Julie McKinney, MS
September 27, 2021

What is Response to Intervention (RTI) and how can it help if my child struggles in school?

Response to intervention is a system schools use to help students who are struggling. If your child has a disability, RTI may help. Here’s what you should know.

RTI is a system that schools use to help students who are struggling.

The main idea is that schools will use high quality teaching for all students, assess students to identify where they are having trouble, and offer increasing levels of interventions that adjust to the child’s needs.

What are interventions?

Interventions are different kinds of teaching strategies. They focus on specific skills that a student needs to improve, like reading fluency or multiplication tables. They may include working in small groups, giving extra direct instruction, or practicing with flashcards or games.

There are different kinds. If a child is not responding to one kind of intervention, teachers may try another. See videos with examples of reading interventions.

RTI uses a 3-Tiered Approach:

Tier 1: High quality, science-based instruction – for all students

  • This means they use teaching methods that have been proven to be effective. 

  • For example, research has shown that explicitly teaching kids to match word sounds with letters works much better than just letting them read a lot and assuming they will learn to recognize the words.

What if a student still has trouble?

  • Schools continually assess how students have responded to the lessons within each unit. They also do benchmark assessments a few times during the year.

  • They can know pretty quickly if a child is struggling with vowel sounds, fluency, basic addition, etc.

  • If a child is behind, they move to Tier 2.

Tier 2: Classroom interventions – for students who are struggling

  • There are a wide range of strategies and specialized teaching techniques that are designed to help children who struggle in different areas of learning. These are called interventions.

  • If your child is not making progress, their teacher should be able to identify which strategies may work for your child and start trying them right away.

  • If the interventions are not working within a month or so, they should try different or more intense strategies.

What if a student still doesn’t make progress?

Tier 3: Special Education – for students who are still not making progress

What should I do to help the RTI process work for my child

It helps to understand the RTI process and know your rights if your child has a disability. Stay in close touch with the teacher to make sure this process moves along. A school year is not very long. If a child does not make continuous progress they can get far behind by the end of the year.

Do not wait too long before you advocate to try a different intervention or move to the next tier. You should check in with the teacher every few weeks.

Remember: you and the school both have your child’s best interest in mind. Work together to give your child the support they need in school!

Learn more:

  • Julie McKinney, MS

    Director of Training / Health Literacy Specialist

    Julie McKinney has over 25 years of experience in health literacy, plain language, and adult education. She has deep expertise in writing information so it’s easy to understand, and has developed trainings for educators in clear communication.

    At Exceptional Lives, she ensures that our content is clear and friendly. She also works to strengthen relationships with community partners, and designs trainings that help them connect with families.
    Julie also has experience parenting kids with ADHD, learning disabilities and significant intellectual disability. She has ushered her own children through schooling and transition to adulthood, and is committed to helping make this process easier for others.

    Her core view is that good relationships are the key to just about anything we hope for.

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