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A response to intervention approach is built on the premise that when universal supports are provided consistently for all students, the majority of students will thrive. The underlying goal of RtI is preventing academic struggles and challenging behaviours, so that all students are successful.

RtI 3-tiered pyramid

Response to intervention uses a 3-tiered pyramid to identify strategies, supports and interventions that address students’ academic and social-emotional needs.

Response to intervention (RtI) is a way of providing evidence-based supports to students.

The pyramid shows a menu or continuum of supports that range from the following.

Universal supports for all students (also called Tier 1 or primary prevention tier)

Examples are:

  • safe and supportive learning environments
  • promoting positive mental health
  • differentiated instruction
  • positive behaviour supports

Targeted supports and interventions for students who need additional support (also called Tier 2 or secondary prevention tier)

Examples are:

  • peer support networks
  • mentoring
  • small group instruction or support

Individualized supports and interventions for students who need specialized support (also called Tier 3 or tertiary prevention tier)

Examples are:

  • mental health supports
  • one-to-one support for instruction, supervision or personal care

Flexibility of the approach

Many Alberta schools use RtI in flexible ways to respond to student needs - for example, many schools use a problem-solving model that includes personalized learning, behaviour plans and a variety of assessment tools and interventions.

Making Sense of Response to Intervention

Watch Alberta Education’s new Inclusive Education Video Series to learn more about inclusive education topics.

Video conversation guide – Making Sense of Response to Intervention in the Alberta Context (PDF, 131 KB)


Studies show that implementing RtI results in several positive outcomes including:

  • reduction in problem behaviour
  • increased reading abilities
  • increased number of students passing standardized tests
  • increased academic skills among students
  • fewer students placed in special education settings

RtI encourages teachers to choose evidence-based strategies, interventions and behavioural supports that are most likely to make a difference to student success.

How to implement response to intervention

There are several key components in developing a RtI. Meaningful data should be collected:

  • at the school level, to determine if all students are making expected progress (sometimes called screening)
  • on individual students, who are identified as working below expectations
  • on a student’s learning over time, sometimes called progress monitoring
  • on the need for professional development, to enhance staff capacity to respond to diverse needs

Research-based supports and interventions include:

  • universal supports for all students
  • more specific supports and interventions for targeted students who are not showing adequate progress
  • individualized, intensive supports and interventions for those students who are not making progress with targeted support

School teams can use a collaborative, problem-solving approach to:

  • ensure welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments
  • analyze strengths and needs of children and youth
  • identify root causes of students’ difficulties
  • choose supports and interventions that will make a positive difference for that student

Data-informed decisions should consider:

  • the learning environment
  • how a student is performing
  • what the research suggests as possible instructional solutions
  • how the student responds to different supports and interventions

Ongoing data can be collected to determine how the supports are working and if they need to be adjusted.

Foundational ideas

RtI is built on the following foundational ideas:

  • With the right strategies, supports and interventions, all students can be successful learners.
  • Identifying the most effective supports for students is best done through a collaborative, problem-solving approach.


RtI may look different from school to school or from one school jurisdiction to another, depending on the needs of the students and the resources and priorities of the school communities.

The following fictional story is an example of what RtI might look like in practice.

A rural school jurisdiction of approximately 4,000 students adopted an RtI model, using a pyramid as a visual representation of the supports and interventions available.

These strategies, supports and interventions are supported by jurisdictional consultants and related professional learning opportunities to build school and jurisdictional capacity.

Universal strategies and supports

The base of the pyramid represents strategies and supports that will benefit and meet the educational needs of the majority of students in the jurisdiction. These universal supports are based on the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and include:

  • anticipating and valuing diversity
  • welcoming and caring learning environments
  • promoting positive mental health
  • differentiated instruction
  • assessment for learning
  • access to learning technologies
  • supports for positive behaviour

Individual schools are focusing on creating welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments. The school  jurisdiction is coordinating a number of professional learning opportunities to support this focus. All schools are developing action plans and will be dedicating time during staff meetings for reflection, problem-solving and sharing new information and strategies.

Targeted supports and interventions

The second tier of the pyramid describes a more targeted set of supports and interventions for a smaller number of students. These supports include:

  • flexible grouping
  • supplemental instruction
  • additional practice opportunities
  • coaching social skills (for example, conflict resolution) in small groups

Work is focused on establishing shared understanding and guidelines for implementing evidence-based interventions at each school. Jurisdictional consultants are also supporting specific targeted supports including:

  • short-term and solution-focused counseling for families that have been temporarily divided
  • coaching for responding to emotional and behavioural challenges of students

Individualized supports and interventions

There are also students in the jurisdiction with learning and behavioural needs who require a high level of intensive and individualized supports. These are described in the third tier of the pyramid and include:

  • instruction from a specialized teachers (which could include alternative placement)
  • one-to-one assistance from an educational assistant for part or all of the day
  • services from multiple agencies through a wraparound approach

This year, the focus is on building a shared understanding of the wraparound process and how it can be used when students’ behavioural or social-emotional needs extend beyond those typically addressed within the school environment. A jurisdictional psychologist will take on the role of facilitator and bring together community service providers and others who can provide the supports needed.

Sample implementation process

The following implementation process involves identifying and prioritizing specific needs in the school community and building school capacity to better meet those needs:

  • Develop a school-based plan that includes:
    • creating a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment
    • assessment strategies
    • supports (for example, universal, targeted and individualized)
    • processes for collaborative problem-solving
    • processes for development, communication and monitoring of individual support plans
  • Assess the performance of all students to identify which students are meeting grade level expectations and which students are not.
  • Use a team-based problem-solving process to determine root causes for academic or social-emotional problems.
  • Choose evidence-based supports or interventions to address specific academic or social-emotional concerns.
  • Use the selected supports or interventions and monitor them for results.
  • Make changes to supports and interventions in response to student progress.