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New thinking about RTI within the MTSS framework

By Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President, National Education Officer; Laurie Borkon, Vice President of Educational Partnerships; & Eric Stickney, Senior Director of Educational Research


The positive impact of Response to Intervention (RTI) over the past 40 years, plus the recent emphasis on social-emotional aspects of learning, has made it possible to address the academic, social, emotional, and developmental needs of all learners by aligning empirical data, resources, and support. In other words, Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) works. Within the MTSS model, RTI continues to capture the best use of data-fueled insights to support learners. The pillars of RTI—universal screening, proven interventions, and monitoring progress toward goals—remain constant. In this blog post, we explore fresh ways to think about screening and progress monitoring.

Screening as a barometer

Traditionally, RTI screening data were primarily used as one of multiple measures to identify students in need of additional support. Screening operated somewhat like radar, pinpointing each student’s distance from a location—in this case, the benchmark.

What if, instead, we thought about screening as a barometer? Just as a barometer measures the force exerted by the atmosphere, universal screening measures the pressure exerted on core instruction by the atmosphere surrounding the benchmark. If the benchmark lacks rigor, we may fail to identify students on the cusp of challenge; too rigorous, we may lack resources to support all identified students. As VanDerHeyden et. al. (2016) write, “trying to provide intervention to more than 20 percent of students rapidly overwhelms the system’s resources,” increasing the pressure on core instruction.

Educators using Renaissance Star 360® for screening can, and often do, customize the benchmark to reflect the districts’ goals. The three images displayed below reflect data from the same screening event. Note that the shape of the data is identical in all three screening reports. The first two reports reflect benchmarks at the 40th and 50th PR. The third report reflects student data within the atmosphere of the proficiency benchmark for the state summative exam.



At a recent meeting focused on Star screening data, Richard Slade, Head Teacher for Plumcroft Primary School in the UK, shared the concept of “Write Once Read Many” (WORM). Write once—generate data via screening. Read many—use screening data for multiple purposes. Think about viewing data through both the RTI and state proficiency lenses. For the purposes of informing intervention decisions, view the data via an established, consistent benchmark. This helps determine how many students you can comfortably serve in Tiers 2 and 3. Then, view the data again through the state proficiency lens as a barometer to check the strength of core instruction and its impact on each student.

If working with state proficiency, keep in mind that despite the efforts of the two assessment consortia, proficiency cut scores vary significantly from state to state, and even among assessed grade levels within a state. It is not uncommon to see proficiency around the 80th PR, which raises questions about the wisdom of setting such a high standard to inform intervention decisions. “Read many” with data reported in relation to the state proficiency benchmark is perhaps most effective in informing core instructional decisions.

Sound goals and progress monitoring

“Intervening without consideration for what a student specifically needs is like choosing an antibiotic without identifying the bacteria causing an infection,” VanDerHeyden et. al. (2016) write. Star screening data highlights the potential need for intervention and provides insights to specify what that student must gain during intervention.

Keep in mind that goal setting is about the development of the student and the effectiveness of the intervention. Essentially, you set a goal for the student and for the intervention. Goals need adequate time and enough test administrations to ensure that you make a sound decision. Traditionally, Tier 2 interventions were delivered and decisions made about their effectiveness in 6–8 weeks, but there is little empirical evidence to support that practice (Shapiro, 2013).

Psychometrically, we need to make sure we have allowed time for the student to develop, and assessed often enough, over a long enough period, to make progress-monitoring decisions with confidence. These “long enough periods” are determined by grade spans, for example:

  • In the primary grades, educators should allow a minimum duration of time in intervention and progress monitoring of 8–12 weeks.

  • For intermediate grades (3rd–5th), allow 12–18 weeks at a minimum.

  • At the secondary level (6th–high school), a minimum of 18+ weeks could be required to observe and understand lasting changes in academic progress.

During the weeks of intervention, Star 360 is administered at least five times to reach psychometrically sound progress monitoring decisions. The aim is to balance the need for quality data with a need to protect instructional time and make the right decision about the student.

Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President, National Education Officer
Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President, National Education Officer
Jan Bryan has more than 20 years of classroom and university teaching experience. Her work at Renaissance focuses on formative assessment, exploring data in a growth mindset, and literacy development.


  1. Renee Graham says:

    My district customizes the benchmark to reflect the goals of the district.

  2. Jody Steinhaus says:

    Being intentional with our instruction is imperative. Knowing the children, building on their strenghts, and guiding them in areas of need is essential to their success. The AR data will help with this process.

  3. P R says:

    My district sets the mastery goals for each grade level . Then, the teachers are to use this data from progess assessments to facilitate instruction that should increase student growth.

  4. Rita Platt says:

    THIS: “Intervening without consideration for what a student specifically needs is like choosing an antibiotic without identifying the bacteria causing an infection,” VanDerHeyden, et. al. (2016). AMEN!

    • Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President, National Education Officer Jan Bryan, Ed.D., Vice President, National Education Officer says:

      Isn’t it a great quote? Glad you enjoyed the read.

  5. Laura Q says:

    Great this data report is used frequently at my school for various reasons.

  6. Carly says:

    This past year my students were constantly pulled out. Those who received T2 interventions were being tested every 10 days. One thing learned was that the interventions weren’t making the gains hoped for. This year we’ve been told core time will be protected and T2 interventions will be expected by the classroom teacher. I’m excited about Ren’s new approach to data, which should help me meet my students’ needs as well as administrations expectations!

  7. Mary Suppe says:

    “Long enough” periods very important for progress monitoring.

  8. Heidi says:

    Definitely going to share this article.

  9. Alecia walkuski says:

    Short, pointed assessments help preserve instructional time. I think it is important to periodically to ensure that instruction is working for the student. STAR, which usually only takes 20 minutes, is a great tool; as is a more specific STAR custom assessment.

  10. David Keech says:

    Implementation of interventions with specific purposes and goals is obviously best practice, and frankly, the only way intervention works. Often lost in the shuffle, however, is the importance of teacher decisions in what students need best. Quality teachers have always, and always will be, what students need most.

  11. Ruth Edge says:

    Our district focused on pull outs and hired intervention teachers to try to reach our lowest students. With core instruction being interrupted for all pull outs and intervention teaching being part of the pull outs, our students were the lowest performing group that has come through in years. This pull out approach to intervention did not reach our students effectively as they had predicted. We sent the most ill-prepared students on to the next grade. I hope the lesson was learned and we won’t try this again. I look forward to having a protected reading block this fall and will implement what I am learning through Renaissance to set goals for my students.

  12. Angela says:

    I’m not sure I agree with the length of time the interventions were stated…if progress monitoring is done on a regular basis, the it will be clear when the intervention is working…sometimes all an intervention needs is a “reminder” which may show results quicker.

  13. Lloyd Goldberg says:

    The issue at my school is we use several benchmarks for reading, but if the student falls below the 25th percentile for any other be of them they are placed in rti regardless of their success on the others or overall ability.

  14. Lisa Capon says:

    Great information

  15. Katherine Williams says:

    We currently use AR reports for RTI reporting. I love how accessible they are and how they show how our students are faring without a great amount of assessment effort on the part of the teacher.

  16. Brittany Downs says:

    I think that progress monitoring should be set as mentioned above. I have worked in districts where the students are progress monitored using STAR weekly or every other week.

  17. Dvawn Maza says:

    Good read

  18. Meredith Sanders says:

    This is so true…”Keep in mind that goal setting is about the development of the student and the effectiveness of the intervention. Essentially, you set a goal for the student and for the intervention. Goals need adequate time and enough test administrations to ensure that you make a sound decision.”
    Some goals may take longer to reach than others. The point is we help them reach the goal that has been set.

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