Best Practices for Implementing an RTI Model

What if you could identify struggling students early on and support them before their learning gaps widen? You can through Response to Intervention (RTI)! RTI is an incredible framework geared toward proactive, data-driven decision-making to meet all learners’ unique needs with targeted instruction and supports.

Implementing an effective RTI model is especially crucial since learning recovery is now at the forefront of our efforts to improve student outcomes. We can help students reach their greatest potential with appropriate, effective support and intervention. Let’s take a closer look at some of the best practices within the RTI model.

The following is an excerpt from our white paper Increasing Student Success Using the RTI Model.

Best Practices for RTI

Use Evidence-Based Curricula and Programs

We cannot overstate the importance of using evidence-based interventions and research-backed programs. Evidence-based and research-backed are not meaningless buzzwords; they are crucial qualifiers for any curriculum chosen for Tier 1 instruction or Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions.

Teacher-Led Interventions Are as Important as Ever

No computer can ever fully replace the human connection. All the advanced programming in the world is not the same as the in-person student-to-teacher relationship and interaction. Teachers leading interventions can discern nuances of changes in student behavior and respond in the moment to misunderstandings. Educators can also lean into their relationships with students to develop hooks, stories, and problems that engage learners in the material in a personal and meaningful way—something automated programs cannot do.

As an example, within a small group, a teacher works to introduce a math concept using a concrete–visual–abstract sequence of instruction. While solving the math problem using manipulatives, she thinks aloud so the students can hear her math reasoning and appropriate vocabulary terms in the context of a given problem.

Once the students master the concept using concrete manipulatives, they complete the same or similar problems with visual or pictorial representations. Finally, the students will learn to write the problem using abstract symbols.

The teacher can work alongside the student and immediately provide further instruction on areas that need more explanation. She can personalize the math problems with objects and stories that relate directly to the students’ interests.

Using this three-step instructional framework helps students build a deep and sustainable understanding of a wide range of mathematical concepts.

Implement Interventions with Fidelity

Data is only valid if an intervention is implemented with fidelity. It is essential that educators closely apply the program’s content and processes as designed. Fidelity also refers to the service being provided as often as was intended, and in the setting it was designed to be offered.

Give the intervention enough time to show an impact before trying something new. For instance, if a student is participating in a Tier 2 reading intervention with a reading specialist three times per week for 30 minutes at a time, it would be unfair and inappropriate to move that child to a Tier 3 intervention if they didn’t show progress after just two weeks, or if several sessions were missed in the first month of the intervention.

Follow the Data Cycle

The data cycle begins with a diagnostic assessment to determine student strengths and areas for growth. It should indicate gaps in learning and areas teachers may move through quickly if most students are already showing mastery in that area.

Diagnostics inform instruction, which can and should include differentiated student groups. Assessment follows instruction. It is helpful to avoid waiting until the end-of-unit or end-of-term summative assessment to adjust instruction. Instead, use daily, weekly, and biweekly formative assessments like exit ticket data or weekly quizzes to modify lessons and unit plans. Making adjustments such as these is what it means to respond to the data.

Share Data with Parents and Caregivers

There are several ways to inform parents and caregivers of the assessment process and intervention data. Some options include school-home messaging apps, online learning portals, emails, and phone calls. The method of communication is less important than the decision and commitment to share timely, accurate information with families.

If parents or caregivers are informed their child is struggling, they may have strategies or insight to share with the school team to help solve the problem. They may be pursuing outside support, such as a private speech and language evaluation, or they may be awaiting the results of a medical assessment. Increased communication results in a more integrated and comprehensive solution for the student’s learning needs.

Share Data with Students

Student motivation increases when they understand their abilities and learning goals. Provide students with consistent, clear feedback about their progress to encourage them in their efforts. This can lead to developing skills in self-advocacy and goal setting. Getting students involved in their progress early in their educational career is a powerful way to teach them to advocate for themselves.

Collaborate with Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers are skilled at adapting lessons and materials to meet the unique needs of students on their caseload. When general education teachers collaborate with special education teachers, the team has a greater problem-solving capacity.

Consider School-Wide Interventions

We understand that RTI is as important as ever. The need for personalized learning in the wake of 2+ years of interrupting learning is overwhelming, and RTI strategies work. We know this because the definition of RTI is evidence-based intervention. Research proves these tools, materials, and methods help students learn.

Schools addressing large numbers of students needing more intensive intervention can consider adopting a variety of school-wide interventions, such as adding a “targeted instruction/enrichment” period into the school day or developing after-school intervention programs. Other interventions include creating summer learning opportunities for at-risk students and investing in educational technology and remote learning tools (hardware and software).

Schools may purchase furniture and equipment to implement after-school programming, enrichment programs, and outdoor activities. Items may include playgrounds, benches, tables, and chairs. Another example of an intervention strategy is hiring additional staff to support RTI efforts, including more special education teachers, interventionists, specialists, and others.