Why RTI Fails for Reading

Let’s start with a clarification on this title. Response to intervention (RTI) doesn’t always fail, actually, it usually succeeds. But when it fails, this is why:

  • We use it as a tool, or a set of tools instead of a system.
  • We use it as a roadway to process student evaluation instead of a system for success.
  • It’s just a program we “put kids on”.

Back in 2005, I was teaching 4th grade and an incredible principal who led an exemplary school trusted me to create a tech-based solution to the problem of documenting reading interventions (this was at the beginnings of Google Forms, so solutions were scant).

Unfortunately, this solution became the main touchstone between teachers and “RTI”. Thus, RTI became synonymous with documentation.

I bring this story up because most schools’ RTI journey evolves in a similar fashion:

  1. We’re doing RTI.
  2. We need to keep track of the interventions.
  3. Here’s a form for teachers.
  4. Students are still struggling, let’s meet.
  5. Teachers, bring your forms.
  6. Let’s try something different
  7. Move to formal evaluation.

I can guarantee McDonald’s doesn’t create consistent results this way. Ever had a batch of burnt fries at McDonald’s? Me neither.

Starbucks doesn’t shoot in the dark when their baristas create that totally customized Iced Low-fat Latte with double espresso and a shot of hazelnut. No, they can customize and get it right with a surprising degree of consistency…and better quality than Mickey D’s too (personal opinion).

That’s to say, RTI fails to create the impact on learning that it could when we use it as a tool for guess and check.

Guess and check only works on math problems because there are four answer choices. In learning to read, there are innumerable choices, and that’s where a systems approach works best…just like Starbucks or McDonald’s.

More on that in the next post.