RTI Tier 1 Interventions:
The Small Set of Skills with 80% Impact

RTI Tier 1 interventions are the “first line of defense” for supporting students. Response to Intervention (RTI) was designed to help prevent students from needing special education assistance.

Tier 1 instruction is delivered to the whole class. Assessments monitor progress of students. If students are struggling to learn specific concepts or strategies, they would then move up to Tier 2. Obviously, the more effective “Tier 1” instruction is, the easier things are for everyone.

To ensure that Tier 1 Instruction is most effective, we must evaluate the “80/20” of education. The 80/20 Principle states that 20% of our efforts will yield 80% of our results.  In education, that means we need to ask…

“What are the most critical 20% of skills that provide 80% (or more) of the benefit in school? In life?” 

RTI tier 1 interventions

Skills for learning, self-management, communication, and organization are the “top 20%” keys to success in school… and in life! These skills are known by many names… “soft skills,” “learning skills,” and (of course) “study skills.” In special education, they are commonly known as “executive function” skills.

These skills alleviate 50% –FIFTY PERCENT– of special education case-loads! In Prince George County Public Schools, VA special education administrators created a “Study Skills Committee” when they discovered that more than half of their referrals were simply about a lack of study skills, not learning disabilities.

Those Prince George Co administrators discovered that study skills are an extremely effective RTI Tier 1 instruction. 

Tier 1 & “Executive Function”

Special education teachers know the #1 roadblock for their students is executive function. “Executive function is EVERYTHING!” a passionate special education teacher told me in exasperation. “It’s the key to everything. And it’s our single, greatest challenge!”

The problem is, we don’t teach “executive function” skills in school. We only teach content and dabble in “critical thinking” skills. (“Critical thinking” cannot happen without “executive function.”) Imagine if Tier 1 instruction models included specific instruction on these executive function skills? Or soft skills? Or learning skills? Or…study skills?

“I Just Want to My Students to Be Successful!”

This is what every special education teacher told us. My team and I recently conducted a research project and interviewed several special education teachers. They all used different words to express similar concerns. But, amazingly, every conversation concluded with a nearly identical comment… “I just want my students to be successful!”

The good news is that the key to “life success” for all students –general or special education– lies in the “top 20%” of skills: learning, self-management, organization, and communication.

These skills are the top, most in-demand skills in our country today! This is not just my opinion. This is backed by dozens of employer surveys from across the country. It’s even backed by the Common Core Anchor Standards. At a recent Career & Technical Education Advisory meeting in my local area (Oakland County, MI), professionals told teachers the same thing.

One account explained to high school accounting teachers,

“I don’t need you to teach them about ‘debits and credits.’ I can teach them that. I need you to teach them how to show up for work on time… and how to make even a simple decision!”

The objective of RTI Tier 1 instruction is to keep as many students from entering special education, as possible. We can make this happen if we strengthen our Tier 1 instruction with the most important skills for students’ success!

To your students’ success,

Susan Kruger Signature


Susan Kruger, M.Ed.
Author of SOAR® Learning & Soft Skills
Founder of www.studyskills.com

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