RTI: Tier 1

“You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation. You must have a solid foundation if you’re going to have a strong superstructure.”
Gordon B. Hinckley

Teachers know that a strong foundation helps to create strong students. When skills are weak or missing, students struggle due to their fragile foundation.  Tier 1 of Response to Intervention (RTI) is the foundation of learning. Without a strong tier 1, we create students with weak foundational skills.

Tier 1 consists of high quality core instruction, screeners, and classroom based interventions.

High Quality Instruction:

Tier 1 focuses on HIGH QUALITY INSTRUCTION! This encompasses many aspects.

“High-quality instruction (curriculum, instruction and assessment) is:

The RTI Action Network states researched based high quality instruction “…. can be summarized as follows:

  1. Teach essential skills and strategies.
  2. Provide differentiated instruction based on assessment results and adapt instruction to meet students’ needs.
  3. Provide explicit and systematic instruction with lots of practice—with and without teacher support and feedback, and including cumulative practice over time.
  4. Provide opportunities to apply skills and strategies in reading and writing meaningful text with teacher support.
  5. Don’t just “cover” critical content; be sure students learn it—monitor student progress regularly and reteach as necessary” (Denton, nd).


Differentiation is a term used in both explanations of tier 1, but what is differentiation?

“Definition: To differentiate instruction is to recognize students’ varying background knowledge, readiness, language, preferences in learning and interests; and to react responsively. Differentiated instruction is a process to teaching and learning for students of differing abilities in the same class. The intent of differentiating instruction is to maximize each student’s growth and individual success by meeting each student where he or she is and assisting in the learning process.

Graphic organizer: Learning Cycle and Decision Factors Used in Planning and Implementing Differentiated Instruction

Figure 1. Learning Cycle and Decision Factors Used in Planning and Implementing Differentiated Instruction” (http://aim.cast.org/learn/historyarchive/backgroundpapers/differentiated_instruction_udl#.Um0MApHuUds).

Universal Design for Learning (UDL):

The Maine Department of Education believes that teachers should use “differentiated instruction practices built on UDL principles” (Response to Intervention Guidelines, 13).

CAST is a non-profit working to expand learning opportunities for all using Universal Design for Learning. They say that when teachers plan instruction they need to take into account three primary brain networks.


Image 1:  http://www.cast.org/udl/index.html

Tier 1 Interventions:

Tier 1 all starts with high quality instruction, but some RTI frameworks include classroom based interventions within that first tier. Students are identified for tier 1 interventions through universal screeners.  These measure monitor students within the core instruction.

Students identified through screeners will receive tier 1 classroom based interventions that are beyond the core instructional time. For example, if a district states that core literacy instruction occurs for 90 minutes, then literacy interventions will need to be implemented outside of that time.

The State of Maine Department of Education states that tier 2 (though some districts consider core instruction and classroom interventions tier 1) is “multi-tired interventions provided by the classroom teacher when teachers group student into homogenous groups for an intervention period , or provide the targeted instruction during a classroom small group instruction time.”  This intervention is monitored through monthly, or more frequent, progress monitoring. The progress monitoring will show progress over time or the need to adjust the intervention intensity or focus.

The following is a summary of the RTI tier 1 academic framework used in my school district:

– Tier 1 includes quality core instruction using the district’s curriculum and standards.

– Universal screeners administered to all students 3 times a year to identify those who may require additional support. These screeners also identifies skills to target with tier 1 interventions.

– Tier 1 interventions are delivered by the classroom teacher using researched-based interventions.

– Progress monitoring probes are administered every two weeks , or more frequently, for student receiving an intervention.

– Interventions are implemented with fidelity and consistency for at least 6 weeks.

– If progress of tier 1 intervention(s) are limited over the 6 weeks, then initiate a tier 2 referral (tier 2 referral is used to bring a student’s data and concerns to a team to evaluate for tier 2 interventions).

– If progress is made (met standard/goal) before the 6 weeks then end intervention.

– If progress is being made and student will met the standard/goal, continue with intervention or increase the intensity to match the student’s needs.

– Classroom based interventions can delivered in small group or to individual formats.

Above is just one example of how RTI is used to create a framework to fit the needs and resources of a district.

Tier 1, specifically high quality core instruction, is vital for ALL students. With strong differentiated core instruction we can ensure that the majority of students get their needs addressed. Therefore, as schools focus their teachers on the tiers of RTI, they MUST NOT forget tier 1 classroom core instruction.  All too often, it is evident when a school district focuses on a specific tier and looses sight of the others.


Denton, Carolyn A., RTI Action Network. University of Texas Health Science Center Houston. nd. Web. October 26, 2013.

Hall, T., Meyer, A., Strangman, N., National Center on Accessibility Instructional Materials. Differentiated Instruction and Implications for UDL Implementation. Nov. 2, 2009. Web. October 27, 2013.

“High Quality Instruction”. Wisconsin RTI Center. np. nd. Web. October 26, 2013.

“What is Universal Design for Learning?”. CAST. nd. Web. np. October 27, 2013.


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