By Sally Absher


Knox County high school students returned to school this fall to find their schedule has been revised to accommodate something called “RTI2.” This year marks the final phase of the implementation of RTI, the education framework used across the country to identify students’ academic needs early in their educational career.

In Tennessee, this framework is known as Response to Instruction and Intervention, or “RTI2.” The key here is the two I’s…Instruction and Intervention.

The Tennessee State Board of Education adopted RTI in 2013, and mandated that districts implement it beginning in the summer of 2014. Districts implemented RTI2 at the elementary school level in 2014-2015, followed by implementation in middle schools in 2015-2016, and high schools in the current 2016-2017 school year.

According to the RTI Action Network, the basis of RTI is supposed to be high-quality instruction and “universal screening” of all children in the general education classroom, through quick tests of specific skills.

Students who struggle to complete the tasks required in the screener are supposed to be provided with interventions at increasing levels of intensity, depending on their needs, in addition to receiving grade level instruction. If the student doesn’t respond to the interventions, he or she is referred to special education.

So how does RTI2 work, and what does it mean for your child?

Jennifer Nagel, Knox County parent and educational advocate for children with dyslexia, provided the following explanation.

“Tennessee uses a three-tier RTI2 system. I want to stress that ALL students within public schools in TN are in RTI2. This is where the first “I” comes in to play: Instruction.

She adds that most students are in Tier 1, which would be considered general education classes. There is no intervention for students in Tier 1 – they may be involved in enrichment activities in grades K-8 or take additional elective classes in high school. Tier 2 is for the students who fall below the 25th percentile and Tier 3 is for the students who fall below the 10th percentile based on a universal screener and also other data, such as teacher input.

According to the RTI2 instruction manual provided by the state, RTI2 is the sole criteria by which a student may be identified as having a Specific Learning Disability (SLD) in the state of Tennessee as of July 1, 2014.

Nagel explains, “RTI2 is used to determine whether a student has a SLD in Basic Reading Skills, Reading Comprehension, Reading Fluency, Mathematics Calculation, Mathematics Problem-Solving or Written Expression. (A few other areas may be added in the future, like behavioral concerns and listening comprehension).”

What should you, as a parent, know if your child is in Tier 2 or 3? First of all, according to Nagel, you should know that your child is indeed within one of those two tiers. A letter will be sent home, and you should also be receiving a progress report every 4.5 weeks, with every report card. Accompanying the progress report should be your child’s progress monitoring data.

Monitoring data is collected at different intervals, depending on whether the student is in Tier 2 or 3. This data collection does not take long – for example, in elementary school the reading assessments can last one minute, and the math assessments can take up to 10 minutes. The progress monitoring data charts can be difficult to understand at first, but, Nagel stresses, parents have every right to ask questions.

Nagel has concerns about the universal screener being used in KCS elementary and middle schools, saying she doesn’t believe the STAR Renaissance screener digs deep enough. It has no writing component, so does not test written expression, and isn’t catching spelling deficiencies. Apparently, KCS agrees and is looking to replace STAR. Nagel said AIMSweb, which is being used in high schools and is more skills based, would be a better screening assessment for younger students as well.

Implementation of RTI2 in elementary schools across Knox County is fairly uniform, since most schools have similar schedules and set ups. Tier 2 lasts approximately 30 minutes and Tier 3 approximately 45 minutes each day.

Middle and high school have more variability due to the different schedules used at different schools. For example, many high schools on block scheduling are utilizing a fifth “skinny” block of 45 minutes each day for RTI2, by reducing the four -90 minute blocks to 80 minutes each and reducing the amount of time between classes by several minutes. West High School’s blocks 1, 3, and 4 meet every other day and last 90 minutes each. Block 2 is divided into two 45-minute “skinny” blocks to accommodate RTI2 and/or elective class(es) meeting every day.

It will be interesting to see what impact the current RTI2 mandate (30 to 45 minutes per day in grades K-12), in addition to the newly passed physical activity requirements (225 minutes per week for grades K-1; 160 minutes per week for grades 2 -6; and 90 minutes per week from grades 8-12) has on the time available for actual classroom instruction and learning. Students in grades 9-12 lose about 18% of their core subject classroom instruction time to these mandates.

Nagel is coordinating with Kerry Crook, KCS RTI Program Facilitator, to schedule two parent information nights in September – one for elementary school and another for Middle/High school. She hopes to provide additional information about what RTI2 is and how and why Tennessee is using it, what the reports that should be coming home look like and how to read them, and what happens if your child is not making progress to “close the gap” within their assigned Tier.

In the meantime, Nagel highly recommends that parents ask your child’s teacher, principal or school RTI2 representative any school-specific questions you may have. You can also contact her at