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Why Is RTI Important in Education?

7 Min Read
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In other articles, we discuss RTI strategies to use for each tier of a response to intervention (RTI) program. But did you know that RTI in education is more than just a set of research-based strategies for dealing with struggling students? It’s also an instructional method that can help all your students succeed. So how does it work?

What Is Response to Intervention (RTI)?

While there may be some differences between school districts, RTI programs are typically made up of three tiers. Each tier offers instructional methods and approaches that help teachers support their students. 

Tier 1 represents the baseline of support and guidance offered to all students. Tier 1 strategies can be implemented by trained teachers, aides, or paraprofessionals within a regular education setting. Students receive general classroom instruction at this level and do not need additional support to meet grade-level benchmarks for comprehension and proficiency. 

Essentially, Tier 1 is just high-quality teaching that is sensitive to student needs. 

Tier 2 is the next step in the RTI process. This tier identifies students who are at risk of academic or behavioral problems, and it offers them the opportunity to receive interventions. 

Tier 2 interventions can include:

  • Learning strategies
  • Study skills training
  • Small-group, high-quality instruction with a focus on reading comprehension, writing skills, and math concepts
  • Behavior support (e.g., positive reinforcement)

Because Tier 2 interventions are relatively straightforward to incorporate into everyday classroom learning, teachers can use these strategies to support student learning without needing to single students out, which some students may view as stigmatizing.

Tier 3 interventions are for students who have demonstrated needs that cannot be met through Tier 2 interventions. For example, if a student’s reading level is two or more years below grade level and they continue to be unsuccessful during Tier 2 interventions, then they will move on to the next tier of intervention. 

Students typically only engage in Tier 3 interventions for a short period of time, such as one to three months per semester. Then, as the period comes to an end, teachers can evaluate what progress has been made and determine if the student is ready to return to Tier 1 instruction or Tier 2 interventions. If not, a referral for special education services may be needed. 

Tier 3 interventions often include one-on-one instruction with a trained aide or the classroom teacher. In addition, these interventions commonly occur outside of general classroom time, whether before or after school or during breaks. 

Benefits of RTI

Some of the benefits of RTI include the following:

1. Improve equity by meeting diverse needs

Students come from many different backgrounds and arrive at school each day in various states of learning readiness. As a result, it can be difficult for teachers to fully understand the needs of individual students, and it is even harder to find the time or resources to adequately support each student’s needs.  

In addition to the academic benefits, RTI can help teachers identify and support students who are struggling in school for various reasons. For example, some students may be suffering from an undiagnosed learning disability, or they may have been diagnosed with conditions like ADHD and are struggling to pay attention in class. 

When teachers use RTI strategies, they can provide more individualized instruction that supports students’ needs without making them feel singled-out or excluded from their peers. By evaluating and supporting all students, you can help them avoid falling behind while also showing them that you care.

2. Mitigate the impacts of learning deficits

It’s hard to overstate the learning deficits caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote learning was attempted to keep students engaged, but schools quickly found that access to learning resources varied widely from student to student. Learning deficits happened both before and in the wake of the pandemic, however. They can come from illnesses, injuries, family moves, and school changes, among other reasons.

Teaching with RTI mitigates the impacts of learning deficits with a multi-tiered approach that identifies and addresses students who require interventions. RTI can be a powerful tool for helping students get caught up because it involves using data to identify children who are not making expected progress, then starting an intervention as soon as possible. 

This evaluation process can happen at any time during the school year. RTI also prescribes methods for progress monitoring in order to determine whether interventions are working or if another intervention is necessary.

3. Identify issues before they become serious problems

It’s critical to address issues before they become more fully developed problems. The Tier 2 interventions should be used to give students the support and assistance they need in order to meet their IEP goals and objectives, but it’s also helpful for teachers to identify potential needs as soon as possible. This is where RTI strategies come into play.

Teachers who implement RTI strategies can help identify problems before they escalate, allowing them more time to intervene with Tier 2 interventions to prevent those problems from becoming more difficult to overcome.

4. Offer opportunities for learning remediation, short of a special education referral

Referrals for special education program are necessary for some students, but others may not need that level of intervention to succeed. Sometimes a student just needs targeted, one-on-one help to get back on track. When you teach with RTI, you can identify learning deficits and provide appropriate interventions that can help students meet their goals. 

Working through the three RTI tiers ensures that every option short of special education is exhausted before further steps are taken. And, if all interventions taken under the RTI paradigm have failed, further evaluation is appropriate. Some students do indeed require additional support beyond what we can offer in a classroom setting. If your student’s progress is significantly delayed—or if they don’t make progress after working through all tiers of intervention—then it may be time to consider a referral for special education services.

5. Improve student learning outcomes

One of the greatest benefits of using response to intervention (RTI) in the classroom is that it helps students achieve greater success and motivation. This can lead to higher engagement and more positive learning outcomes.

Some of the challenges students face can be addressed by differentiating instruction or providing additional help, but it’s important to catch these deficiencies early. Without timely evaluation and efforts to provide assistance, a student can fall further and further behind. Conversely, early intervention increases the likelihood that teachers will identify students’ learning needs earlier in the year and students will be able to reach their full potential. In my experience, students who receive intervention early in the learning process are more successful, engaged, and motivated because they feel cared for, supported, and seen.  

6. Empower teachers by providing a framework for evaluation and remediation

While there are many ways an RTI approach can support student learning, it has been shown to positively impact teachers through its ability to increase their confidence in their teaching skills. With an RTI approach, teachers are given specific targets to work towards with each student. These targets may be based on various factors, including academic performance, social skills development, or behavior management goals. In addition, teachers may be provided with checklists that help them track progress towards these goals over time, so they know if they’re making progress towards meeting them. This also serves as a source of accountability for both parties involved—teacher and student alike!

The Importance of RTI in Education

RTI is an important tool for teachers in the classroom. It can be helpful to imagine RTI as a three-pronged approach that combines assessment, intervention, and problem-solving. This holistic approach helps identify students who might be struggling with specific academic skills and provides interventions that give them support designed to meet their needs. 

RTI strategies can help educators better understand why some students are especially successful at mastering certain concepts, allowing instruction to be tailored accordingly. In addition, implementing these techniques will make learning more enjoyable for everyone involved—including those kids who need extra attention!

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


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