Get to know the 3 tiers of Response to Intervention

by | Feb 8, 2022


“Intervention” is a popular buzzword in education, but you may have heard it so many times that you’ve forgotten its true meaning and intent. Response to Intervention, also known as RTI, offers an equitable approach toward education for all students, including those who struggle to meet grade-level benchmarks, as well as gifted students who need more challenging assignments.

What is Response to Intervention (RTI)?

The RTI Action Network describes Response to Intervention as “a multi-tier approach to the early identification and support of students with learning and behavior needs.” Essentially, RTI is an approach to education that helps identify and support students most at risk for falling behind key learning standards. Educators use differentiated instruction and diligently track student progress to modify teaching as needed to ensure student improvements.

What is the difference between Response to Intervention (RTI) and Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS)?

The reference to multiple tiers of support may cause you to wonder about the difference between the approaches of Response to Intervention (RTI) and Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS). MTSS is a broad term referring to an educational framework that addresses a wide variety of student needs, such as:

  • Poor academic performance
  • Chronic absenteeism
  • Behavioral and social-emotional issues
  • Needs for support outside of school, such as family involvement and extracurricular activities

MTSS can be carried out with the use of several support systems, including RTI. Your school may also implement Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) as part of its MTSS strategy.

What are the three tiers of Response to Intervention (RTI)?

RTI involves three tiers to address student needs:

Tier 1: Whole Class Instruction

The teacher uses evidence-based teaching methods to lead the whole class through direct instruction. The class may break into small groups, paired, and independent activities, but it can be difficult for the teacher to find time to give individual attention to every student.

Tier 2: Small Group Interventions

A few times each week, the teacher works with small groups consisting of 5-8 students through instructional interventions. Usually, students are sorted into groups based on their shared skill levels in a particular area of the course. For example, students who are struggling with phonics may be grouped together.

Tier 3: Intensive Interventions

Students in Tier 3 may take part in individual lessons or continue to work in small groups of 3-5 students. They may need to spend time outside the regular classroom for remedial classes. Generally, these students need help mastering the most basic foundational knowledge and skills required for the course.

Students move up to the next tier if they continue to struggle with the course material in the previous tier. For example, if whole-class instruction is insufficient for helping a student master reading skills associated with their grade level, the student would move into Tier 2 with small group interventions.

The activities and work which make up each tier look different depending on the school, class, and student needs. Regardless of these factors, each level requires teachers to use proven teaching methods and to track the progress of struggling students to decide whether they need to move up or down to another tier. Additionally, RTI requires teachers and administrators to work collaboratively in a Professional Learning Community to analyze student data at regular intervals and decide which students need to move between tiers. The PLC can also help new teachers learn best practices and support veteran teachers who need to renew their instructional skills.

What proportion of students should make up each Response to Intervention tier?

Many experts believe an effective RTI program requires 20% or less of students in Tiers 2 and 3. For example, McREL International’s RTI triangle shows:

  • 80-90% of students succeed in Tier 1
  • 5-15% of students succeed in Tier 2
  • 1-5% of students succeed in Tier 3

However, the RTI Action Network encourages schools that are new to implementing the RTI structure to aim for 50-70% of students to meet academic standards in Tier 1. If your school’s Tier 1 general education is not adequately supporting the majority of students, this is where you should focus your improvements. Consider:

  • How can you disaggregate your student data to identify specific knowledge gaps and skills causing students to struggle?
  • Who is best equipped to resolve each problem area in your school’s instruction? For example, would it make the most sense for school leaders, department heads, or a specific content team to work on improving each particular area of instruction?
  • How can your school’s educators share RTI responsibilities with the perspective that all students are “our students” rather than “my students” and “your students?”

What are the benefits of implementing RTI at your school?

RTI helps school leaders and teachers evaluate the quality of their school’s instructional methods by tracking student progress in each part of the curriculum. This data can inform Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) about the areas which could be improved by researching new evidence-backed instructional methods. Regular evaluation of all students’ progress can help educators know which students need various levels of intervention to prevent them from falling through the cracks.

Equitable education benefits all students, from those at risk of failing annual state assessments who need intensive intervention to the highest achievers who would benefit from accelerated learning opportunities. Educators need regular professional development training to maintain a high standard of equity in their instruction. Schedule a free call with CSAS today to learn how our experienced consultants can build a customized professional development strategy for your school.

“Intervention” is a popular buzzword in education, but you may have heard it so many times that you’ve forgotten its true meaning and intent. Response to Intervention, also known as RTI, offers an equitable approach toward education for all students, including those who struggle to meet grade-level benchmarks and gifted students who need more challenging assignments.



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