By:       Janet Gibbs, Education Specialist, Utah State Office of Education and 

             Jody Jones, Parent Consultant, Utah Parent Center

When academic concerns about a child appear, it can be very frustrating for students, parents and schools. The number one thing a parent wants is help for his/her child. Traditionally general education teachers, regardless of age or grade, have often referred a child struggling with academics for an evaluation for special education services. However, there is a growing effort in education to provide additional instruction and interventions in the general education classroom.  Before making a referral, a process has been strongly recommended for all students in all grades that schools improve instruction and ensure that instruction and interventions are targeted to meet the specific need(s) of a child, earlier rather than later. This process is response to intervention/instruction or “RTI” in the general education classroom.

Here are some questions a parent might ask to understand RTI:

What is Response To Intervention or RTI?

Response to Intervention (RTI) is the practice of providing high-quality, research-based instruction and interventions matched to the student’s needs and using a learning rate over time and level of performance to make important educational decisions.

What is research-based instruction?

Research-based instruction is based on research that shows the effectiveness of the instruction/intervention and is reported in a peer-reviewed journal. The research must be conducted by outside individuals and not the company which publishes the material.

Which is the correct term; “RTI schools” or “RTI process”?

The correct terminology is “RTI process”. RTI is a process that uses:

  •   school wide screening,
  •   research-based instruction in general education provided with fidelity by a qualified teacher,
  •   measuring and  monitoring progress of all students, and
  •   a multi-tier process of intensity, duration, explicitness  and targeted instruction/intervention.

What are the potential benefits of RTI?

The potential benefits are to:

  •   catch struggling students promptly within the general education class before they fall too far behind,
  •   provide instructionally relevant information beyond traditional assessments, and
  •   reduce the number of inappropriate referrals for special education evaluation.

Are schools/districts required to use an RTI process?

No. Schools/districts are encouraged to develop a multi-tier process that provides instructional interventions for all students.

What if I ask my school personnel about RTI and they don’t know what I am talking about?

Be aware that your school may not use the term “RTI”.  It might use “problem solving process”, “instructional support teams”, “tiered instruction”, or another unique title.  The title isn’t the issue.  The issue is the components. In Utah, schools may be familiar with tiered instruction in Utah’s 3 Tier Model of Reading Instruction.

How can I tell if a school uses an RTI process?

A school should inform all parents at the first of the school year about using an instructional intervention process to ensure academic success for all students.  This information may be presented at Back to School night, in letters to parents, at PTA meetings, at community councils, or through any other process the school uses to inform parents.  Ask your school how it provides this information to parents.

What should I look for?

There should be school wide screening or universal screening to identify students who may be at risk for not meeting grade level standards. As a general rule, Utah schools use DIBELS or AIMSWEB for their school wide screening process; however, they may use another tool.  Students’ progress should be monitored. The school should have in place some method for monitoring the progress of all students. Some schools used DIBELS as student progress monitoring, and others use CBM’s (curriculum-based measurements). Ask your school what method it has in place.

How does the school decide if a student may need support?

The decision is based on DATA– information gathered through:

  •   a school wide screening, intended to catch any student who is struggling,
  •   informal observation, or
  •   examples of student work.

It is most often the child’s classroom teacher who initiates the process; however a general educator, a special educator, a parent, a specialist, or an administrator may also notice the needs of a child.

My child’s teacher says my child isn’t doing well.  What does that mean and what should I ask?

Questions a parent could ask include:

  1. What is the specific concern?
  2. What is the targeted deficit?
  3. What does the data say?
  4. What intervention/instruction has been tried?

 Parents should always ask to see the data on the specific deficit showing progress or lack of progress to identify the specific need(s) of the student. If there is no data showing progress or lack of progress, the school is not using the RTI process.

When should parents be involved in the RTI process?

One of the essential components of RTI is parent involvement; therefore, the sooner the better.  The first conversations regarding concerns about student performance should be with the student’s family. The more the family can be involved in the discussions and the interventions, the better the prospect for steady progress.

When is parent permission required in the RTI process?

Parent involvement is recommended from the beginning, but during the instructional intervention and progress monitoring process parent permission is not required. This is because the assessments are focusing on improving instruction, not on determination of a disability. If the child is referred for special education evaluation, parent permission is required as part of the usual procedural safeguards.  See the Utah Parent Center’s parent handbook “Parents as Partners in the IEP Process” or contact the Center for more information.

What about tutoring?  Is that an “intervention” or is it “instruction”?

It is neither.  It is practice. Many students need additional practice to be proficient in a skill. The Utah State Office of Education has a research-based tutoring program called STAR.  It is free to schools that participate in training. Ask your school if the teachers have been trained in STAR tutoring or ask if they use other programs or resources.  Also ask if there are other tutoring programs available at your school.

What is an instructional intervention?

An instructional intervention may be a current action(s) that differs from activities that normally occur in the student’s general education classroom/program.

An instructional intervention may be:

  •   small group instruction
  •   teacher modeling
  •   re-teaching outside of the initial instruction
  •   using research based supplementary activities

An instructional intervention is not:

  •   a change in  seating
  •   shortened assignments
  •   retention
  •   suspension
  •   parent contacts

What is high quality classroom instruction?

  •   Teachers administer curriculum as designed by the program.
  •   Teachers select and administer assessments to identify targeted student needs.
  •   Teachers deliberately plan instruction.
  •   Teachers align materials and instruction with the Utah Core Curriculum.
  •   Teachers provide explicit and systematic lessons/instruction.
  •   Teachers differentiate instruction to meet student needs.

What role does special education have in an RTI process and who should support the classroom teacher?

The role of special education is one of support/supplementary services. People such as speech-language pathologists, psychologists, reading specialists, special educators, counselors, etc., as well as other teachers, support team members, administrators, volunteers, and paraprofessionals may all provide assistance and support. The responsibility for implementing an RTI process is general education’s because the aim is to improve instruction and interventions within general education. Support is not considered to be “special education”.

Should a full plan be implemented with the changes for a student?

There will not be an education plan written up.  That would fall under special education should the student later qualify.  Each school or district has policies and procedures regarding plans that should be followed.  Documentation is needed during this phase, but it is not necessary to be extensive or formal.  It is useful later on should more extensive interventions and more formal procedures be needed.

Can RTI be used for all subjects or behavioral issues?

Yes, it works the same way for any subject, skill, or performance area, and for students of any age including adults.


  •   What is the target performance/behavior?
  •   What intervention might be most successful?
  •   Who will carry it out?
  •   When?
  •   Where?
  •   How will progress be measured?
  •   When?
  •   By whom?
  •   What does the data tell us?
  •   Do we need another intervention to reach the target?

And so on …

Schools working with the Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS) approach will find these strategies to be familiar.

My child’s teacher said they “RTI’d” my child. Now does he qualify for special education services?

RTI can be a part of the process for determining eligibility for special education and related services. It cannot and does not stand alone. An RTI process does not take the place of a comprehensive evaluation. Your local school district can help you understand the full process.

Can a school use RTI only for special education eligibility?

No. A school must have fully implemented RTI for ALL students before they can consider using an RTI process for determining eligibility.

What does “fully” mean?

A school must have in place the essential components of RTI for ALL children. Historically, it takes a school/district 3-5 years to fully implement RTI.

Can I request a special education evaluation if my child’s school is using an RTI process?

A parent has the legal right to request a special education evaluation at any time during any process. The school does not have to provide the evaluation, but if it doesn’t, it must provide you with written prior notice as to why not.

How does RTI work at the secondary level?

The RTI process of assessment, intervention and progress monitoring is applicable at any age and in any subject area. Learning issues emerging for the first time for a student at the secondary level are more likely to be related to study skills, focus, motivation, etc., than to a difficulty in reading or math, for example. The process is also well suited to providing appropriate interventions for students who are learning beyond the general curriculum.  This might include students who need additional challenge, higher-level thinking skills, etc.