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Building Your School's Capacity to Implement RTI

by Patricia Addison and Cynthia Warger

Table of Contents


Response to Intervention, or RTI, is a school improvement system characterized by effective core instruction, a multitiered system of supports, data-based problem solving, progress monitoring, and universal screening. Once a school or district's interest moves beyond the "talking about" stage and into the "careful consideration" or "let's move forward" stage, the individual or group of individuals championing the RTI concept in a school will be faced with two major tasks—to develop the RTI framework for the school, and to develop the RTI implementation plan. This action tool is designed to help school leaders navigate those two tasks.

This action tool provides the school administrative team and a team of educators—referred to throughout as the RTI Leadership Planning Team—with tools to help them plan how RTI will look and how it will be implemented in their school. It does not promote a particular model or approach to RTI. Rather, the assumption is that schools should develop or adopt a framework that fits what they need and then develop the capacity to put the framework into place. As the following vignettes demonstrate, educators develop interest in RTI for a variety of reasons.


The School Improvement Team at Buffalo Hills Middle School has been studying student achievement patterns, and there is concern. During the past several years, there has been a steady decline in student achievement on the state assessments. During that same period of time, student demographics have changed as well. In particular, about 20 percent of students from one of the feeder schools entered the middle school with significant literacy difficulties, whereas for several years that number had hovered around 6 percent. Team members want a way to intervene as soon as possible— especially with reading issues—and in a consistent manner. They know that resources are limited, and as a result they will need to organize carefully to maximize use. The School Improvement Team has been reviewing the potential of an RTI framework to help organize how the school addresses the reading difficulties of entering 6th grade students.


Like many other principals in the district, Dr. Allen, the principal at Howell Elementary School, has attended several workshops on RTI sponsored by the State Department of Education. Three years ago, the school implemented a schoolwide positive behavioral support approach that has been successful in keeping students in their classrooms and engaged in their work. Dr. Allen is intrigued about how an RTI approach might expand upon this work and address students' academic difficulties.


The Owen County School District has decided to implement an RTI framework throughout the district in response to state statutes that define how students are identified as having specific learning disabilities. Although the district has identified certain parameters for the initiative, administrative teams in each school are being asked to develop a plan for implementing RTI with staff. Principals are being encouraged to enact the following timeline:

  • Year One: Conduct a thorough analysis of the instructional program and develop a viable RTI framework.
  • Year Two: Focus on strengthening the core instructional program.
  • Year Three: Implement a data-based, problem-solving approach that includes a multitiered system of supports.


Within their professional learning community, 1st and 2nd grade teachers at Beach Elementary School have been investigating how an RTI approach might be used to intervene early with students who struggle with reading or mathematics. Teachers have conferred with the administrative team and have been asked to prepare a plan for how RTI might operate in the school. In addition to the first and second grade teachers, the planning team will include the assistant principal, the reading coach, and a third grade teacher.


Just as these educators became interested in RTI for different reasons, there are numerous definitions, models, and approaches—not to mention entry points and strategies for implementation— from which to choose in planning for and implementing RTI. The purpose of this action tool is to help educators who are interested in establishing an RTI approach in their school do so in a way that addresses the preparation levels and capacity of the staff while maintaining the integrity of most RTI frameworks. The action tool helps planning teams navigate their way through several steps:

  • Getting started, including forming the RTI Leadership Planning Team and deciding how RTI aligns with the school's vision and school improvement goals.
  • Understanding the major RTI components—an effective core instructional program for all students, a multitiered system of support for struggling students, data-based problem solving, progress monitoring, and universal screening—and assessing the capacity of school staff to implement each.
  • Planning the RTI framework and creating the RTI implementation plan.
  • Introducing RTI to school staff and conducting and monitoring implementation activities.

A Few Assumptions

As with any set of planning tools, there are assumptions that are inherent in their design. That does not mean that the planning tools cannot be modified, only that they were designed with certain considerations in mind:

  • Although there are numerous benefits to an RTI approach—such as providing an early intervention structure to address student learning and behavioral needs—this action tool assumes that individuals reading it already have an interest in RTI, have considered its potential for addressing school needs, and are ready to move forward with implementation.
  • The school administrator will provide leadership for the RTI initiative and be involved throughout the planning and implementation process. This assumption does not mean that others—such as the assistant principal or the RTI Leadership Planning Team chair—should not be entrusted with leadership roles. Rather, it underscores the importance of the principal's leadership in the change effort.
  • A school-based team—referred to throughout the action tool as the RTI Leadership Planning Team, or simply the planning team—will develop the RTI framework and RTI implementation plan. Team members should have the skills and knowledge to develop an RTI framework. They also should have an understanding of the change process, including professional development, in order to develop a viable implementation plan.
  • As with any change initiative, it takes time to plan, build capacity, obtain staff support, implement, and fine tune. This action tool assumes a multiyear commitment.
  • The tools in each section are not presented as linear steps that teams must follow. Rather, each tool addresses issues related to the topic at hand, allowing planning teams to decide whether or not to address them. Further, tools may be modified or adjusted to meet the preferences and needs of team members.


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