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Implementing a Response to Intervention Framework to Support Reading Success

January 29, 2019

SRI International
   Jennifer Nakamura, REL Appalachia
   Stephanie Nunn, REL Appalachia
   Kirby Chow, REL Appalachia

In the United States a majority of children struggle to read proficiently by the time they reach grade 4, and limited reading proficiency is one of the main risk factors for high school dropout.1 Sixteen percent of children not reading proficiently by third grade do not graduate from high school on time, compared with 4 percent of children reading proficiently by then.2 How can we support children to become better readers? Evidence confirms the importance of intervening early, particularly before grade 3, to support students who struggle.3 Many states have adopted a response to intervention (RTI) framework that incorporates prevention efforts and early detection of struggling students to ensure that all students are receiving the resources they need to be successful readers. For example, the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) has outlined an ambitious goal for third-grade student reading proficiency in its Every Student Succeeds Act plan. State administrators believe effective implementation of RTI in schools is critical to achieving this goal. TDOE is partnering with REL Appalachia (REL AP) to measure fidelity of implementation of their own RTI model, referred to as response to instruction and intervention (RTI2).

At the local level, implementing an RTI framework with fidelity can be daunting. Therefore, it is crucial that district and school staff receive training to implement RTI components with fidelity. With the right training and support, educators can make RTI implementation part of regular classroom practice and students can benefit. State, district, and school leaders all have an important role to play in ensuring successful implementation of an RTI framework!

Schematic of the RTI framework depicting 3 tiers of support

RTI frameworks have three tiers of support.

What to include in an RTI framework

While states, districts, or schools have some flexibility when adopting an RTI framework, they should include core components that are well established in the research literature. One of the most crucial components is placing students in different tiers of reading support depending on their level of need. All students receive reading instruction, and some students receive interventions of varying intensity that correspond with the tier they have been placed in. Students can move between tiers based on their response, or lack of response, to the interventions they receive.4

A strong RTI framework has the following additional components.5

List of components of strong RTI Framework

What steps can state, school, and district leaders take after developing an RTI framework?

To support successful RTI implementation it is important for state, district, and school personnel to collect data on the degree to which educators are implementing the RTI framework with fidelity. Monitoring and measuring RTI implementation can contribute to school improvement efforts by identifying specific RTI practices that schools are struggling to implement. This in turn can indicate where targeted coaching and training are required. For example, The Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest assisted Milwaukee Public Schools in developing a fidelity monitoring system, including an implementation assessment tool, to collect data on RTI implementation and used the data to shape school improvement plans.

Here are some steps state, district, and school leaders can take to ensure their RTI framework is being implemented properly and having the desired impact.

State leaders

  • Ensure a well-developed implementation assessment tool (such as a rubric, rating scale, checklist, and/or survey with core RTI practices specified) exists for measuring schools' RTI implementation.
  • Take steps to build state officials' capacity to use implementation and student assessment data to identify supports for districts and to evaluate the impact of RTI implementation on student outcomes.

District leaders

  • Use an implementation assessment tool for measuring schools' progress in implementing the RTI framework.
  • Train district and school staffs on how to implement the RTI framework and how to use the implementation assessment tool.
  • Use implementation data to determine which components of the RTI framework schools are struggling to implement and provide them with support and training to improve implementation fidelity.

School leaders

  • Encourage staff buy-in by emphasizing the importance of early intervention and of providing all students with academic support through implementation of an RTI framework.
  • Examine the RTI framework to determine that all core components are in place for supporting students struggling with reading.
  • Ensure that the school staff understands the importance of implementing each component of the RTI framework as intended and has received adequate training to do so.
  • Collect data through an implementation assessment tool and conduct observations; staff members should meet regularly to examine the data.
  • Use implementation data to develop and create action plans for school improvement.

How TDOE is developing and measuring its own RTI framework

REL AP is partnering with TDOE to support implementation of its RTI2 framework. Our Early Literacy partnership is developing and piloting a research-based RTI implementation assessment tool aligned with the RTI2 model. TDOE staff plans to use the tool to determine the fidelity of schools' implementation of key RTI2 practices and use that information to determine necessary training and supports, as well as help assess the impact of implementation of the RTI2 model on students' academic outcomes. Stay tuned for the release of Tennessee's refined RTI2 handbook and the implementation assessment tool!


Interested in learning more about RTI and effective implementation of RTI practices?

  • This infographic and Stated Briefly report describe how REL Midwest worked with Milwaukee Public Schools to monitor and measure RTI implementation to target school improvement efforts.
  • This IES practice guide details the core components of an RTI framework for reading and the level of evidence for each component.
  • This blog from REL Appalachia provides resources to help educators in other state and local education agencies implement an MTSS, RTI, and/or PBIS framework using diverse delivery methods.
  • This Ask A REL Response provides information on RTI/multi-tiered systems of support implementation and the impact on student achievement.
  • This infographic gives additional information on RTI and other tiered models of support being implemented in schools


1Fiester, L. (2010). Early warning! Why reading by the end of third grade matters. KIDS COUNT special report. Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation. Retrieved from

2Hernandez, D. J. (2011). Double jeopardy: How third-grade reading skills and poverty influence high school graduation. Baltimore, MD: The Annie E. Casey Foundation. Retrieved from

3Gersten, R., Newman-Gonchar, R. A., Haymond, K. S., & Dimino, J. (2017). What is the evidence base to support reading interventions for improving student outcomes in grades 1–3? (REL 2017–271). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast. Retrieved from

4Gersten, R., Compton, D., Connor, C. M., Dimino, J., Santoro, L., Linan-Thompson, S., & Tilly, W. D. (2008). Assisting students struggling with reading: Response to intervention and multi-tier intervention for reading in the primary grades. A practice guide. (NCEE 2009–4045). Washington, DC: National Center for Edu¬cation Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from .

5Gersten, R., Compton, D., Connor, C. M., Dimino, J., Santoro, L., Linan-Thompson, S., & Tilly, W. D. (2008). Assisting students struggling with reading: Response to intervention and multi-tier intervention for reading in the primary grades. A practice guide. (NCEE 2009-4045). Washington, DC: National Center for Edu¬cation Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from