Implementing RTI2 with older students

Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher explain how to deliver a multi-tiered system of intervention effectively

THERE IS A GREAT DEAL OF EVIDENCE about effective interventions for younger children, especially in the areas of basic literacy skills and mathematics knowledge. However, much less is known about effective systems of intervention for older students.

Multi-tiered ‘Response to Intervention’ (RTI) systems have the potential to support older students who are struggling. RTI models usually consist of three tiers of teaching, with core Tier 1 teaching for all children, Tier 2 support for students falling below their expected level, and Tier 3 support for those at high risk of academic failure.

What we know
● RTI systems have the potential to support older children who are struggling.
● At least 75% of RTI2 students should experience success in Tier 1, core teaching.
● Universal screening at the beginning of the school year should identify children who might need supplemental or intensive interventions immediately.
● The progress of all students should be monitored across a range of subjects, not just reading and mathematics.

One such multi-tiered system, ‘Response to Instruction and Intervention’ (RTI2) shows promise. When correctly implemented, RTI2 ensures that children who fail to respond to high-quality teaching are identified and that their needs are addressed. In this article, we focus on several of the factors necessary to implement the RTI2 system of support effectively.

Start with universal screening

At the start of every year, all students are assessed to determine who might need supplemental or intensive interventions immediately. Screening tools should be quick and fairly easy to use because they are going to be administered to all students. As such, these tools are not expected to be diagnostic and might unintentionally identify children who really did not need an intervention. Keep in mind that a screening tool merely identifies students who are working below grade level; these tools cannot assess what approaches have been tried in the past and whether these have been successful or not. It is common to use writing, encoding (spelling) inventories, and general mathematics skills as screening tools. The US National Center on Response to Intervention lists a number of formal screening tools, and these are available at

Regardless of the tools used, there must be a process in place to identify children in need of further investigation and possible intervention, and those interventions should begin within the first few weeks of the school year. Simply said, if universal screening is not part of the back-to-school experience, the school is not implementing RTI2.

High-quality Tier 1 instruction

The RTI2 system is built on the idea that all children receive high-quality teaching. At least 75% of students should experience success in Tier 1, core instruction. If that is not the case, then school improvement efforts should focus on this level of instruction. At minimum, students in Tier 1 teaching should:

  • Know what they are expected to learn;
  • Have their teachers model for them;
  • Engage in productive group work;
  • Have their errors and misconceptions addressed using prompts and cues rather than direct explanations; and
  • Be held accountable for their learning.

When at least 75% of children in a given school are not achieving as expected or are not making progress, RTI2 would suggest a systematic review of the quality of the teaching students are receiving.

Progress monitoring

As part of Tier 1, there needs to be a system for monitoring students’ progress. There will be children who do not appear to require supplemental or intensive interventions based on the screening tools, but who nonetheless fail to respond to high-quality teaching. In other words, pupil progress must be monitored on a regular basis using appropriate tools. The challenge with older students is finding appropriate tools.

While there are formal tools, such as those recommended by the National Center on Response to Intervention (, several schools have developed their own systems for monitoring pupil progress. For example, some schools develop course competencies, or common formative assessments, that allow for an assessment of all students enrolled in a particular course. Children who do not demonstrate competency on one of these assessments are automatically referred to the RTI2 committee for review. Sometimes the committee reviews the situation and recommends against intervention, especially when motivation, attendance, or illness are considered. At other times, the committee recommends intervention.

The competencies serve as curriculum-based assessment, meaning that there is “direct observation and recording of a student’s performance in the local curriculum as a basis for gathering information to make instructional decisions” (Deno, 1987, p.41). These tools allow teachers to determine if children are making progress in the regular curriculum of the course.

One of the challenges to an RTI2 effort in middle and high schools relates to the progress-monitoring systems commonly used. In many schools, students can only receive supplemental and intensive interventions based on their performance in reading or mathematics. In fact, nearly all formal progress-monitoring tools focus on reading and mathematics, meaning that other content areas are not reviewed. When teachers across the disciplines develop course competencies, progress monitoring occurs in every classroom and every teacher becomes involved in the RTI2 process.

Supplemental and intensive interventions

Identifying the need is an important aspect of a multi-tiered system of support, but it is not enough. Once students are identified, whether through universal screening or progress monitoring, appropriate intervention must be delivered and monitored. In an RTI2 model, there are typically two levels of intervention: supplemental and intensive.

Supplemental interventions are those that are delivered in a small-group setting, with a group of children who have similar educational needs. Supplemental interventions occur at least three times per week for 30 minutes, but many children need more support than that. In essence, supplemental intervention focuses on students’ needs and ensures that they have additional direct and guided teaching aligned with those needs.

Intensive interventions are those that are delivered individually. Like supplemental interventions, intensive interventions occur at least three times per week for 30 minutes, but many students receive daily intervention. Typically, intensive intervention is reserved for children who are significantly below grade level and focuses on basic skills and access to the core curriculum.

Both supplemental and intensive interventions need to be monitored. At minimum, assessment data should be collected every two weeks (if not weekly) for students receiving supplemental interventions and weekly (if not daily) for children receiving intensive interventions. Assessment information should be reviewed by an appropriately constructed committee – not only the individuals providing the intervention – so that trends can be identified and discussed and alternatives can be proposed.

When a given pupil fails to respond to supplemental interventions, intensive interventions can be used. When sufficient time has passed and a given pupil fails to respond to intensive interventions, the team may consider a referral for special education services. Failure to respond to high-quality instruction and supplemental and intensive interventions suggests that the pupil may need more long-term support and specialized services to be successful in school.


Creating and implementing a multi-tiered system of support, such as RTI2, is complex, but worth the effort. It is complex because systems that systematically collect and review data do not often exist, much less align interventions to those data. However, it is worth the effort because students make significant progress when they receive the support they need.

About the authors

Nancy Frey is Professor of Literacy in the School of Teacher Education at San Diego State University. Previously, she was a public school teacher at the elementary and middle school level, and worked for the Florida Inclusion Network helping districts design systems for supporting children with disabilities in the general education classroom.

Douglas Fisher is Professor of Language and Literacy Education in the Department of Teacher Education at San Diego State University, and a classroom teacher at Health Sciences High & Middle College. He has received several awards including the International Reading Association Celebrate Literacy Award, the Farmer award for excellence in writing from the National Council of Teachers of English, and the Christa McAuliffe award for excellence in teacher education.

Further reading

Deno SL (1987), Curriculum-based Measurement. Teaching Exceptional Children, 20, 41.

Fisher D and Frey N (2010), Enhancing RTI: How to Ensure Success with Effective Classroom Instruction and Intervention. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Fisher D and Frey N (2013), Implementing RTI in a High School: A Case Study. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 46, 99–114.

Fuchs LS, Fuchs D, and Compton D (2010), Rethinking Response to Intervention at Middle and High School. School Psychology Review, 39, 22–28.

Vaughn S, Cirino PT, Wanzek J, Wexler J, Fletcher JM, Denton CA, and Francis DJ (2010), Response to Intervention for Middle School Students with Reading Difficulties: Effects of a Primary and Secondary Intervention. School Psychology Review, 39, 3–21.


October 2013