Response to Intervention

by Donni Stickney, M.Ed., and Denyse Doerries, Ph.D

On November 19, 2004, Congress passed legislation reauthorizing the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), referred to as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA). This article discusses one of the new controversial provisions in this legislation, response to intervention (RTI).

According to the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Summary of Significant Issues, the IDEIA adds the following new language:

  • in determining whether a student has a learning disability a local educational agency shall not be required to take into consideration whether a child has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability...;
  • and that in determining whether a child has a specific learning disability, a local education agency may use a process that determines if the child responds to scientific, research-based intervention as part of the required comprehensive evaluation procedures. (Summary of Significant Issues, 2004, p. 14)

RTI is predicated upon research that demonstrates few cognitive characteristics that reliably separate poor readers with IQ-achievement discrepancies from poor readers without discrepancies (Stuebing et al., 2002). The literature suggests that by improving the quality of instruction and measuring a student's response to that instruction, inferences can be made about the presence of a disability contributing to the learning difficulties (Speece, Case, & Molloy, 2003).

The response-to-intervention (RTI) model for identifying students with learning disabilities employs a problem-solving process that uses curriculum-based measures to identify students whose level and rate of learning are below those of their peers (Speece et al., 2003). These students subsequently receive evidenced-based instruction in the general education classroom specifically designed to meet their needs. If a student's rate and level of learning increase, the student would not be considered for special education. If the student's rate and level do not improve, the student would be considered for special education services or for a special education evaluation (Fuchs, Mock, Morgan, & Young, 2003).

While, many practitioners question the efficacy of applying this model (Speece et al., 2003), RTI in the classroom may look familiar to teachers because they informally engage in this practice on a regular basis. RTI is simply a more structured approach to evaluate and analyze instruction and its impact on student achievement. One use of RTI is to help determine if a student can benefit from quality instruction delivered in the general education classroom.

An example of RTI in a math class follows. Based on classroom data, the classroom teacher identifies an area of need for his students and chooses an evidenced-based intervention to both increase the students' engagement during class and improve learning. Briefly, the intervention increases students' opportunities to respond by using response boards. These are individual white boards that all students write on with erasable markers. When the teacher asks for a response to a question, all students write answers on their white boards and may hold them up for the teacher to see, rather than just one student answering the question (Silberman, 1996). To collect a baseline the teacher examines the math unit test grades before instructing with response boards. Test grades are reviewed again after using the boards to continue data collection. If the test scores are higher after instructing with response boards, the intervention is viewed as successful.

Response to intervention may also be used with individual students.The teacher begins by identifying the student's needs and designs an intervention for the student using a research-based strategy. If an individual student has problems with reading fluency, for example, the intervention may involve teaching the student to reread passages to automaticity (Rasinski, 1990). The teacher determines a baseline by counting the correct words per minute (CWPM) read on three passages, and begins the intervention by having the student graph CWPM on a "cold," first passage reading. The student then rereads the same passage a second time, a "warm" reading, graphing the CWPM read each time (see graph at right).

If the student's CWPM read continues to increase, the response to the intervention may be considered successful.

When an intervention has not been successful, it is important to reflect upon the fidelity of the implementation; that is, was the intervention implemented under the conditions for which it was designed? For example, was the teacher able to use the intervention as frequently as planned? Did the students understand how and when to use the intervention? Was the intervention implemented long enough to create a change in student achievement? Addressing these questions helps to determine if the lack of response was due to the implementation of the intervention or to the intervention itself.

The professional practice of instructing students and measuring learning through assessment and grading is not new. However, analyzing the effectiveness of instruction adds the step of collecting data on specific instructional practices to determine their impact on student achievement. This more systematic approach to teaching measures students' responses to interventions and allows instructional decisions to be based on data.

For an in-depth discussion of RTI, visit

Keep updated about the implications of these changes through the CEC website,


Fuchs, D., Mock, D., Morgan, P.L., & Young, C.L. (2003). Responsiveness-to-intervention: Definitions, evidence, and implications for the learning disabilities construct. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 18(3), 157-171.

Rasinski, T.V. (1990). Effects of repeated reading and listening-while-reading on fluency. Journal of Educational Research, 83(3), 147-150.

Silberman, M. (1996). Active learning: 101 strategies to teach any subject. Boston, MA: Simon and Schuster.

Speece, D.L., Case, L.P., & Molloy, D.E. (2003). Responsiveness to general education instruction as the first gate to learning disabilities identification. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 18(3), 147-156.

Stuebing, K.K., Fletcher, J.M., LeDoux, J.M., Lyon, G.R., Shaywitz, S.E., & Shaywitz, B.A. (2002). Validity of IQ-discrepancy classifications of reading difficulties: A meta-analysis. American Educational Research Journal, 39, 469-518.

Summary of significant issues. Retrieved December 3, 2004, from
Date: Feb/Mar 2005