Is RTI Working?

An analysis of a 2015 study by the U.S. Department of Education calls into question the effectiveness of the Response to Intervention program. Specifically, the analysis (and the study it cites) note that implementation has been uneven and in some cases, results in special education services being delayed or denied.

The key finding is this:

As described in an article in Education Week magazine, this study examined over 20,000 students in 13 states and found that first grade students who received RTI actually performed worse than a similar peer group that did not.

The authors note:

In short, RTI, for all its good intentions, is a only a theory without empirical validation. It remains to be seen if this is because the program is inappropriately designed, or if schools are unable or unwilling to implement it appropriately.

In Tennessee, concern has centered around the implementation, which is uneven across districts in part due to lack of state investment in the program.

The funding problem is noted here:

Additionally, many districts report they lack the funding to provide subject-matter teachers and so individuals not certified in math or reading may be in charge of certain remediation classrooms.

(Grace) Tatter notes:

Districts have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on assessments, and don’t have the money to hire educators with the expertise required to work with the highest needs students. Some schools are using their general education teachers, already stretched thin, and others are using computer programs.

Ideas without proper implementation can be more than unhelpful, they can actually hurt the students they are intended to help.

In Tennessee’s case, lack of funding demonstrates a lack of commitment to the principles behind RTI. But, as this study notes, implementation at the district and school level can also be problematic — with or without proper financial support.

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