RTI Teams: FAQs

Students at any grade level can sometimes experience significant problems that threaten to derail their progress and even lead to their eventual dropping out of school. Students in crisis are not an anomaly: It is estimated that—in a typical school--perhaps as many as 5% of individuals in a general school population may require intensive RTI intervention supports each year (Christ, 2008).


A school’s RTI Problem-Solving Team (or ‘RTI Team’) is the vehicle for assembling customized intervention plans for those students who display the most intensive and serious problems. The RTI Team is composed of a multidisciplinary group of educators and follows a research-validated structured approach known as the ‘problem-solving model’ (Bergan, 1995) to understand and analyze student challenges. Distilled to its essence, the problem-solving model requires that a consultant (in this case, the entire RTI Team) and referring teacher(s) work together to (1) identify the student problem in specific, measureable, observable terms; (2) analyze the student problem to uncover underlying functions or reasons to explain why the problem is occurring; (3) implement an evidence-based intervention plan whose elements are logically selected to assist the student; and (4) evaluate on an ongoing basis to determine if the plan does in fact help the student to reach academic or behavioral goals. Here are some questions that schools often ask about RTI Problem-Solving Teams:


  • When should the RTI Team decide to accept student referrals from classroom teachers? One source of referrals to the RTI Team is the general-education teacher. A basic expectation of RTI is that classroom/content-area teachers will serve as RTI ‘first responders’ who can proactively identify students with emerging academic or behavioral concerns, provide reasonable individualized (Tier 1) intervention support, and document those classroom intervention efforts. The RTI Team should develop guidelines for classroom teachers about when a struggling student who has not responded to Tier 1 instruction/interventions should be considered for referral to the RTI Team. Such guidelines would include a standard form that teachers would use to document their Tier 1 intervention efforts, as well as a minimum timespan that Tier 1 interventions would be tried (e.g., 4 to 6 instructional weeks) before an RTI Team referral is considered. RTI Teams should also ensure that teachers receive the support necessary to implement Tier 1 interventions, including having access to a range of evidence-based intervention ideas, as well as coaches and consultants on staff that can help teachers to select appropriate interventions and use them correctly.
  • How many intervention plans should the RTI Team implement before deciding that a student has failed to adequately respond to general-education interventions? Each school district must develop its own decision rules for judging when a series of general-education intervention plans have failed to work and for deciding that a student is not responding adequately to intervention. The foundation assumption of RTI is that students who begin to experience academic or behavioral problems are typical and that it is the school’s responsibility to find strategies will allow those students to experience success. A district’s RTI decision rules for a referral to special education should require evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that a student is not responding to general-education interventions. For many districts, these decision rules require that at least 3 separate intervention plans be attempted—with each intervention plan being tried for at least 6 to 8 instructional weeks—before the school can adequately judge whether a given student has or has not responded to intervention.
  • How can the RTI Team convey the message to faculty and parents that it is not simply a preliminary step to a special education referral? As schools make the transition to the RTI model, teachers and parents may at first be reluctant to embrace the focus of RTI on supporting struggling students in the general-education setting. The most effective means for the RTI Team to convince teachers and parents that it is not a conduit for special education referrals is by creating strong and useful intervention plans that are effective in general education classrooms. Schools may also consider requiring that any student who is referred for a special education evaluation based on a parent request is simultaneously referred to the building’s RTI Team. This ‘fast track’ RTI Team referral process for any parent-initiated referrals to special education reinforces the message that information about students’ response to intervention in the general-education setting is critical in determining their possible special education status.  

For a more in-depth review of RTI Teams, review the attachment Frequently Asked Questions About...RTI Problem-Solving Teams that appears at the bottom of the page.


  • Bergan, J. R. (1995). Evolution of a problem-solving model of consultation. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 6(2), 111-123.
  • Christ, T. (2008). Best practices in problem analysis. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology V (pp. 159-176). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.