Response to Intervention: An Instructional Model for Student Success

Melissa Petro, University of Bridgeport


This article describes Response to Intervention (RTI) and Scientific Research-Based Interventions (SRBI). These are two intervention models of reaching out to students who need extra learning or behavioral support. This article focuses on RTI and SRBI as they apply to reading. Although these models of intervention are not new to education, there is not one specific process that has been found to guarantee success. The article explores SRBI in the following areas: definition, history, roles of staff, benefits, challenges, and best practices. Feedback from educational professionals in the field, and in Connecticut, is included. The most effective approach to RTI and SRBI will become evident after thorough examination and assessment of practices already in place in Connecticut and nationwide.

Response to Intervention: An Instructional Model for Student Success

Nationwide, many school districts have adopted a Response to Intervention (RTI, also RtI) model to detect and prevent early reading failure. RTI is a tiered system that provides interventions based on scientific, research-based data. All students receive instruction in the general education classroom. If they do not respond to this instruction, they begin a tiered process of increasingly individualized interventions and assessments administered by the classroom teacher and related specialists. The timeline of this process varies from child to child. Tier I requires benchmark assessments at least three times per year. If it is determined that the student is not responding to Tier I interventions, the student will progress to Tier II interventions. These interventions require at least monthly progress monitoring. Again, if the student does not respond to Tier II interventions, the student will progress to Tier III where the student will receive at least weekly progress monitoring and frequent informal classroom-based assessments (Burns & Coolong- Chaffin, 2006, p. 4). Ultimately, the child either responds to the interventions provided at one of the tiers or, once all other possibilities are ruled out, s/he may be referred to special education. The RTI process can be applied to any subject area, including behavior, but reading is the focus of this article.

RTI is not a new concept, but it was recently brought back to the educational forefront when revisions were made to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004. These revisions banned a model that searched for a severe discrepancy between intelligence (possibly measured by IQ test) and performance on achievement tests in order to determine special education eligibility. When the IQ discrepancy model was banned, RTI was named as the new way to identify students with learning disabilities (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2005, p. 57). Based on a student’s progress through the tiers of the RTI model, it may be concluded that the students need a more comprehensive evaluation, which may lead to identification of a learning disability and consequent special education status (Risko & Walker-Dalhouse, 2009, p. 85). The state of Connecticut’s RTI model is called Scientific, Research-Based Intervention (SRBI). Although some districts have been using SRBI for years, and many committees exist to see that it is implemented efficiently, there are still many gray areas and areas that need further exploration. These gray areas include: defining SRBI, the history of SRBI, roles of staff providing SRBI, benefits of SRBI, challenges of SRBI, and best practices in SRBI.

Connecticut’s Approach Scientific, Research-Based Intervention (SRBI)

To best suit the needs of the student population, each state takes a different approach to education. Likewise, each state tailors its implementation of RTI specifically to the needs of the students being taught. The following section will focus on RTI as it applies to the state of Connecticut. The information in this section is taken from The CSDE’s Bureau of School and District Improvement’s Using SRBI: Improving Education for all Students, Connecticut’s Framework for RTI (2008).

Defining SRBI

Connecticut decided that its RTI program would be called SRBI, or Scientific Research- Based Interventions,

“because the language is contained in both NCLB and IDEA regulations. The use of the name SRBI, in place of RTI, is intended to emphasize the centrality of general education and the importance of using interventions that are scientific and research-based” (CSDE, 2008a, p. 4).

There are ten main principles and features of SRBI in Connecticut. According to the Connecticut State Department of Education (CDSE), they are as follows:

  1.  The assumption that scientific research should be used to inform educational practice as much as possible.
  2. A belief in collective responsibility, accountability and the power of education.
  3. A willingness to be transparent with a relentless focus on continuous improvement.
  4. A focus on prevention and early intervention.
  5. School-wide or district-wide high-quality core curricula, instruction and comprehensive social/behavioral supports.
  6. Monitoring fidelity of implementation.
  7. Culturally responsive teaching.
  8. A comprehensive assessment plan with universal common assessments and progress monitoring.
  9. Data analysis, not just data collection.
  10. Data-driven decision making with clear decision rules (CSDE, 2008a, p.15-21).

These principles and features are consistent with the universal RTI model. The main difference is an additional focus on school climate as a part of Connecticut’s model of SRBI. Connecticut’s SRBI model includes school climate as an integral part of learning achievement. The School-wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS)

“includes a proactive, comprehensive and systemic continuum of support designed to provide opportunities to all students, including those with disabilities, to achieve social and learning success” (CSDE, 2008a, p. 7).

SWPBS in Connecticut is partially supported by the State Education Research Center’s (SERC) Positive Behavior Support (PBS) Initiative (CSDE, 2008a, p. 7). It is intended to “improve the overall school climate, maximize achievement for all students, and address the specific needs of students with severe behavioral difficulties” (CSDE, 2008, p. 7).

History of SRBI

The SRBI Advisory Panel, appointed in November 2006 “to review current research and practice on RTI to develop a framework for implementation in school districts across the state” (CSDE, 2008a, p. 4), created Connecticut’s definition of RTI. The panel’s specific goals were to establish a definition of SRBI and to “provide guidance to school district personnel on best practices in developing interventions for students experiencing learning or behavioral difficulties” (CSDE, 2008a, p. 4). The members of this panel were appointed by the Commissioner of Education and involved a variety of representatives from classroom teachers to representatives from the CDSE, Regional Educational Service Centers (RESC), and SERC.

The SRBI Advisory Panel met approximately monthly from November 2006 to June 2007 (CSDE, 2008a, p. 4). Throughout these meetings the panel produced two documents that are critical to implementing SRBI in CT: February 2008 Executive Summary and August 2008 Framework for RTI. Both of these documents are also titled Using SRBI: Improving Education for All Students and are credited to the Connecticut State Department of Education’s Bureau of School and District Improvement. These documents serve as the manual for SRBI implementation in Connecticut.

Roles of Staff


Experience is the best way to determine how SRBI can best be implemented. Administrators must make decisions as to reallocation of existing resources, adding new resources, goal setting, and prioritizing the various aspects of SRBI (CSDE, 2008a, p. 48). This is easy to say, but requires a lot of time and effort to accomplish. District administrators must work diligently and cooperatively to determine specific district needs and direct staff toward successful SRBI programs.

At the school level, it is up to the administrator to create the school climate. The school administrator collaborates with other district administrators to decide how SRBI and PBS will be implemented. The school administrator then relays this information to the staff and ensures that the SRBI and PBS models are implemented consistently and with fidelity. “The leadership of the principal is critical to the success of SRBI. The principal communicates the vision, beliefs and attitudes required for SRBI to the school and school community, including families” (CSDE, 2008a, p. 48). In addition to high-quality curricula and academic benchmarks, school-wide social-emotional and behavioral supports must be made available to classroom teachers and their students (CSDE, 2008a, p. 24). The school principal is usually also part of the district data team, as well as the school data team. The district data team analyzes data across schools within a district. The school data team analyzes benchmark data within a school “to establish the overall efficacy of curricula, instruction, school climate and system of socialemotional learning and behavioral supports for all students, and monitors fidelity of implementation” (CSDE, 2008a, p. 33). In general, this team should meet at least quarterly (CSDE, 2008a, p. 30).

General education teachers

Many aspects of SRBI take place in all classrooms on a daily basis. These include: frequent assessment, differentiated instruction, successful classroom management techniques, and collaborative teams. General education teachers are responsible for Tier I interventions. Tier I interventions include implementing the curriculum with fidelity and differentiation of instruction in the classroom. It also includes assessing all students, with a universal common assessment, at least three times per year to collect “benchmark” data. It may also entail data analysis with a grade-level or content area data team.

As in RTI, general education teachers may be responsible for Tier II interventions as well. This would consist of short-term (8-20 weeks) interventions delivered to small, homogeneous groups (of 4-6 students). These interventions would be based on students’ needs. At Tier II, frequent progress monitoring is required (weekly or biweekly) using assessment tools that are more focused on the students’ area for improvement. The data analysis and decision making is done with teacher support/intervention teams that

“may overlap with Tier I data teams” and “should include core team members (e.g., school principal, general educators, reading/ language arts consultant, school psychologist and a special educator)” (CSDE, 2008a, p. 40).

Special education teachers

Special education teachers are to be available to support classroom teachers implementing SRBI. “Teachers should consult with colleagues and with relevant specialists…the consultation can occur on a one-to-one basis, or at grade-level team or department meetings” (CSDE, 2008a, p. 27). Special educators are also responsible for Tier III interventions including short-term (8-20 weeks) interventions that are individualized and focus on students’ specific academic and behavioral needs (CSDE, 2008a, p. 43). These interventions are “delivered to homogeneous groups…with a teacher: student ratio of up to 1:3” (CSDE, 2008a, p. 43). In Tier III, progress monitoring occurs very frequently, possibly twice per week, using common formative assessments, similar to those used in Tier II. The special education teacher is part of the teacher support/ intervention team. This team serves for Tier II and Tier III and decides how to “choose, individualize, and intensify interventions for students…select appropriate monitoring tools; analyze progress monitoring data; modify…interventions as needed; identify students not responding to Tier III efforts” (CSDE, 2008a, p. 43).

Benefits of SRBI

There are many benefits to SRBI. Connecticut’s goal is to “do more than enable schools to meet the challenges of NCLB and IDEA 2004; SRBI can revolutionize how schools do business and provide a comprehensive, high quality system of education for all students” (CSDE, 2008a, p. 11). The CDSE’s goals include the following:

Research-based general education curriculums; differentiation of instruction; maintaining a physically, social-emotionally, and intellectually safe and respected climate; a comprehensive system of social-emotional learning and behavior supports; and data-driven decision making. (CSDE, 2008a, p. 11)

This will be beneficial for general and special education. Timely interventions should coincide with student’s needs, making certain that students with disabilities are correctly identified. This will ensure that special education services are only provided to students who actually require them.

Challenges of SRBI

Districts will find the implementation of SRBI to be challenging. It will require “analyzing existing district resources, reallocating resources as necessary, developing additional resources, establishing priorities” (CSDE, 2008a, p. 48). One suggested reallocation of resources is that “district and school administrators must schedule adequate common time for teachers to plan and collaborate in teams, without sacrificing instructional time” (CSDE, 2008a, p. 49). With conflicting ideas and strained budgets, this will be a puzzle, but it is one that can be solved with perseverance and cooperation between involved administrators and staff. Greater statewide challenges include “large and longstanding disparities in achievement within the state based on race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status” (CSDE, 2008a, p. 1). SRBI should directly address this given that curriculum must be relevant, and students’ academic success must not suffer due to any of the previously mentioned traits.

Best Practices in SRBI

The state of Connecticut follows a threetiered model of SRBI. However,

the tiers should not be viewed as ‘gates’ to special education. Most students undergoing tiered interventions will not have disabilities and, if interventions are appropriately selected and implemented with fidelity, then most students should not require special education services (CSDE, 2008a, p. 23).

SRBI apply to all academic domains beginning at the preschool level.

Central to the three tiered model are “benchmarks,” or “student outcomes, which are reasonable for students to achieve by the end of the school year” (CSDE, 2008a, p. 24). These benchmarks should be defined by the school district. They should be aligned with standards and referenced frequently by teachers (CSDE, 2008a, p. 24). In Connecticut, these standards are detailed in Connecticut’s Blueprint for Reading Achievement (2000) and Beyond the Blueprint: Literacy in Grades 4-12 and Across the Content Areas (2007).

Highly qualified teachers are crucial to the success of the SRBI model. If any step of the process is weak, the SRBI model will fail. If necessary, additional training may be required for some interventionists. This training should include pre-service preparation and ongoing professional development. This professional development must include frequent in-service programs in areas that are relevant to students’ needs. These programs should also contribute to an atmosphere of collaborative learning teams within schools.

Tier I interventions take place in the general education classroom. The instruction should be research-based and aligned with state standards. It should be culturally appropriate. Tier I interventions also rely on a positive school climate and social emotional/behavioral supports (CSDE, 2008a, p. 33). The interventions consist of differentiated instruction. Differentiated instruction refers to instruction that will reach all learners regardless of, and with attention to, readiness and ability. This could include flexible small groups and materials that are congruent with students’ needs. For example, teachers may take a small group of students aside to focus more on phonemic awareness or fluency. In order to effectively differentiate instruction, teachers must have access to appropriate materials (CSDE, 2008a, p. 26). Teachers must assess all students to gather benchmark data. “Most authorities recommend the use of curriculum-based measures (CBMs) to establish benchmarks and monitor student progress in Tier I (CSDE, 2008a, p. 27). Specific benchmark goals are outlined in CT’s Framework for RTI (2008). According to the CSDE, Tier I assessments are the following:

Universal common assessments of all students at least three times per year (benchmark data) to monitor progress and identify students in need of intervention early; common formative assessments to guide and differentiate instruction; data to evaluate and monitor the effectiveness of the behavioral system (CSDE, 2008a, p. 33).

District, school, and grade/content area data teams analyze this data.

Tier II interventions apply to students who do not respond to Tier I interventions. Tier II interventions are short-term (30-45 minutes per session, 3-4 times per week for 8-20 weeks) and are the responsibility of the general education teacher supported by specialists, but may also be provided by “specialized teachers, or other interventionists specifically trained for Tier II supplemental instruction” (CSDE, 2008a, p. 34). For example, at one school in Waterbury, CT, where all of the district’s resources are being reallocated and put to use, high school and art substitute teachers provide all of the Tier II interventions (S. DaSilva, personal communication, April 10, 2010). Similarly, in Naugatuck, CT, there is a specific position for one professional who provides Tier II interventions to all of the school’s Tier II students (M. Boyce, personal communication, March 22, 2010). This can be challenging because it requires an additional step: communication. If the classroom teacher is not the one providing the interventions, s/he must be informed of the student’s progress in order to report to data teams and to inform classroom instruction.

Tier II interventions occur in addition to regular classroom instruction. Progress monitoring should occur weekly or biweekly. Examples of progress monitoring tools include AIMSWeb and DIBELS testing (NCRTI 2010). Due to the fact that this progress monitoring occurs so frequently, assessments need to be “relatively quick, in order not to consume an inordinate proportion of the intervention time” (CSDE, 2008a, p. 35). Similar teams analyze this data. The teams also make changes to the learning plan as needed, identify non-responders, analyze and apply data from Tier II interventions to determine what effect the interventions are having, and monitor fidelity of implementation. A long-range goal, such as meeting an academic benchmark or standard, should be set for each student. This goal, in addition to an individualized intervention plan, must be written for each student receiving Tier II interventions.

Tier III interventions may be provided by the appropriately trained general education teacher, but will most likely be administered by a specialist or other trained interventionist. Tier III interventions resemble those of Tier II in that they are short term, in addition to classroom instruction, and are provided by general educators. Tier III progress monitoring is similar to that which is used in Tier II, but is administered at least weekly (Burns & Coolong-Chaffin, 2006, p. 4). The data team is the same as in Tier II, but may need to use the data collected to “inform the design of a comprehensive evaluation for the determination of a learning disability” (CSDE, 2008a, p. 42). However, “it must be emphasized that special education is not merely the ‘end point’ of failure to respond to various tiers of intervention” (CSDE, 2008a, p. 44). As per the CSDE:

Connecticut State Regulations provide for the ‘prompt referral to a Planning and Placement Team (PPT) of all children who have been suspended repeatedly or whose behavior, attendance or progress in school is considered unsatisfactory or at a marginal level of acceptance (CSDE, 2008a, p. 44).

The SRBI process does not change this practice. The parent or guardian is also a member of the Planning and Placement Team (PPT).


Since RTI and SRBI models are becoming widespread in Connecticut and many other states, it is important that all involved professionals are properly trained in intervention practices prior to implementing them with students. The process begins at the pre-service level. Teacher educators must include information about RTI/SRBI in undergraduate and graduate level courses. Once teachers begin their careers, it is crucial that they be provided with frequent professional development opportunities that strengthen the teachers’ understanding of RTI/SRBI and ability to implement it. District administrators are assigned the daunting task of allocating and reallocating resources to make sure that a high quality educator is instructing each student. This educator is responsible for using a relevant, research-based curriculum, administering frequent progress monitoring, and using the data collected to drive instruction. Teamwork is essential. Administrators, general educators, special educators, specialists, parents, and students must all commit to the RTI/SRBI process in order for the intervention, and the student, to succeed.


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Connecticut State Department of Education. (2007) Beyond the Blueprint: Literacy in Grades 4-12 and Across the Content Areas. Retrieved from: April 9, 2010.

Connecticut State Department of Education. (2000) Connecticut’s Blueprint for Reading Achievement: The Report of the Early Reading Success Panel. Retrieved from: April 9, 2010.

Connecticut State Department of Education Bureau of School and District Improvement. (2008). Using SRBI: Improving education for all students, Connecticut’s Framework for RTI. August 2008. Retrieved from: room/SRBI_full.pdf. April 9, 2010.

Connecticut State Department of Education Bureau of School and District Improvement. (2008). Using SRBI: Improving education for all students, Connecticut’s Framework for RTI. February 2008 Executive Summary. Retrieved from: April 9, 2010.

Connecticut State Department of Education. (1998). The Connecticut Framework: K-12 Curricular Goals and Standards. Retrieved from: April 9, 2010.

Fuchs, D. & Fuchs, L. (2005). Responsiveness-to-intervention: A blueprint for practitioners, policymakers, and parents. Teaching Exceptional Children, Sept/Oct 2001, 57-61. IDEA. (2004). Section 300.114 LRE

National Association of State Director of Special Education (NASDE) and Council of Administration of Special Education (CASE). (2006). Response to intervention: NASDE and CASE white paper on RTI. Alexandria, VA: authors.

National Center on Response to Intervention (NCRTI). (2010). Progress monitoring tools chart: Reading and math. Retrieved from: August 22, 2010.

Risko, V. & Walker-Dalhouse, D. (2009). Crossing boundaries and initiating conversations about RTI: Understanding and applying differentiated classroom instruction. The Reading Teacher, 63 (1), 84- 87.