Is ‘RTI’ and ‘rti’ the Same?

Posted on 14 Nov 2008 in School Behavior, Special Education | 2 comments

Technically, YES. In practice, NO.

What makes special education special is NOT that we teachers are patient. But that we focus on how students respond to interventions (rti) and then differentiate instruction using data based decision making. Many of these terms, response to intervention – differentiated instruction – data based decision making, have become buzz words in education and may not mean the same thing to all people.

Doing RTI

My perception is that when most regular or general education teachers talk about doing RTI, they are specifically talking about using data based decision making to differentiate academic instruction only. When many state programs train teachers in RTI, academics is the only focus of the three tiered intervention model. A students’ response to behavior interventions (rti) is not part of the discussion.


A reader, Ellen, recently commented that researchers often view RTI as being a system for responding to academic and behavior problems, with PBIS being the procedures for working on the behavior side and therefore a piece of RTI. I thanked her for sharing this because I have been struggling with this question. My response was to question the assumptions that RTI is seen as a tool that works for both academic and behavior interventions. I do agree that PBIS works under an rti model, but disagree that it is seen as a piece of formal RTI programs.

The fact is, other then using a three tiered model of intervention and data based decision making as a framework, the practice of RTI and PBIS are very different. So are the training needs.

How different is RTI from PBIS?

  1. Different data tracking system needed
  2. Different methods to assess a problem
  3. Different interventions
  4. Different evaluation system

All these components must be taught to teachers through professional development training. The school must develop a system for ‘doing’ RTI and PBIS and these systems are very different in practice.


I stand by my previous post in stating that RTI and PBIS are not the same mainly because RTI has a much narrower definition in practice then the term rti. PBS uses a response to intervention model, but it is not RTI.

Man, this gets confusing! Do you differentiate between RTI and rti in your school? Does your district view RTI and PBS as the same or different?


  1. Michael Friga / November 16th, 2008 4:11

    If we see RTI & PBIS as separate “programs,” schools will not undertand the underlying prevention model. The three tier model is a framework, not a program. Academics and Behavior are interwoven characterisics of the student. We must develop a unified prevention-oriented framework for supporting students. We should collect schoolwide data on academics and behavior and use that information to inform Tier 1 PD, Tier 2 Targeted Interventions and Tier 3 Intensive Strategies. Each Tier will blend academic and behavioral strategies based on the data. If we get hung up on the acronyms, school staff will run aground, support will be “siloed,” funding will not be blended, and the whole process will be stamped with label “THE NEXT BIG THING” (Kiss of Death). For a much better explaination, see: Sandomierski & Kincaid: Response to Intervention and Positive Behavior Support: Brothers from Different Mothers or Sisters from Different Misters?


    Michael Friga, Director
    Three Tier Consulting

  2. mrchuckchuck / November 19th, 2008 6:12

    I agree Michael, that RTI and PBIS are systems and not programs. But that fact remains that ‘doing RTI’ and ‘doing PBIS’ require two very separate processes. Part of the sustainability appeal of these approaches to education center on the fact that they are a systemic change in the way schools typically operate – ie, give all students the same dose of education (undifferentiated). But this has been done before….it’s called special education.

    James Kaufmann pointed out yesterday at the TECBD Conference that special education is supposed to be preventative, differentiated, and data-driven all in an attempt to make things better for students in our care. (All the things that an RTI system promise). But we don’t. If we did, people would be clamoring to get into special education instead of complaining that some groups get too much special education (disproportionate representation). His point: we need to get our house in order before we try scaling up this system in regular education.

    I have to agree.