Three years ago, the Tennessee Department of Education rolled out a program meant to keep struggling students from falling through the cracks. According to a report released Tuesday, its impact on student growth has varied considerably from school to school.

Called Response to Instruction and Intervention, or RTI2, the program has decades of research touting its ability to raise student achievement — but only if it’s implemented correctly.

The state analyzed schools with positive results to see what they’re doing right. Among the report’s takeaways is that schools often have to make “major sacrifices,” like cutting classroom teacher positions for RTI specialists, in order to see growth through the intervention model.

The statewide rollout of the program began in 2014-15 in elementary schools and expanded to all schools this year. Though the program is mandated by the state, schools didn’t receive extra funds to implement it. Many struggled with the logistics or to afford or find qualified staff able to lead the required daily intervention periods.

RTI is used across the nation to identify students’ academic needs early so they can be quickly addressed. Students regularly take quick tests to measure specific skills, like counting out loud, or recognizing numbers. Those who struggle to complete the tasks are supposed to be provided with interventions at increasing levels of intensity, depending on their needs, in addition to receiving grade-level instruction.

“Each student is unique, and the RTI2 framework was designed to support every student at their specific level and area of need,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a press release. “We want to learn from schools that are seeing promising growth and share their strategies with educators across our state.”

The department analyzed practices at schools that successfully moved third-grade students from non-proficient on state tests to proficient, and identified four keys that set those schools apart:

  • Using multiple data sources and keeping constant communication among staff members about RTI;
  • Building strong RTI teams with staff members able to specialize in intervention;
  • Using all available resources to create staggered, grade-level intervention periods; and
  • Having strong leaders who encourage collective responsibility and engagement.

The department will continue to evaluate how RTI is working across Tennessee, in addition to providing in-person trainings to educators. The complete report is available here.