Response to Intervention (RTI)

Response to Intervention (RTI) has evolved from the latest development of the Special Education law (IDEIA) as a way to intervene early to help struggling students overcome their challenges and avoid the development of more intensive needs.

Research has shown that learning breaks down predictably.  Similarly, there are predictably effective ways to intervene.  This means we can help lots of kids before their learning difficulties turn into learning disabilities.

Here’s a way to understand RTI:

Let’s say I visit my doctor for my annual check up. After running some tests, she discovers my blood pressure is very high. There are many “interventions” for high blood pressure, including:

  • Surgery: angioplasty or bypass surgery
  • Medication treatment of one or more medications
  • Stress management: job change, move to a different location (i.e. out of the city), meditation practices
  • Lifestyle changes: eating healthy, exercising, reducing my weight

There is a hierarchy of intensity of treatment.

For most patients, when high blood pressure is first discovered, a doctor will start with recommending lifestyle changes. And for most patients, this will be very effective at lowering their blood pressure.

Some patients will not respond to lifestyle changes alone. They may also need to make some bigger life changes to manage stress, perhaps moving on from a high-stress job. Others may need to add on medication in addition to these changes. At the same time, your doctor would never say: “Never mind eating healthy and exercising. We’ll just do medication from here on out.” These treatments build on each other.

A few patients will not respond to these common treatments. These patients will need a highly intensive level of treatment through appropriate surgeries.

Let’s revisit Response to Intervention. You might think of RTI as the “lifestyle changes” and “stress management” levels in our metaphor above. Schools set up systems of support within general education to intervene early, with strategies that work for the most common challenges:

  • For most students, significant improvements are seen through standard interventions and supports that are available for all students.
  • For some students, some extra assistance may be needed, though this still may be part of the general education program, or named something like “RTI time”.
  • For a few students, more intensive support is needed. This will be achieved through a 504 or Special Education plan.

That said, if your blood pressure is high, you have other risk factors and current conditions that are red flags for your doctor, and your family has a history of high blood pressure, it would be reasonable for your doctor to jump to a higher level of support at that initial appointment.

Similarly, there are cases when a student’s case warrants an immediate referral to Special Education. Consulting with your school team is important to figure out the best course of intervention.

For more on RTI, you may wish to visit the page I developed for Oakland Unified School District.

Have questions?  Let me know and we’ll navigate the system together.

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