RTI: A Tool for Early Identification of LD

By Eve Kessler, Esq.

Response to Intervention (RTI) is an assessment tool aimed at early identification of children with learning issues. Based on the notion that students who receive intensive, effective interventions at the earliest point possible are most likely to succeed, RTI is being heralded as a potential game-changer for Special Ed.

Before RTI, children with learning disabilities qualified for services based upon a discrepancy model: a child with average or above average intelligence had to perform two years below grade level in order to establish a discrepancy between intelligence and achievement. This wait-to-fail approach discouraged early identification and prevention, which are the most successful interventions for children with reading and other learning disabilities.

Only by employing individual, comprehensive assessments can students with true learning disabilities be distinguished from those students whose learning difficulties stem from other causes.


RTI is an individualized, comprehensive assessment and intervention process that utilizes a problem-solving framework to identify and address academic difficulties through effective, research-based instruction.

The goal of RTI is to separate children with true learning disabilities from those who perform poorly as a result of poor instruction.


In the RTI process, students who show signs of learning difficulties are provided with a series of increasingly intensive and individualized instruction. The research-based intervention process is designed and delivered by general education staff in collaboration with special educators and school psychologists and includes systematic monitoring of the student’s progress.

If a child does not respond to instruction that is effective for the majority of children (not responsive to a series of interventions—RTI) that child is considered to have a learning disability and to be in need of Special Education services.

In order for RTI to be successful, all students must receive high-quality, research-based instruction in the general education environment. The model re-orients service delivery to provide early intervention—particularly valuable in the area of early reading acquisition, where there is a wealth of research and interventions based on that research.

Eve Kessler, Esq., a criminal appellate attorney with The Legal Aid Society, NYC, is co-founder and President of SPED*NET, Special Education Network of Wilton, Ltd., www.spednetwilton.org, and a Contributing Editor of Smart Kids.