Special Education

Minimum Requirements of a Response to Intervention Program (RtI)

V. Application of Student Information to Make Educational Decisions

A school district's process to determine if a student responds to scientific, research-based instruction shall include the application of information about the student’s response to intervention to make educational decisions about changes in goals, instruction and/or services and the decision to make a referral for special education programs and/or services. [8NYCRR §100.2(ii)(1)(v)]

Decision-Making Models

Initial screening and progress monitoring data inform decisions about the level and type of interventions needed to help individual students make progress.  Schools typically implement small group interventions using either a standard-protocol or a problem-solving model or a combination of the two – hybrid.  Both models share similar attributes: multi-tiered approach, universal screening, progress monitoring to determine treatment effect, and a team structure to organize and analyze student performance using progress monitoring data.  The models differ in terms of attention to “level of individualization and depth of problem-analysis that occurs prior to the selection, design and implementation of an intervention.” (Christ, Burns, & Ysseldyke, 2005, p. 2)

Standard Protocol Model

A standard protocol model involves the provision of a research-validated intervention for a specific amount of time, duration and frequency (minutes per day, days per week, and number of weeks) with small groups of students having similar needs.  A primary feature of the standard protocol model involves standardized instruction or intervention with minimal analysis of skill deficits. The intervention has a set of well-defined steps or procedures, which when implemented appropriately or as intended, increase the probability of producing positive outcomes for students.  Intervention groups are formed by identifying the general nature of the deficit and matching it to a prescribed treatment or protocol.  (For example, the RtI decision-making team would analyze screening data and identify which students required additional instruction in decoding.  These students would receive an intervention using a standardized set of procedures or intervention program that focuses exclusively on decoding.)  

Specifics as to who provides the instruction, frequency and duration of the intervention, the materials used and frequency of progress monitoring are determined in a standard protocol model and this standardized, scripted intervention protocol is applied consistently to all students who require the same intervention in decoding skills. (For example. supplemental small group explicit reading instruction targeting decoding skills for 30 minutes, three times per week for eight weeks, provided by the reading teacher with progress monitoring once a week.) Because the procedures within a standard protocol model are clear and specific, treatment fidelity is relatively easy to check.  Any deviation from the implementation procedures of standard protocol compromises the integrity of the intervention and may result in less than optimal results.


In contrast, the problem solving model involves an in depth analysis of skill deficits and instructional and environmental variables that compromise a student’s reading performance (Shapiro, 2009).  Information obtained from the examination of instructional variables are used to identify subskill deficits and inform targeted interventions.  Common to RtI-PS models is a 4-step process that involves the following steps:

  1. Conceptualize the problem (Is there a problem?  What is it?)
  2. Examine variables that may be influencing the problem (Why is it happening?)
  3. Deliver targeted or individualized interventions (What shall we do about it?)
  4. Evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention (Did the intervention work?)

Many schools have developed instructional support teams (IST) or student study teams to assist teachers in providing supports and accommodations for students who are having difficulties in the core curriculum.  These teams provide suggestions to the teacher for possible interventions for struggling students.  The existence of such a team can provide the beginning structure of the instructional decision-making team that is a component of an RtI process. Consistent with the following RtI principles, the team would utilize:

  • a prescribed research-based intervention protocol;
  • progress monitoring to guide instruction; and
  • a standard format for data gathering and presentation when reporting the impact of an intervention rather than the use of anecdotal information.

Decision-making Model Combined

Both problem solving and a standard protocol can be used within the same RtI process or framework (considered a hybrid approach).  For example, a standard protocol may be best suited for Tier 2 interventions that address larger numbers of students while the problem-solving method may be more appropriate for Tier 3 students who may need more specific interventions to address their individual needs.  In addition, problem solving may be a better choice for students at Tier 3 who have already demonstrated a lack of response to Tier 2 intervention and require a more targeted and individualized intervention.

Data-Based Decision-Making

Sufficient time is needed to determine if the intervention is going to work.  However, except with standard protocol procedures, the frequency, duration and intensity of interventions should be based upon student performance data, not a specified period of time.  Effective data-based decision making includes:

  • regular review of data based on intensity of student needs (students with more intense needs or greater gaps in achievement may need to be monitored more frequently);
  • sufficient number of data points collected over a specific period of time (a minimum number of  six to eight data points is needed to determine responsiveness of the student);
  • analysis of learning trajectory or trends compared against trajectory or trends that will result in grade appropriate achievement;
  • graphic representation of data to allow for visual analysis of trends; and
  • a discussion involving treatment fidelity; that is, how closely the specific steps or procedures within an intervention was delivered the way it was intended (treatment fidelity). 

Student-specific factors should be considered when applying  decision rules to the design of interventions for individual students, including but not limited to:

  • Age of student
  • Frequency of intervention
  • Extent of gap in achievement
  • Trend data including variability and level of data
  • Focus of intervention

Decision Rules

Decision rules or criteria for decision making need to be created prior to implementation of the intervention to determine when:

  • students are not responding adequately to instruction and need supplemental intervention;
  • students are responding adequately to instruction and no longer need supplemental intervention;
  • an intervention may need to be changed; and/or
  • a student may need a referral for special education services to determine if a student’s learning difficulty is the result of a disability.

If a student has not made adequate progress in attaining grade-level standards after an appropriate period of time when provided with instruction utilized in an RtI framework, the school district must make a referral and promptly request parental consent to evaluate the student to determine if the student needs special education services and programs. Factors to consider in determining whether an individual student has made adequate or sufficient progress over an appropriate period of time are provided below and on pages 23-24.

Samples of School-Wide Decision-Rules

The following are some examples of decision rules for determining which students are “at risk” and use of data to determine if the student is responding to instruction.  Each school must select the decision rules it will apply.

  • 80 percent decision rule: If less than 80 percent of all students are meeting benchmarks, review of core curriculum may be needed. (Tier 1)
  • 20 Percent Decision Rule:  Students below the 20th percentile in academic skills are placed in small group instruction. (Tier 2)
  • Change Small Group or Individual Instruction Rule: When progress monitoring data are below the aim line3on three consecutive days or when six or more data points produce a flat or decreasing trend line, school staff should change or intensify the intervention.
  • Individualized Instruction Rule: Individual instruction begins when a student fails to progress after two Tier 2 interventions. (Tier 3)

Adapted and reprinted with permission from Johnson, E., Mellard, D.F., Fuchs, D., & McKnight, M.A. (2006, August).  Responsiveness to Intervention (RtI):  How to do it (NRCLD).

Quality Indicators for Data-Based Decision Making

  • Criteria are established to determine which students will be identified as “at risk” based upon screening.
  • Progress monitoring tools are identified indicating what skills will be measured and what types of data will be collected.
  • How long an intervention should be provided (number of data points needed) is determined before a decision is made about whether the student has or has not responded.
  • Number of data points needed to determine responsiveness to instruction is selected.
  • Frequency of data collection is determined for each tier.
  • The minimum level of progress needed that would signify the student’s responsiveness to intervention is determined.
  • Criteria or decision rules that determine a student’s movement between levels of intervention are determined.
  • The district has established criteria to determine if a student is making sufficient progress over an appropriate period of time before a referral for a special education evaluation is made.
  • Determinations are made as to when and what specific data and information will be provided to student’s parents.

3 An aim line is the path to move a student from her current, baseline level of performance, to the performance criterion, within a designated time period.

Last Updated: November 9, 2010