Five Myths About Response to Intervention (RTI)

April 8, 2011, Angie Barnett

Five Myths About Response to Intervention (RTI)

Excerpts from Myths About Response to Intervention (RTI) Implementation by Bill East, Executive Director, National Association of State Directors of Special Education

1) Myth: The major focus of RTI should be identifying students with Specific Learning Disabilities (LD). RTI can be used to “get rid of” those students who are not really LD, but who were simply not achieving for other reasons.

If the primary focus of RTI is simply eliminating students who are not deserving of special education, there is a risk of missing the huge benefit RTI provides in the prevention of disability. IDEA 2004 is clear in indicating that no single criterion can be used for special education eligibility, and most definitions of LD view the response to appropriate instruction as necessary, but not sufficient.

Data collected during RTI implementation can be used as one source of information when making eligibility decisions, but identification is an end product of RTI, not the primary purpose.

2) Myth: RTI is only pre-referral.

RTI is more than pre-referral services; it is a comprehensive service delivery system that requires significant changes in how a school serves all students. When thought of as a pre-referral system, it remains the province of special education and the desired integration of general education and special education services around the goal of enhanced outcomes for all students will not be achieved.

3) Myth: Tier 3 (or the last tier in a tiered model) is only special education.

rti-model

Tier 3 is the most intense level of intervention provided to students in general education. A student who does not respond to these intense interventions MAY qualify for special education services when it has been demonstrated that either the intensity or type of intervention required to improve student performance either exceeds the resources in general education or are not available in general education settings.

Tier 3 in the conceptual model advocated by NASDSE and many other professionals is INTENSIVE INSTRUCTION, which may or may not include special education services. If Tier 3 is defined exclusively as special education, it is possible that additional intensive instructional programs would be set up OUTSIDE of the triangle model, which defeats the purpose of having the model for delivering services to all students.

4) Myth: The research base for RTI is limited to beginning reading.

There are no research studies comparing RTI to traditional special education services. A substantial body of research exists to demonstrate the impact of an RTI model on the current system (e.g., referral rates, risk indices) as well as student variables (e.g., achievement). Fewer studies exist on the long-term outcomes for students from both “models.” Regardless, there will probably never be research comparing different ways of reforming service delivery systems in schools because the question is not of great interest.

The research base on beginning reading is substantial, but the research base on the use of problem-solving models for students at risk for or with behavior problems is just as substantial.

5) Myth: Tier 2 is short-term, not the 10-30 weeks that exists in many RTI models.

There is no formula for how long any intervention should last, especially if the student is making progress. The idea that the problem must be significantly impacted in 4-6 weeks or special education is the route to go, implies that current implementations of special education are associated with improved outcomes, which may not be correct.


Reading Horizons provides an RTI reading program for helping emerging and remedial students. Learn how Iron Springs Elementary successfully implemented Reading Horizons in all three RTI tiers. 

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