RTI and SLD Identification in Pennsylvania: The RTII Infrastructure

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    In my previous blog post, I introduced Pennsylvania's approach to using response to intervention (RTI) as part of a comprehensive evaluation for identifying students with specific learning disabilities. I mentioned how the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) had taken the position that school districts need to build a robust infrastructure of core instruction, assessment, and interventions prior to being approved to use RTI for eligibility decision making. I will describe that approval process in a future blog post. In this entry, I will address the features of the infrastructure that have been institutionalized in Pennsylvania under the title Response to Instruction and Intervention (RtII). Training in these features has been promulgated by the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN). Detailed information about the components of RtII, including text information and PowerPoint presentations, is available on the RtII page of the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s website.

    Standards-Aligned Core Curriculum and Effective Instruction Practices


    As in most other states, the PDE bases its guidance for schools on a set of standards known as the Pennsylvania Standards Aligned System (SAS). All school districts are required to develop local curricula that are based on the standards. Because Pennsylvania's RtII program has focused, up to this point, predominantly on reading, training has also focused on the “Big Ideas” that were identified by the National Review Panel, including phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, fluency with text, vocabulary, and comprehension. To emphasize the necessity for providing explicit instruction in reading, PaTTAN has also provided extensive training in Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) for Pennsylvania educators. Training has also been provided in differentiated instructional practices. In sum, these trainings make up the essence of and emphasize the importance of a robust Tier 1 in the three-tier RtII model.

    Universal Screening

    Schools adopting RtII are encouraged to use universal screening practices to identify students who are at risk for academic failure. Pennsylvania has not adopted a particular commercial product for universal screening, but rather allows school districts to identify their preferred method. School districts are referred to the Screening Tools Chart that is available on the National Center on Response to Intervention website. Consequently, Pennsylvania school districts use a variety of screening instruments, including DIBELS (and DIBELS Next), AIMSweb, 4Sight, STAR Reading and Early Literacy, and the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), to name a few.

    Data-Based Decision Making

    A fundamental aspect of all effective RTI programs is the use of assessment data to make instructional decisions. Pennsylvania has incorporated this function into RtII through its training of data analysis teams (DATs). School teams are trained to analyze the results of available data (including state test results, universal screening, and progress monitoring) to plan instruction, assign students to interventions, and appraise the student’s RTI. Drawing on the work of Kovaleski and Pedersen (2008), Tier 1 grade-level teams are trained to analyze data to maximize their use of core curricula, identify effective instructional practices, and plan for differentiation based on group data. Teams use assessment data to identify students for interventions at Tier 2 and Tier 3, designing instructional groups based on students’ identified instructional needs. Increasingly, school teams are using drill-down assessments (CORE Multiple Measures) to identify students’ skills more precisely. In addition to information on the PaTTAN website, information about the functioning of DATs, including a team script and a data recording form, are available on the website of the RTI Action Network.


    In addition to core instruction, the heart of the RTII process is the provision of increasingly intense interventions for students who fail to display proficiency in basic skills. Pennsylvania uses a “standard-protocol” model to deliver interventions. In the standard-protocol model, students are grouped for intervention based on common needs (e.g., phonemic awareness, comprehension) and provided with intervention packets (which are often commercial products), that are precisely matched to those needs and that have been supported through scientific research. Typically, these interventions are manualized to maximize treatment fidelity. Interventions are delivered as supplements to the core instructional program, typically in blocks of time that school districts have alternately called “tier time,” “power hour,” “what I need (WIN) time,” and other descriptors. Schools implementing RtII need to work hard on making scheduling arrangements so that sufficient time for intervention is provided. Interventions in Tier 3 are typically more intense than those in Tier 2 and feature increased time (duration) and frequency per week. Data teams often utilize drill-down assessments to further customize interventions at Tier 3.

    Progress Monitoring


    Training in progress monitoring has been undertaken in Pennsylvania for many years. Schools implementing RtII receive extensive training in procedures for conducting regular assessments of student progress to evaluate intervention effectiveness and to make decisions about movement across tiers. In addition to graphing data, training is provided in determining a student’s rate of improvement (ROI), a mathematical calculation of growth in skills per week that can be compared to ROIs of typical students. Rate of Improvement is a useful website that has been designed and maintained by three Pennsylvania school psychologists for calculating ROI. Assessing Treatment Fidelity

    An important part of assessing a student’s RTI is ensuring that the interventions were implemented with a high degree of fidelity (also known as treatment integrity). Using RTI for important instructional decisions requires that educators assess and document that the intervention was delivered according to parameters set by the developers. Currently, assessment of intervention fidelity is accomplished by the completion of fidelity checklists during observations of instruction and interventions. Fidelity checks are typically done by principals and other supervisory personnel.

    Related Training

    School teams implementing RtII also receive extensive training on Schoolwide Positive Behavior Supports and assessment and interventions for students who have limited English proficiency. PaTTAN has also developed an extensive training initiative for implementation of RtII in secondary schools. Further information on these initiatives is available on the PaTTAN website.


    Kovaleski, J. F., & Pedersen, J. A. (2008). Best practices in data-analysis teaming. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology V (pp. 115–129). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
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