfortunate that many teachers do not have the time to intervene with the Tier 3 students and most likely the Tier 2 students. This takes extra time and many teachers and trying hard each day to prepare students for the end of the year MAP testing. I am a Special Education teacher and I love it because I can focus on one on one or small group teaching. This allows me to be able to make sure the student is getting all of extra time they need to understand what is being taught. I wish teachers had more time to teach and not just prepare for testing. This intervention sounds group but I think it is a huge challenge.

I believe RTI will help student become better because it let the teacher know where the student needs more attention. The earler we can get the help to the student, the better the success rate.

I like the idea that RTI is an early intervention program that identifies the students and their individual needs based on testing and then follow-ups that are regularly taking place. By placing them in the correct level of instruction we can hopefully prevent those students from falling behind. It is also important that this happens early and that parents, teachers and administration work together to keep these students on track. I believe that this is an excellent program and that proper implementation and follow-up will keep those students on track and be a boost for them as they see the progress that they make.

Thank you for the clarification that RTI does not exclude special education instruction. I had understood that RTI was appropriate before special education placement but not afterwards.

I have not been too familiar with the RTI process before. I am majoring in Physical Education and have taken a few Exceptional child classes these past two semesters, hoping to eventually get my degree in Special Education also. After reading this article, I understand more how the RTI process works. It is important to provide children with opportunities to learn and come up with ways/strategies to help them become successful. Not all students are able to learn the same way. Some students struggle in certain areas, while others do not. It is the role of the teachers to help teach these children using the ways that work best for them.

My interputation of RTI is all students will be screened through research based testing and placed in one of three tiers based on their reading ability. Tier one includes students who need no intervention with regular classroom work. Tier two may involve differentiated instruction, modified assignments or moderate assisance provided by a highly qualified classroom teacher or reading specialist. Tier three involves intense instruction by the highly qualified classroom teacher and reading specialist with referral for possible special education instruction. RTI is being intensely implemented in my school district to assure reading success for all students regardless of social status. Since children learndifferently, RTI is a positive component which allows adjustments to be made for those students needing assistance. RTI allows parents, teachers, and administrators to be a part of the students educational process.

I am a special ed. Teacher for students that are severally handicapped and all the students that I have are not able to read and many are nonverbal I read to them and ask questions about the story being read but they are able to set down and read the book or story independently which tier level would these students fall under?

I am a special ed. Teacher for students that are severally handicapped and all the students that I have are not able to read and many are nonverbal I read to them and ask questions about the story being read but they are able to set down and read the book or story independently which tier level would these students fall under?

RtI uses intial screening of all students. This helps at risk students from slipping through the cracks. The student's difficulties are pinpointed so interventions can be implemented before the student becomes to far behind their peers. By using researched based programs and highly qualified teachers, the students are given the best opportunity to learn the skills they need. I like the fact that progress monitoring is ongoing throughout RtI. Monitoring will show how the student is responding to the interventions. This gives the teacher or administrator the opportunity to adjust skill instruction as needed.

I am also a special education teacher and I am teaching 2nd and 3rd grades. I Like that this article pointed out that RTI is a service and not a placement. I hear so many teachers who teach regular education classes talk about special education being a placement when really, it is simply a service that is provided to these students that qualify to help them succeed in areas they are experiencing difficulty. I really like how this article explains RTI and Reading in a simple and easy to understand form. I also believe and agree 100% that screening and progress monitoring are very important when working with these students because it provides the teacher the level the student is functioning on and we are able to adapt and modify material for each student in order to help them with their difficulties and struggles, especially in Reading.

I am a special education teacher that works in a middle school that teaches to children grades 5th and 6th. This year is the first year that our school has started an RTI program. It is very beneficial to have been learning about the various aspects and goals of an RTI program. Our school is testing every student with an I-Ready test to see if the student is performing where he or she should be for their grade level. Depending on the data, the lowest students are then pulled in with Interventionists and the remaining students are then grouped accordingly with teachers. We will also be retesting every 6 weeks to make sure there does not need to be any adjustments made. I am very excited to be a part of a new program like this. I feel like there are so many children that “fall through the cracks”, I believe this program is an excellent way to evaluate the students in need and get them the extra boosts they need to not fall further behind.

Can you give me an example of what you do during an RTI time? Is this basically like additional tutoring on specific reading and math skills or would this be like breaking your whole group reading into small reading groups while the other students are working on center-like activities while you are meeting with one small group at a time?

I have been a reading interventionis in RTI for the past 2 years. The responsibilities placed on teachers has mostly depended on the model each building or distict is using. Our school has the interventionists work with the tier 3 students (the most needful) and each homeroom teacher works with their own tier 2 students (needing a little extra help) in reading and math small groups each day. Tier 1 is every child in the classroom. Everyone recieves tier 1 instruction in the whole-class group each day. Then tier 2 gets a little more help if they need it, but that should only be 12-15% of your students. Then of those tier 2 kids who still need more help from there, they recieve tier 3 intensive instruction in a pull-out group for about 20 minutes each day with a certified interventionist. I have worked in RTI in 3 districts now, but this is the model that my school uses and it has worked well. As far as RTI going away or sticking around, it is actually added to the IDEA law and is current legistlation. Basically, my understanding is that it serves as a kind of filter to see if students can respond with a little extra scaffolding and if they cannot, they need to be tested for services of accommodations. Because it is legislation, it probably will stick around for a while.

I just retired after teaching for 26 years. It was my understanding that the classroom teacher was responsible for quite a bit of RtI, especially the elaborate record keeping. The record keeping is probably part of the reason RtI gets confused with Special Ed. I believe RtI must have been developed by people who do not have classroom experience, because it is not doable in a practical sense. Especially with kids coming in and out of it and some of the management problems, fire drills, assemblies, daily schedule changes to accommodate art, p.e., music, mainstreaming, etc. RtI is, no doubt, well intentioned, but any veteran classroom teacher can tell you, it can't be done consistently and effectively, while continuing to give quality instruction, including the correct number of hours required for each subject, to the rest of the class. The kids needing RtI still have to get all of the core curriculum, even though the teacher has identified them as not "getting it". The RtI is in addition to the regular core curriculum. Given that some of the kids in your class that are identified will qualify for Special Ed., you are expected to remediate kids who would get instruction with a ratio of less than 1 to 5. And, the classroom teacher has, in my state, 31 to 34 kids. I would like to see the paperwork that shows success with RtI. I am a skeptic and believe it will be thrown out, just like No Child Left Behind, another all consuming, totally unrealistic program that wasted time and resources.

I have used RTI Tier 1 strategies. Worked late creating supplements for a 2nd grader who did not know the sound of letter a. Am I supposed to provide Tier 2 and 3 strategies in a regular classroom setting? There are other students with needs and time is limited. How does this work in a practical sense?

I concur with your statements about the intensive challenges of the RTI model. As a teacher you always know who doesn't get it. You even know how/what would help the student to achieve on grade level. The administration of the intervention (in a small group or one on one ) and the intensive record keeping is the part of RTI that is unrealistic. You are still one teacher with an entire class to teach and manage. Who teaches, instructs, and/or monitors the other students while you administer RTI to struggling students?

Everything I have read on-line about T3 suggests a ratio of 1 teacher to 1-3 students.

I have been working with T3 students for this past year (first grade). I started out with 27 T3 kids in my classroom. A reading teacher pushes in 4 days a week for 2/3 of a time. Is there any research that I can show my administrator that for the program to work and the students to succeed, the class size needs to be much smaller than this.

Is there a list of research based reading or math strategies? We often times don't know how to "label" our teaching methods for the Rti process.

Students aren't "placed" in RtI. RtI isn't a placement, but a framework through which students travel in and out of Tiers. Please understand that just because a student can read a chapter book doesn't mean they are comprehending at the same level they are reading. The student's instruction level may be lower than his/her reading level.

If a child walks into 2nd grade and parents say the child has mastered chapter books, the teacher said "no one reads chapter books in this classroom". Then our child is placed in RTI and forced to read "picture books" instead of the chapter book series they love. What is the benefits / purpose of down grading a child's ability??

I am a teacher would you please provide me with some interventions I can use for my student who struggles in the area of reading. She is not able to decode- I need tier 1, 2 and 3 interventions.

Has any school using RTI achieved one hundred percent success of every child in every grade performing on grade level because of the RTI strategies?

Tier II kindergarten - are there any researched based materials that a teacher could use for Tier II with kindergarten students - our current reading series offers nothing


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