‘What Works’ practice guide gives 5 recommendations for implementing RTI

Teacher Helping Boy With SchoolworkWhen implementing response to intervention (RTI), educators shouldn’t worry too much about whether a student is receiving instruction and services appropriate to tiers 1, 2 or 3 in the multi-tier prevention and intervention program, says a new practice guide on RTI for reading in the What Works Clearinghouse series.

“The tiers are merely a way to continually vary resources to match the nature and intensity of instructional need,” says the panel of 7 experts who developed the guide, which was recently released by the Institute of Education Sciences.

In a good RTI program, the lines between the different tiers will be blurred as students improve or are identified with needs and move from one tier to the next. Students also may receive some instruction or interventions in different levels at the same time depending on their specific needs.

One of the 5 recommendations from the practice guide is that schools use differentiated instruction in tier 1. Most educators associate differentiated instruction with tier 2, where at-risk students receive more individualized instruction, but the panel members said differentiated instruction should be used for all students as they begin to learn how to read.

A recurring theme in the guide is that educators should make use of paraprofessionals and volunteers to provide the intensive level of services that some students will need. Below are the 5 basic recommendations from the IES practice guide along with additional comments on implementing each recommendation:

Universal screening

Recommendation 1: Screen all students for potential reading problems at the beginning of the year and again in the middle of the year.

Use the most developmentally appropriate measures for screening–Different aspects of reading or reading-related skills become most appropriate to measure at each grade level (see table below).

There’s still some uncertainty about precisely which one skill is best to assess at each grade level, the panel writes. So it’s recommended that schools use 2 screening measures at each juncture. By the 2nd semester of grade 1, decoding, word identification and text reading should include speed as an outcome.

Despite the importance of vocabulary, language and comprehension development in kindergarten through grade 2, very few research-validated measures are available for efficient screening purposes, the practice guide says.

Don’t wait for district-level benchmarks–It often takes a significant amount of time to establish district-specific benchmarks. A year could pass before at-risk readers are identified and appropriate instructional interventions begin. National standards are a reasonable alternative until district-specific benchmarks are established.

Tier 1

Recommendation 2: Provide time for differentiated reading instruction for all students based on current reading level.

Differentiated instruction is not just for tier 2–Differentiated instruction should not just be reserved for tier 2 but should begin in tier 1, the panel says. “Differentiated instruction applies to all students, while tier 2 instruction applies only to those at risk in key areas,” the panel says. Sensible data-driven instruction should permeate all tiers of reading instruction.

Rule out false positives by monitoring tier 1 students–Common measures tend to overidentify children as at risk for reading problems. False positives are a problem especially at the beginning of kindergarten. When using low cut-points that capture 100% of children at risk, use progress monitoring to zero in on students who really need help. Otherwise you will be devoting resources to children who will do fine without added help. Obtain resources on this issue from the National Center on Student Progress Monitoring or the Iris Center at Vanderbilt University.

Train teachers to differentiate instruction–Provide training for teachers on how to use assessment data to customize instruction for students in tier 1. Some students may require additional instruction in decoding and vocabulary, while others only require additional assistance with decoding.

During independent work time, students weak in vocabulary can practice vocabulary with a partner or in small groups, while other students can work on other reading skills. Independent silent reading activities should be gradually increased as individual student’s reading skills improve.

Tier 2

Recommendation 3: Give intensive, systematic instruction on up to 3 foundational reading skills in small groups to students who score below the screening benchmark.

Recommendation 4: Monitor the progress of tier 2 students at least once a month.

Place students in homogeneous groups–Tier 2 students should receive small group instruction in homogeneous groups for 20 to 40 minutes, 3 to 5 days a week. This recommendation has the most research behind it, the panel says. It is not important whether a certified teacher or a paraprofessional provides the instruction. But instruction should be systematic, highly explicit, and highly interactive. Interventions should also address vocabulary and comprehension. Assign students from different grades to the same group if they are at a similar reading skill level.

Apportioning time is critical–An intervention session should be from 20 to 30 minutes for kindergarten and increase to 40 to 50 minutes for grade 2 students. How time is spent and apportioned appears critical, the panel says. Doubling instructional time–providing double doses of the same intervention–is not effective. For improved outcomes, double instructional time but allot the time based on students’ changing instructional needs.

Build skills gradually. Work toward mastery–Reading instruction in tier 2 should be explicit and systematic and build skills gradually with a high level of teacher-student interaction and many opportunities for practice and feedback. Skills should be introduced first in isolation and then integrated with other skills to build generalization. Students should be given clear, corrective feedback. There should be cumulative review to ensure understanding and mastery. Tier 2 instruction should advance at a good pace.

Regroup students after 6 weeks–Regroup students after 6 weeks based on progress data. Monitor progress regularly, no less than 8 times per year, once a month at minimum. If teachers are too busy to assess students, use paraprofessionals or other school staff. Tier 2 students who show improvement and return to tier 1 should be carefully monitored to ensure that general classroom instruction is adequate. Some students in tier 2 may need to go on to tier 3 interventions.


Recommendation 5: For students who show minimal progress in tier 2 small group instruction, provide daily intensive instruction to promote the development of reading proficiency.

Focus on fewer high priority reading skills–Students in tier 3 interventions average an additional 75 minutes of instruction per week. The range of additional instructional time is from 45 minutes per week to 120 minutes per week. In tier 3, instruction should be intensified by focusing on fewer high-priority reading skills. Too many instructional objectives for struggling readers makes it difficult for students to learn the skills well enough for proficient reading. If a student is struggling with decoding, it does not makes sense to use tier 3 instructional time for summary writing, because the primary obstacle is sounding out and reading words accurately. Tier 3 interventions do not need to be one-on-one instruction, although this should be part of a student’s daily program.

Include ample time for review and practice of skills–To become proficient, tier 3 students will need a lot of practice and immediate high-quality feedback. According to panel opinion, tier 3 students might require 10 or 30 times as many practice opportunities as their peers. Use of instructional technology can be a good means for students to receive the practice they need. In small groups, educators can increase opportunities to practice by encouraging responses by the whole group. If school and staff resources are too limited, use parent or community volunteers. Early error correction is important so that errors are not internalized and repeated.

“Assisting students struggling with reading: Response to Intervention and multi-tier intervention for reading in the primary grades. A practice guide.” (NCEE 2009-4045). Russell Gersten, Donald Compton, et al. National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education February 2009
Recommended measures for universal screening, monitoring for RTI

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)