Clayton Early Learning

Early Childhood Response to Intervention- Best Practices in an Emerging Field

Nathan Pope

Many readers may have heard of the concept Response to Intervention (RTI), but may not know what it looks like in practice, or that RTI can be applied to Pre-K settings.  This blog is an introduction to RTI, and the goal is for educators and administrators to recognize the need and value in implementing or expanding an effective RTI program in their preschools.  Future articles in this series will address what parents need to know about RTI, emerging RTI models, and effective interventions.


What is RTI?

RTI is a recognized evidence-based practice to improve educational outcomes for all children regardless of whether they are in general or special education.  In addition, federal and state accountability policies support the use of RTI in annual reporting of individual child progress (Head Start for School Readiness Act, 2007).  The RTI problem-solving model has been increasingly implemented in K-12 education since the late 1990s, and research suggests that an RTI approach can be beneficial in the years prior to kindergarten.

Why Do Schools Need RTI?

Many children enter preschool without having a strong foundation of language, early literacy, and socio-emotional regulation skills.  Do you have a child that is having trouble recognizing letters?  If so, implementing RTI could help children learn key skills.  Pre-K RTI provides an evidence-based practice for preventing or mitigating the occurrence of language, literacy, and academic learning difficulties or learning disabilities.  In schools where universal screening in key areas of academic and behavioral areas occurs, students who are falling behind are quickly identified and interventions are discussed, implemented, and monitored to see if the interventions help the student get back on a trajectory for success.

What does a RTI model look like?

RTI is a dynamic, multi-tier framework of support to provide differentiated instructional interventions for individual students based on their demonstrated need.  There is no universal model of RTI, but the common features of Pre-K RTI include:

  1. Providing all children research-based curriculum and instructional methods to reach the desired educational outcomes (Tier 1).
  2. Universal screening to identify children not learning as expected, and providing additional focused, intensive instruction and monitoring their progress more frequently (Tier 2).
  3. Providing additional support to students when Tier 2 instruction failed or who need even more intensive intervention (Tier 3).

At the state level, the Colorado RTI framework promotes high-quality research-based curriculum and interventions based on children’s academic and behavioral needs.

What can RTI look like at my Preschool?

Many preschools already have some of the components of RTI in place, but need to supplement their existing program and refine professional development in areas that need additional support.  For instance, if a preschool is already using a research-based core curriculum such as Teaching Strategies Gold, Tier 1 instruction will stay the same.  The universal screening measure will depend on what skills or behavior you want to evaluate.  Schools evaluating receptive vocabulary may want to use the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-4) or the Preschool Language Scale (PLS-5).  There are now several pre-k progress monitoring tools available for Tier 2 including the Early Communication Indicator (ECI) and the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS).  Tier 3 interventions include more frequent and intensive individualized interventions.  Under the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), children may be referred to see if they are a “child with a disability.”  RTI may not be used to delay or replace a full evaluation to determine if they are eligible for special education and related services.

Next Steps

Are you ready to implement or improve RTI practices at your preschool?  You can start by filling out a school-level RTI rubric.  Stay tuned for additional blogs on this critically important topic!

My Top 5 RTI Resources
  1. Colorado Department of Education RTI page:
  2. Colorado Response to Intervention: A Practitioner’s Guide to Implementation
  3. Roadmap to Pre-K RTI: Applying Response to Intervention in Preschool Settings
  4. The Response to Intervention (RTI) Approach in Early Childhood
  5. The RTI Action Network
Nathan Pope

About Nathan Pope

Nathan is a researcher and bilingual data collector on the Educare Learning Network Implementation Study and the HIPPY Evaluation Study. Prior to joining Clayton, he was a bilingual Spanish Elementary Teacher and Literacy Coach for 9 years. Nathan earned his M.A. in Educational Psychology with an emphasis in Research and Evaluation Methodology at the University of Colorado at Denver and he worked on research studies about assessment literacy and dual language learners. His B.A was in Economics and Spanish from Metropolitan State College of Denver.
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