Dr. Janette KlingnerJanette Klingner, Ph.D., is a Professor at the University of Colorado. Before earning her doctorate in reading and learning disabilities from the University of Miami, she was a bilingual special education teacher for ten years. Currently, she is a co-Principal Investigator for The National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCRESt), a Technical Assistance Center funded to address the disproportionate representation of culturally and linguistically diverse students in special education, and a co-Principal Investigator on the Collaborative Strategic Reading (CSR) Project, an IES funded efficacy study. Of her more than 80 published works, one article, three chapters, and two books are on the topic of Response to Intervention (RtI). An additional book on RtI for practitioners is under contract and in preparation. She has presented at numerous local, national, and international conferences, and conducted several professional development workshops, many on the topic of RtI. She is a member of numerous professional organizations in special education, literacy, bilingual education, and multicultural education. In 2004 she was honored with AERA’s Early Career Award for outstanding research.

Greetings! I’m so glad to have been asked to write on this blog because I really feel passionate about RTI. I believe that RTI has the potential to change the way we think about supporting kids and may especially hold promise as a way to improve outcomes for culturally and linguistically diverse students and reduce their disproportionate representation in special education (see Donovan & Cross, 2002). Certain aspects of the RTI model are particularly encouraging: the emphasis on early intervention, the focus on making sure children receive appropriate instruction at the “first tier” or classroom level, and the push to match instruction to a child’s needs based on ongoing classroom assessment. I hope that RTI will help educators shift from a mentality of finding disability or within-child deficits to focusing on providing the best instruction for all students, regardless of label.

Yet there seems to be much confusion in the field about how to implement the various components of RTI in practical, effective ways. IDEA was passed before enough was known about how to actually put RTI into practice. Researchers had investigated the efficacy of RTI, but generally with research teams rather than school personnel providing students with supplemental instruction. Therefore, when the new law passed, it seemed as though states, districts, and schools were left to figure out how best to implement the new model without much guidance. Even now, as researchers, professional groups, and education agencies offer guidelines for how to set up RTI, school-level personnel have the sense that these guidelines do not take into account the many challenges they face in today’s schools, especially schools with culturally, linguistically, and socio-economically diverse student populations.

Additional issues are problematic and are cause for concern. Some of the assumptions underlying RTI are flawed, especially when applied with culturally and linguistically diverse students. For instance, the idea of “research-based” tends to be applied with a “one size fits all” mentality, without considering issues of population and ecological validity (see Klingner & Edwards, 2006). Also, teachers and other support personnel typically have not been prepared adequately to work with culturally and linguistically diverse students in general and English language learners in particular, and, for example, lack understanding of the language acquisition process. Also, it appears that there is not enough of a focus on the context for learning and examining and improving instruction and educational opportunities for students (and conversely, still too much of a focus on finding within-child deficits or blaming lack of achievement on the kids).

The role of the principal in overseeing RTI and facilitating its implementation is extremely important. Effective principals are present in classrooms and exemplify a positive, caring attitude; they convey that implementation of RTI in culturally responsive ways is important and show understanding of the challenges involved with its use. They facilitate implementation in various ways, for example, by providing resources and professional development opportunities, and setting up schedules so that team members have common times to meet. They limit requests for teachers to learn other practices while they are focused on getting RTI up and running. They work collaboratively with school personnel, parents, and members of the community, valuing diverse input. Effective principals have high expectations for kids, high expectations for teachers, and high expectations for themselves.

To help principals be successful RTI leaders, I offer a set of questions to consider as they plan for RTI. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but merely represents a starting point (see Klingner, Méndez Barletta, & Hoover, 2008).


  1. Who benefits from decisions? Who doesn’t? Can I detect patterns in which some groups in the school benefit more than others from certain decisions?
  2. What are my assumptions about teaching and learning and who is “ready to learn” and who isn’t? What are my assumptions when students’ struggle?
  3. Do I adequately capitalize on cultural and linguistic diversity and build on students’ strengths?
  4. Do I exemplify a positive, supportive, respectful attitude towards teachers, students, and families?
  5. Do I convey that disrespectful, negative comments about students and families are not tolerated?
  6. Do I actively seek out and employ faculty, support personnel, and office staff who demonstrate the ability to meaningfully and respectfully interact with individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds?
  7. Do I make it a priority to hire teachers certified in TESOL, bilingual education, or ELD?

School-wide RTI Plan

  1. Are diverse individuals with expertise in the languages and cultures of the students, including parents, included in developing the school-wide plan?
  2. Is a system established for problem-solving and decision-making that includes diverse individuals with expertise in the languages and cultures of students?
  3. Are teachers provided with professional development in RTI and in how to meet the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students?
  4. Does the representation of students who have difficulties or are succeeding in reading match the general representation of students in the school, or are some groups over- or under- represented?

RTI: Reading Instruction at Tier 1

  1. Have reading programs been validated with similar students, in similar contexts, taking into account cultural and linguistic diversity?
  2. Do teachers differentiate instruction to meet all students’ needs?
  3. To what extent is instruction targeted to and appropriate for students’ level of English proficiency and learning needs?
  4. To what extent do teachers build on the strengths of all students and families in the school, including those who are culturally and linguistically diverse?

Tier II Interventions

  1. To what extent will Tier II providers have training or expertise in serving culturally and linguistically diverse students?
  2. Does the system for progress monitoring include multiple kinds of measures (both quantitative and qualitative) that assess what students can do as well as their needs?
  3. Will experts on students’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds be involved in interpreting assessment data and planning instruction?
  4. How will assessment data be used to group and regroup students (small same-ability groups; one-on-one tutoring), to plan targeted instruction, and to make adaptations?
  5. Are criteria for entry into and exit from Tier II implemented and re-assessed as needed with the help of experts who are knowledgeable about the cultural and linguistic backgrounds and needs of the students involved?

In conclusion, I recommend using a flexible approach to RTI planning and implementation that builds on the strengths, interests, and expertise of school personnel, capitalizes on the assets in the community, and focuses on students’ strengths as well as needs.


Donovan, S., & Cross, C. (2002). Minority students in special and gifted education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Klingner, J. K., & Edwards, P. (2006). Cultural considerations with response to intervention models. Reading Research Quarterly, 41, 108-117.

Klingner, J., Méndez Barletta, L., & Hoover, J. (2008). Response to intervention models and English language learners. In J. K. Klingner, J. Hoover, & L. Baca (Eds.), English Language Learners who struggle with reading: Language acquisition or learning disabilities? (pp. 37-56). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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9 Responses to “Response to Intervention (RtI) by Janette Klingner”

  1. Bill Rynn on 7/3/08 5:02 PM US/Eastern

    Hello Dr. Klingler,
    My name is Bill Rynn. I am a special education consultant in North Carolina, helping shool systems in implementing RTI. I am also working on a dissertation (case study) about the implementation of RTI in an elementary school.
    I found your comments to be very informative and thought provoking, particularly the questions for principals.
    The misconception that I believe underlies some of your thoughts is about what RTI is. I think that it is misperceived as a cookbook for assisting struggling learners, as opposed to a framework through which problem solving effective practices, and an entire school’s instructional program are run.I don’t believe that RTI “doesn’t work” for culturally diverse learners,I think that the lack of context that you mentioned is a failure to use the RTI framework effectively. That context should be thoroughly analyzed in the problem analysis phase of RTI, and the results used to inform instruction.
    In short (this hasn’t been too short thus far!), I think that the RTI framwork can be very effective, but all of the challenges and massive paradgm shifts needed in school cultures to address cultural diversity won’t disappear just because a school has chosen to use RTI, which gets back to the excellent questions you have posed for principals.
    I believe that there is great potential in RTI, as long as it is seen as a framework for reform, and not a magic bullet or a comprehensive bag of tricks that we seem to desperately seek out in education. I worry that it will die an untimely death, as so many initiatives do, because we “tried it and it didn’t work” without fully understanding what “it”is.
    Thanks again for the commentary.

  2. Elizabeth Kozleski on 7/8/08 7:13 PM US/Eastern

    Hi, I’m one of the principal investigators on the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCRESt.org), along with Janette Klingner, Alfredo Artiles, Beth Harry, and Bill Tate. I think that you’ve summed up much of our work in your comments. Shifting whole systems (whether the system be relatively small like a classroom or enormous like the Chicago or Los Angeles public schools) requires understanding and being conscious of the confluence of individual and organizational cultural histories, the ongoing social construction of culture within a system, and systems of practice that have been ossified and reified within bureaucracies.

    RTI can create a disturbance by requiring that we engage in problem solving about individual needs but it will keep the problem within the student without expanding it to systems of activity and practice unless we ask the right questions and then, are willing to do what is needed systemically to respond.

  3. BTSAALI on 8/24/08 9:25 PM US/Eastern

    This was a great article and brings out the challenges we are all facing in implementing RTI in our schools. I liked your focus on including culturally and linguistically diverse members of the community in the planning phases in order to ensure effectiveness. This is going to require extra effort and extra planning at most diverse, low socioeconomic school and It would be great if the school could get funding for the process of implementing.
    It would be dream come true. ONe hopes we are not left with principals…pushed against the wall…to have RTI “TOMORROW” and made to make decision in a vacuum.

  4. Dr. Wendy Murawski on 12/15/09 2:55 PM US/Eastern

    Drs. Klingner & Kozleski (Janette & Elizabeth) – Just wanted to let you know how much we in the field of Special Ed appreciate all your work regarding RtI. I use so much of it in teacher prep, trying to help our special educators work collaboratively with their general ed colleagues and administrators to understand how this type of systemic change is not only coming – but more importantly, how it can be hugely beneficial for ALL kids if we do it right. Again, thanks for your work!! Wendy

  5. Chris Cassidy on 11/29/10 1:53 PM US/Eastern

    With all due respect to those in the research field of RTI, I am in the trenches with it and have to face its consequences on a daily basis as a regular ed and ESL/LEP high school teacher. I don’t have a PhD, I haven’t formally researched it or collected data. However, I have reluctantly followed its practices now for a couple years. I can tell you from front-line experience: it doesn’t work.

    The endless paperwork, “Tiers,” and other steps required to “properly” do this are a thinly-veiled scheme to put the accountability almost 100% back on teachers when a student does not succeed. (Let’s not forget the fact that a large portion of kids comes to school half-asleep, completely uncaring due to poor parenting, and disrespectful to teachers (who have been completely emasculated by this initiative–no surprise there’s a lack of respect)). Now, an administrator (or professor) can always say, “if it doesn’t work, the teacher didn’t follow the process properly,” thereby absolving them (temporarily) of any responsibility, and giving the student and parents more excuses (which is something they definitely don’t need anymore). The fact seems to be that in practice, it is almost impossible to follow it properly and help the child. By the time you do, four to six months have gone by, and the kid has already failed all of his classes. (I have endless examples of this–but there’s not enough room on this blog for all of them.)

    This system is killing education. It is removing the three most important things from a child’s education–responsibility, discipline, and accountability from the CHILD. Kids now are fully aware, through experience, that they have six chances to change their behaviors before any real consequence happens. The lazy and apathetic students love RTI. I have a student, a junior with a 0.46 GPA, who has failed 8 out of his last 10 classes, and still sits in my classroom after I have filled out 6 referrals or ‘ODR’s, because we have not finished with the RTI process. He is a typical example of a child being PERMANENTLY damaged by this system.

    We will keep losing ground to our foreign counterparts until we ditch this politically correct nonsense and get back to REAL DISCIPLINE AND CONSEQUENCES. At my school, we are not allowed to fail anyone without 3 hours (est.) of paperwork, conferences, phone calls. So, when the end of the semester comes, what do we do? INFLATE GRADES–the worst thing you can do for a student (and the educational system as a whole). But, this gets administrators off our backs while saving us about 3 hours per F. Most teachers have between 100 and 140 students–do the math.

    We forget that sometimes, failure is the best teacher. We tell everyone they can be the president of the US or an astronaut. The truth is, less than .0000001% of Americans have succeeded in doing so.

    The admin. and PhD’s of the world do not have to face the day to day consequences of this inept system–we teachers do, and our kids eventually will.

  6. Cynthia on 12/3/10 3:50 PM US/Eastern

    Dear Chris,
    With all due respect to your point of view, I’m going to have to disagree with it. When you say things like “RTI doesn’t work” without analyzing the context in which it’s being implemented, you leave out a huge part of the discussion. I used to teach in a school where RTI was implemented quite successfully…was it easy? Nope. Was it without struggles, challenges, and obstacles? Not at all. We were constantly refining and reflecting in order to make it work. We had to change a lot of things about our school…the way we thought about kids, the way we thought about achievement, and even some structural issues that were creating barriers. It seems to me that there are some other factors at play in your situation…placing RTI at the center of blame (or even the STUDENTS at the center of blame) seems detrimental to the overall conversation.

  7. Amanda on 6/5/11 4:17 PM US/Eastern

    I have some concerns over RTI model at our school district. I am not sure if it is standard throughout the country, but if it is I worry. I have examples of classroom work which shows grade inflation and the consequences to the student who needs help, but is “above the 10th percentile” as determined by the district for help. The RTI model has completely ignored and has limited the role of common sense when a student has major discrepancies in skills in our district. Also, it taken the place of informed concerns from parents and doctors and has limited evaluations for special education. In our school district, when you bring a diagnosis of a developmental disorder to them, they retest placing great emphasis on the RTI model scores in the results. It has left children who test well on paper or who are coached with the proper answers to fall through the cracks. It has left gifted children with learning disabilities to struggle alone and it has left many parents in the dark with how well their children really are doing in school. I am sure that the RTI model works well in some school districts where the children are the first priority, but in the wrong hands or carried out through ignorance it can be very detrimental.

  8. Elvia Fuertes on 9/26/11 1:25 AM US/Eastern

    Hello, as a special education teacher I think that the implementation of RTI in culturally responsive ways is important. Teachers need to reflect and understand each of our students situation in order to help them learn. We need to focus on students strengths to help them overcome some of their challenges they are having in learning and understanding concepts. As educators we need to provide various resources, strategies and learning opportunities for students, and work with colleagues and parents to assure that we are using RTI properly and to its full potential. I believe that RTI does make a difference for students. I notice that many of our students have behavior issues because they are embarrassed and they do not want others to know that they cannot add or subtract in the eighth grade.

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