Are you worried that your child isn't doing as well in school as he could be? Do you feel he needs a little extra support in the classroom, but doesn't need special education services? If so, you should talk to your school about what types of Response-to-Intervention programs it has in place.

Response-to-Intervention, or RTI, is a relatively new concept for schools across the nation. It's a program designed to provide educational help to struggling students, before they are referred to special education. That's the "intervention" in Response-to-Intervention: catching kids before they fall too far behind. And the good news is that the intervention takes place in the regular classroom.

The RTI process is three-fold. In Tier 1, students whose teachers or parents think they need some extra assistance are screened and placed in small groups for additional instruction. After a few weeks, the teacher will do some testing to see how your child is doing and either graduate him from the small group or move him to Tier 2 for more intensive small group instruction. If, in another few weeks, your child is still not making progress, then Tier 3 provides one-to-one instruction and/or a referral for a special education evaluation.

Unfortunately, not all schools have put the three-tiered RTI process into place yet. But, as a parent, you can advocate for your child's right to such programs.
Rachel Brown-Chidsey, PhD, RTI expert and co-author of the book Response to Intervention: Principles and Strategies for Effective Practice , thinks the more parents know about the process, the better it is for students. " I have yet to meet a parent who said no to RTI after learning that it means immediate services with data collection," she says.  "Getting parents supportive of RTI will only make it better to the children."


Here are five ways to initiate that support and learn about the process:

  1. Ask the question. Find out whether your school district has an RTI plan. According to Dr. Brown-Chidsey, “Parents should be asking teachers and administrators what instructional services are offered." If there's a problem, don't wait to get help for your struggling student.


  1. Be persistent. If your school doesn't have an RTI program, find out why. Then ask how and when they plan on implementing one. After all, this is your child's education, and the law says schools have to use RTI.


  1. Know what types of intervention are offered. Changing a child's seat, letting him do less work than other kids or "keeping an eye on him" aren't appropriate interventions. Since your child is having trouble learning things in the way they are being taught in the classroom, a different teaching strategy or style is called for. What programs will your school use to accomplish this?


  1. Be patient - to a point. When your child is struggling, three weeks can feel like a long time to wait to see if something is helping. Keep in mind that trying out different intervention strategies gives a better idea of what will and will not help your child. And the good thing about individualized intervention is that if progress needs to be looked at more than weekly, it can be. Just make sure it's written into your child's plan.


  1. Speak up if you don't think it's working. The same law that provides for RTI allows parents to ask for a formal evaluation at any time during the process. If you feel your child needs to be evaluated for special education services now, don't hesitate to ask. Your child deserves a learning experience that will work for him, no matter what.