Response to Intervention (RtI) seeks to ensure students get the support they need as soon as a weakness is identified.

In the past, struggling students often fell significantly behind their peers in academic performance before qualifying for additional support or special education services. A tiered instructional approach systematically identifies student needs as they occur and allows for appropriate interventions to be identified. More specifically, Response to Intervention is a multi-tiered approach to improving academic and behavioral performance. It relies on high-quality, research-based instruction delivered by well-trained staff; universal screening; increasingly intensive levels of interventions for those who show weaknesses; and regular monitoring of progress. RtI rules out inadequate instructional quality as a reason for a student’s underachievement.

There are generally three tiers, or levels, in a Response to Intervention program. Watch this video which explains RtI and what it is expected to achieve  as implemented through Project MP3: Monitoring Progress of Pennsylvania Pupils.

One important note about RtI is that it is not an approach designed only to identify children with specific learning disabilities. RtI focuses on student outcomes, not on student labels. As G. Reid Lyon of the National Institute of Child Human Development stated, “Learning disabilities have become a sociological sponge to wipe up the spills of general education.” By ensuring high-quality, high-fidelity instruction with additional support as needed, RtI serves as a preventative measure for academic failure. The objective is to find the right level of instruction and support to ensure every student can achieve mastery of the content. Proper implementation of RtI should reduce the inappropriate identification of students as having a specific learning disability.


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA) made a key change from the law previously overseeing identification of specific learning disabilities. It eliminated the requirement that there be a “significant discrepancy” between a student’s ability and achievement. While IDEA does not require states to implement Response to Intervention programs specifically, it does say states must permit school systems’ use of a process based on the child’s response to scientific, research-based intervention or other alternative research-based procedures for identification of a specific learning disability.

Video Reources

Follow the links below to see two short videos about issues related to the use of an achievement-ability discrepancy model:

The Iris Center: Pt 1

The Iris Center: Pt 2