RTI is not the same as PBIS

Posted on 11 Nov 2008 in Special Education, Student Behavior | 5 comments

Oh oh, say it ain’t so CEC.

The latest issues of the CEC Newsletter Today has an article about RTI for EBD (Response to Interventions for Emotional and Behavioral Disorders). One of the HUGE problems with this article is that it uses RTI as a synonym for PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports).And they are NOT synonymous!

Another problem is that the author quotes several promenent PBIS researchers, but juxtaposes these quotes with comments about using RTI to solve behavior problems for students with behavior disorders. This is not the context in which these researchers’ comments were first composed.

Finally, to add insult to injury, the article quotes the Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders Position Paper on RTI to add credibility to the story. But the Position Paper clearly expresses that RTI cannot be used to diagnose a disability nor should it be used to solve behavior problems.


I don’t know if the author of this paper or the editors at CEC Today really think RTI and PBIS are one in the same or if they are simply ignorant of their mistake. Either way, this article is incorrect on many levels and does harm to both RTI and PBIS. Additionally, it may serve to delay proper behavior interventions for students with EBD who really need support for their disability.

I urge CEC to recind this article or a least publish a counter-point. I’m sure that the researchers quoted in this article never intended their PBIS advice to be misinterpreted in this manner.


  1. Ellen M. Nacik / November 11th, 2008 20:58

    Hi Mr. CC enjoy your site… though on this one, I have to respectfully disagree 🙂

    um. RtI IS the same as PBIS

    excerpt from George Sugai
    (from RTI action network see http://www.rtinetwork.org/Connect/AskExperts#11 )

    Response from George Sugai, Ph.D.: RTI is a larger problem solving framework for improving decision making based on student responsiveness to intervention for both academic and social behavior. On the behavior side of RTI, positive behavior support provides an organizational structure for establishing a continuum of behavioral interventions for all students. Before discussing secondary/tertiary tier interventions, evidence-based school-wide and classroom-wide primary interventions must be implemented with fidelity and for all students. Thus, if we have not implemented primary tier interventions with accuracy and consistency, discussing secondary/tertiary tier interventions is difficult.

    If we can confirm that primary tier interventions are in place, the research-based secondary/tertiary interventions are considered based on (a) data on the student’s non-responsiveness (i.e., problem behavior and context) and (b) type of interventions. With regard to the latter, two general types of interventions are considered. First, are published/manualized school-based interventions (e.g., First Step to Success, Steps to Respect, Skillstreaming, Think Time, Good Behavior Game, Behavior Education Program, Check and Connect, Check In-Check Out). Second, are behaviorally based practices (e.g., functional behavioral interventions and behavior support planning, behavioral contracting, targeted social skills instruction, positive reinforcement, differential reinforcement, cognitive behavioral counseling, self-management training, peer-based behavior management).

    In PBS, the impact of the above practices are only as good as the systems supports, for example, (a) match between student need and the intervention, (b) fidelity of implementation, (c) intervention fluency of the implementers, (d) consistency and comprehensiveness of the implementation across settings and implementers, and (e) timeliness of data-based decision making.

    For additional information, see my article, School-Wide Positive Behavior Support and Response to Intervention and visit the National Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavior Interventions and Support Web site.

  2. mrchuckchuck / November 12th, 2008 15:39

    Thanks for posting this comment and excerpt Ellen. I think our disagreement here is semantics. And it is a big problem between the researchers understanding of rti (lowercase) and the practice of RTI (upper case) in schools.

    In your excerpt, Dr. Sugai (a highly respected expert in PBS) states that PBIS as a behavioral model that is focuses on how a student responds to behavior interventions (small r, t, i) using a “…problem solving framework for improving decision making”. However, as you may agree, most teachers, schools, districts, and departments of education use RTI (large R,T,I) as purely an academic intervention, not behavioral. This is why I argue that it is not the same.

    I think it is very optimistic to assume, as Dr. Sugai does, that RTI will include “…intervention for both academic and social behavior.” He goes on to state that “…On the behavior side of RTI, positive behavior support (PBS) provides an organizational structure…” and then talks about the tiers of the PBS system. He does not say that behavior interventions are provided within RTI but that behavior interventions are provided through PBS – an important distinction that I think most people miss!

    I guess my main thesis is that other then using a tiered intervention approach, RTI and PBIS are not the same. RTI (upper case) as it is currently implemented in most school, excludes rti (lowercase) support for behavior problems or the PBS system. I stand by this view but am willing to hear other perspectives. Thanks again Ellen.

  3. Mark Hammill / October 27th, 2009 14:56

    I like the discussion, both of you make great points. My point would be, what is the goal of RTI and what is the goal of PBIS? I think they are both to assist students in being successful in school and ultimately in life. So if the problem solving procedures for academics (RTI) and the problem solving procedures for behavior (PBIS or PBS)work well together, why not put them together. I would propose that the procedures can be integrated to create a systemic change in our schools that would involve academics, behavior and need not be labeled as RTI or PBIS, except for the need to call it something. Maybe the issue is in the names when it should be on the total structures that we can assist schools in implementing, that will improve all outcomes for students.


    • mrchuckchuck / October 29th, 2009 13:41

      Thanks for your comments Mark, you make an excellent point.