Response to Intervention: The Bad

In the last post, I briefly listed the advantages of Response to Intervention (RTI) in special education assessment for services. Those advantages include the ability to individualize assessment, the flexibility of assessment length and setting, and not having to deal with standardized scores and procedures. However, RTI is not perfect. There are just as many criticisms for RTI as there are praises. Here are a few of the major criticisms for using RTI versus another method.

Standards (and a lack thereof)

I am not talking about standard scores; rather, I am speaking to how school districts operationally define the RTI process. Some allow this process to flexible, while others enact strict procedures. For example, some school districts place a mandatory amount of interventions that must be tried. Other school districts require that each intervention last a certain number of weeks, or that each intervention must have a certain number of data points. While three interventions with at least three data points each is widely considered the minimum, the practice of requiring five interventions with five to ten data points violates the individualized and flexible strengths of RTI. No official prescribed set of practices exist for RTI. This lack of standard practices for RTI often leads to the assessment process taking six months or longer when services could have been in place much earlier.

Questionable IDEA Practices

A common trend is to use RTI to determine if special education testing is needed. Many states allow RTI to also be used as the evaluation method for establishing eligibility criteria for specific learning disability. A problem arises, then, when a school uses RTI to determine if special education testing is needed and then uses that same RTI data to show the student meets eligibility criteria. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires written permission to test before special education testing can occur. No RTI data obtained prior to written permission to test can be used to show eligibility criteria. Now, I will say that the courts have not yet ruled on this; however, I do believe that it is currently an unethical practice.

Fidelity and Confidence in Interventions

There is no possible way to test out every intervention. Professionals must, therefore, pick what they believe are a few of the best for answering the referral question. The issue here is how confident is the professional that they chose correctly? This same issue if found in all of the different assessment modalities. With RTI, there is the added issue of intervention fidelity. A WISC-V or WJ-IV has set procedures for every test; from how materials are presented, what you say, and how you score (sometimes with frequent reminders on the easel or scoring booklet). Interventions have fidelity components as well. However, many professionals are not aware of or seasoned in using the selected interventions with fidelity. When an intervention is not used with fidelity, it is difficult to say that the child needs special education testing or meets criteria; it may just be that the professional didn’t do the intervention right.


There are probably other downsides to using RTI. This was a small list of the negatives. Stay tuned for part three where I state my professional stance on RTI and how and when to use it.


Photo by Valeer Vandenbosch from

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