A Parent’s Primer on the RTI Process

By Susan S. McCarthy, Ed.S, LPC

This article is intended to provide a basic understanding of the process referred to as Response to Intervention, or RTI.

The RTI process is part of a multi-tiered system of interventions as outlined in the Federal law known as IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004). It provides guidelines for public schools in identifying and assisting students with special needs. Another aspect of this process is referred to as the Student Support Team, or SST, and is governed by the Georgia Board of Education rules and policies. RTI and SST work together in a problem-solving model in which schools provide assistance to students to maximize student achievement and reduce behavior problems.

With RTI, schools identify students at risk for poor learning outcomes, monitor for student progress, provide evidence-based interventions and adjust the intensity and nature of those interventions depending on student's responsiveness. The tiered nature of interventions, which RTI is based on, is often referred to as the Pyramid of Interventions. In a diagram format it is seen as a triangle with different levels or Tiers. The bottom tier of the Pyramid of Interventions known as Tier 1 starts with the Universal level, in which standards-based curriculum is provided for all students.

On Tier 2, students are provided with increased intensity of methods that are called Targeted Interventions. These interventions are based on standard protocols and are referred to as "evidence based interventions" - those based on published research and data collection. The Tier 2 interventions provide added opportunities for extended learning, as well as more frequent monitoring of progress, and are tailored to the student's individual needs.

Tier 3 Interventions are considered Intensive Interventions. They involve a more in-depth assessment of the student, analysis of that information, and more strategies to address the student's specific needs. At Tier 3, the SST process is called into place. A team of teachers and specialists meet to consider the specific learning issues of that student, and to identify which strategies and interventions to implement. Consideration of whether to refer the student to assess the need for Special Education occurs at Tier 3.

The fourth level of the pyramid is Tier 4, and includes specially designed curriculum referred to as Special Education. In this Tier, students who meet the eligibility requirements, receive an Individual Education Plan (IEP) tailored to their specific needs based on their identified disability.

Response to Intervention Pyramid

RTI involves the participation of various school personnel including teachers, administrators, counselors and other specialists, as well as parents. The RTI team, at Tiers 1 and 2, will identify students who need additional assistance and develop a plan to address those needs. After some time is allowed for the strategy to work, the team will meet to review the student's response to that level of intervention, and will make a recommendation for the next course of action. If a move to Tier 3 is recommended; the SST or Student Support Team is called into play. Usually facilitated by the school counselor or administrator, the SST puts additional strategies into play, collects and analyzes data and may recommend additional steps, possibly including Special Education services.

Parents are included at each tier and are given opportunities for input throughout the process. However, parents may be confused about their student's participation in, and movement through, the process. Here is a more detailed look at how the process works in a typical school:

The classroom teacher notices that a particular student is having academic and/or behavioral difficulties. The teacher notifies the parents that the student is being referred to Tier 2. Letter, notifies the parents in advance, and a meeting is held with other teachers and staff, the parents, and a school administrator. The classroom teacher is asked to implement the suggested strategies for a period of time, usually at least 6 weeks. During that time, the teacher must keep data on the student's response to the intervention. Then the teacher, along with the other Tier 2 team members, will graph the student's response to the intervention. This will show the student's progress (or lack or progress), and will indicate whether the student should be referred to the next Tier.

When the student is referred to Tier 3 (SST), additional staff members become involved, usually the school counselor and other specialists. Meetings are held to review the student's progress, and parents are invited to attend. At Tier 3, even more "targeted interventions" will be recommended and the teacher will again be required to keep data, showing the student's response to the intervention. Other specialists may come to the school and observe the child and report their feedback at the SST or Tier 3 meetings. Again, a specified period of time will be set for these strategies to be used.

After analyzing the data, the team will either make a recommendation for the student to stay at Tier 3 and continue to be monitored for progress, or they may recommend a move to Tier 4, Special Education. In this case, parents will be asked to give their permission for an official assessment to be performed by the school psychologist, which will determine eligibility for Special Education services.

As a parent , you may have an evaluation performed by a psychologist of your choosing working in a private practice or other agency. At AAPA, the licensed clinical psychologists who are part of this practice, perform hundreds of such evaluations every year. Your student's school will usually coordinate its efforts with your psychologist and the test results he or she obtains. There are tests that a private psychologist can perform, and diagnoses that can be made, that the public school system is not allowed to make, such as a diagnosis of ADD.

If you are a parent who has a child in a public school in Georgia, and you think he or she needs to receive additional assistance beyond the general education instruction, the best place to start is by contacting the student's classroom teacher. If you are not sure whom to contact, contact either the school counselor or school administrator, who can point you in the right direction.

There are many resources available to parents regarding the RTI process. Look on your local school system website, or your state Department of Education website for specific information regarding the RTI process. Additional information can be located at the following websites:


Resources utilized for this article include:

Make It Work by Kimberly D Clements, Ph.D., and Russell A. Sabella, Ph.D., published in the American School Counselor Association's American School Counselor Professional Journal, May/June 2010.

The Cobb County School System Response to Intervention Handbook for Schools 2006-2007

Problem Solving and the RTI, a presentation by Rich Downs, School Counseling Consultant, Florida Department of Education 2007