Models of RTI

Teacher reading to classThere are many different interpretations regarding the implementation of RTI. IDEA (2004) allows local education agencies the ability to use RTI, but does not require its use. Individual states have flexibility to create their own regulations pertaining to the implementation of RTI. As a result of this flexibility, several models of RTI have emerged. This article summarizes two main categories of RTI.

Prescriptive Model of RTI

A prescriptive model of RTI allows school districts to make decisions regarding special education eligibility for SLD based solely upon RTI data. This model is sometimes referred to as standard protocol (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006).

Prescriptive models of RTI include fixed tiers increasing in the intensity of interventions at each specific level (Barnes & Harlacher, 2008). Most prescriptive models of RTI include three distinct tiers.

Tier 1: Interventions involve classroom instruction and are delivered by the general education teacher to a group of students who have been identified by some type of universal screening process as performing below standards (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006). Interventions at this level are implemented for a specified duration. At the conclusion of Tier 1, students who respond to the intervention return to the general curriculum for instruction and are considered remediated. Students not responsive at this level move to Tier 2, where more intensive interventions are implemented (Danielson et al., 2007).

Tier 2: Teachers or other staff members monitor student progress. Interventions may include small pull-out groups using a different curriculum than the classroom. Students responding to Tier 2 interventions return to the general curriculum. Students failing to respond in Tier 2, move to Tier 3.

Tier 3: Students receive intensive interventions that are often delivered by specialists who have more experience using interventions. It is at this level that students may be classified as SLD.

General educators have the primary responsibility for aspects of instruction, progress monitoring, and moving students among Tiers 1 and 2. Special education teachers are often responsible for the most intensive interventions occurring in Tier 3 (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2005). Prescriptive models of RTI differ from flexible models of RTI in the manner in which decisions are made and the roles of the teacher and school psychologist throughout the process (Wodrich et al., 2006).

Flexible Model of RTI

Flexible models of RTI combine RTI data with norm-referenced testing to determine special education eligibility (Holdnack & Weiss, 2006). A flexible model of RTI is sometimes referred to as a problem-solving model (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006) School districts using flexible models of RTI include RTI data as part of the pre-referral process, but make decisions regarding special education eligibility based upon standardized testing.

Flexible models of RTI continue to use the traditional achievement-discrepancy model when identifying students as having SLD. The achievement-discrepancy model is based upon a significant discrepancy between a student’s cognitive ability and academic achievement as measured by standardized tests. In a flexible model of RTI, practitioners determine the magnitude of the problem, analyze the causes, design interventions, monitor students’ progress, and plan future assessments based upon data (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006).

When determining eligibility for special education using a flexible model of RTI, determination should include distinct features similar to a prescriptive model.

  1. RTI is used to provide interventions to at-risk learners and to aid in the distinction between instructional deficits and SLD (Dykeman, 2006).
  2. Teams implement interventions within the general education setting using research-based instruction (Moore-Brown et al., 2005).
  3. Students identified as having SLD must demonstrate low achievement in a significant area of school functioning using more than one type of data (i.e. teacher reports, classroom performance, standardized test scores). Exclusionary factors such as sensory, cognitive, social-emotional, environmental, and cultural factors are ruled out (Batsche et al., 2006).
  4. A discrepancy between cognitive ability and academic achievement is established using standardized measures (Ofiesh, 2006). Testing is used to validate information gained from RTI.

Features Common to both Models

Both prescriptive and flexible models of RTI include the following components.

1. Screening: some form of general education screening to identify students at-risk for failure. A screening instrument helps to identify the learning needs of all students.

2. Interventions: the implementation of scientifically-based curriculum and multi-level interventions. The intensity of the interventions increases with each level.

3. Progress Monitoring: Both models of RTI includes some form of assessment to identify the student’s response to the intervention.

4. Data-Based Decision Making: the use of data to modify the type, frequency, and intensity of interventions for students failing to respond (Berninger, 2006; Dykeman, 2006; Feifer, 2008). In a prescriptive model of RTI, this data may be used to determine eligibility for special education services. In a flexible model of RTI, this data is used to help make decisions regarding the traditional evaluation process.

Whether using a prescriptive or a flexible model of RTI, eligibility decisions for special education should contain key components. All evaluations should contain information that is multifaceted, comprehensive, fair, useful, and valid (Burns et al., 2008). Special education evaluations using data from the RTI process should be carefully planned to ensure that decisions are made based upon accurate information.


Barnes, A. C., & Harlacher, J. E. (2008). Clearing the confusion: Response to Intervention as a set of principles. Education and Treatment of Children, 31(3), 417-431.

Batsche, G. M., Kavale, K. A., & Kovaleski, J. F. (2006). Competing views: A dialogue on Response to Intervention. Assessment for Effective Instruction, 32(1), 6-19.

Berninger, V. W. (2006). Research-supported ideas for implementing reauthorized IDEA with intelligent professional psychological services. Psychology in the Schools 43(7), 781-796.

Burns, M. K., Jacob, S., & Wagner, A. R. (2008). Ethical and legal issues associated with using response to intervention to assess learning disabilities. Journal of School Psychology, 46, 263-279.

Danielson, L., Doolittle, J., & Bradley, R. (2007). Professional development, capacity building, and research needs: Critical issues for Response to Intervention implementation. School Psychology Review, 36(4), 632-637.

Dykeman, B. F. (2006). Alternative strategies in assessing special education needs. Education and Treatment of Children, 127(2), 265-273.

Feifer, S. G. (2008). Integrating Response to Intervention (RTI) with neuropsychology: A scientific approach to reading. Psychology in the Schools, 45(9), 812-825.

Fuchs, D., & Fuchs, L. S. (2006a). Introduction to Response to Intervention: What, why, and how valid is it? Reading Research Quarterly, 41(1), 93-99.

Holdnack, J. A., & Weiss, L. G. (2006). IDEA 2004: Anticipated implications for clinical practice-Integrating assessment and intervention. Psychology in the Schools, 43(8), 871-882.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990, 20 U.S.C. § 300.7© (amended 1997, 2004).

Mastropieri, M. A., & Scruggs, T. E. (2005). Feasibility and consequences of Response to Intervention: Examination of the issues and scientific evidence as a model for the identification of individuals with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 38(6), 525-531.

Moore-Brown, B. J., Montgomery, J. K., Bielinski, J., & Shubin, J. (2005). Responsiveness to intervention: Teaching before testing helps avoid labeling. Top Language Disorders, 25(2), 148-167.

Ofiesh, N. (2006). Response to intervention and the identification of specific learning disabilities: Why we need comprehensive evaluations as part of the process. Psychology in the Schools, 43(8), 883-898.

Wodrich, D. L., Spencer, M. L., & Daley, K. B. (2006). Combining RTI and psychoeducational assessment: What we must assume to do otherwise. Psychology in the Schools, 43(7), 797-806.

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