Evaluation of Response to Intervention (RtI) Practices for Elementary School Reading

Young girl looks at books in a library
By Rekha Balu, Pei Zhu, Fred Doolittle, Ellen Schiller, Joseph Jenkins, Russell Gersten

The 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) allows states and school districts to use a portion of federal special education funds to provide coordinated early intervening services to students at risk of reading failure or other academic or behavioral problems. One of the primary approaches that has emerged is called “Response to Intervention” (RtI). In the context of this report, RtI incorporates a range of assessment, instruction, and intervention principles, including (1) offering multiple tiers of support for students, depending on the level of reading difficulty they may be experiencing; (2) allocating staff to provide that tiered support to students; and (3) collecting and using data to make instructional and intervention decisions for students throughout the school year.

This study describes these RtI practices and compares their prevalence between two different samples: a reference sample of schools representative of elementary schools in the 13 states included in the evaluation and an impact sample of 146 elementary schools with three or more years of implementing RtI approaches in reading. In the impact sample, the study research team compared the intensity of services provided to reading groups at different reading levels to measure the extent to which support is more intense for students reading below grade level. For the impact analysis, the study research team estimated effects of assignment to reading interventions for students at the margins of eligibility for those services who read below grade level.

This report provides new information on the prevalence of RtI practices in elementary schools, illustrates the implementation of RtI practices for groups of students at different reading levels, and provides evidence on effects of one key element of RtI: assigning students to receive reading intervention services. The findings show, for the 2011-2012 school year, that:

  • A majority of schools in the 13-state reference sample (56 percent) reported full implementation of the RtI framework, while a higher proportion of impact sample schools (86 percent) in those states reported full implementation.
  • Schools in the impact sample adjusted reading services to provide more support to students reading below grade-level standards than to those at or above the standards.
  • For those students just below the school-determined eligibility cut point in Grade 1, assignment to receive reading interventions did not improve reading outcomes; it produced negative impacts.


Document Details

Publication Type
November 2015
Balu, Rekha, Pei Zhu, Fred Doolittle, Ellen Schiller, Joseph Jenkins, and Russell Gersten. 2015. Evaluation of Response to Intervention (RtI) Practices for Elementary School Reading. New York: MDRC.