Smart RTI: A Next-Generation Approach to Multilevel Prevention

By Fuchs, Douglas; Fuchs, Lynn S. et al. | Exceptional Children, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Smart RTI: A Next-Generation Approach to Multilevel Prevention


Fuchs, Douglas, Fuchs, Lynn S., Compton, Donald L., Exceptional Children


The 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA, 2004) described and expressed a subtle preference for what was then a new and untested method of identifying students with learning disabilities. Specifically, the reauthorization encouraged use of a child's response to evidence-based instruction as a formal part of the disability identification process. This new method was called "responsiveness to intervention," or RTI. Since 2004, there has been much debate about whether and how to combine RTI with a multidisciplinary evaluation of a learner's strengths and weaknesses to determine disability status and special education eligibility (cf. The Consortium for Evidence-Based Early Intervention Practices, 2010; Learning Disabilities Association, 2010; National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 2005).

RTI has also moved to the center of ongoing discussion about educational reform. For many, it represents a fundamental rethinking and reshaping of general education into a multilevel system oriented toward early intervention and prevention (e.g., National Association of State Directors of Special Education & Council of Administrators of Special Education, 2006). Partly because its procedures were underspecified in the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA, RTI is currently implemented in numerous ways (e.g., Berkeley, Bender, Peaster, & Saunders, 2009; Jenkins, Schiller, Blackorby, Thayer, & Tilly, 2011). It can include one tier or as many as six or seven tiers. Tiers designated by the same number may represent different services in different schools. In School A, for example, Tier 2 may involve peer tutoring in the mainstream classroom; in School B, it signifies adult-led, small-group tutoring in the auxiliary gym. Varying criteria define "responsiveness"; varying measures index student performance (cf. D. Fuchs, Fuchs, & Compton, 2004). Similar inconsistency extends to the role of special education. In Jenkins et al.'s survey of RTI-implementing teachers and administrators in 62 schools across 17 states, 12 separate approaches were described for serving students with individualized education programs (IEPs) in reading, reflecting disparate views about whether special education should exist within or outside RTI frameworks, and what services it should provide.

One constant among the many variants of RTI is that, as an early intervention and prevention system, it is costly in time and resources. It requires assessments and interventions that educators rarely conducted a decade ago. Moreover, because of its relative newness, there are serious inefficiencies in its application. This article offers research-backed guidance for designing more effective and efficient (next generation, if you will) multilevel prevention--an approach we call, Smart RTI. We use the term to evoke such recent and popular innovations as smart houses, smart cars, and smart phones. Smart houses use highly advanced and automated systems for lighting, temperature control, multimedia, and window and door operations. Smart cars are defined in part by information-oriented enhancements such as GPS navigation, reverse sensing systems, and night vision. Smart phones can include features found on a personal digital assistant or computer such as the ability to send and receive e-mail and edit documents. Each of these technologies reflects outside-the-box thinking that helps us become more effective and efficient. Put differently, although the inventors of these hi-tech homes, cars, and phones use "smart" to describe their products, the term also reflects their intent to make all of us--the users--smarter.

Our description of Smart RTI will not sizzle and dazzle as advertisements for smart phones do. We use plainer language to suggest a modest redesign of multilevel prevention systems to make users smarter and to help them make more efficient use of resources and promote school success among more of their students. …

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