Action Step and Orientation

E5. Ensure that evidence-based practices are used to address the diverse needs of all students.

In this lesson, you will examine validated practices for an effective instructional framework that meets each student’s unique learning needs.

Part 1 presents an overview of how to implement RTI with diverse student populations.

Part 2 provides information about differentiating instruction in the RTI model.

Part 3 provides information about serving culturally and linguistically diverse students in the RTI framework.

To get started, download the Implementation Guide for this component and refer to the Action Step for this lesson. Review the Implementation Indicators for each level of implementation and note the Sample Evidence listed at the bottom of the chart.

Part 1—Meeting Diverse Learning Needs Through the RTI Framework

In this lesson, you and your leadership team will consider ways to optimize your RTI framework so that the needs of diverse learners are met effectively. When it comes to RTI, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all framework that addresses the diverse needs of all students. As you consider the diverse student populations represented at your campus (e.g., culturally and linguistically diverse students, students identified as gifted and talented, and those eligible for special education support), it is necessary to incorporate approaches throughout the model that are responsive to students’ unique needs.

Addressing diverse instructional needs does not entail layering additional processes on the existing framework. On the contrary, the campus RTI model should serve as the overarching framework for literacy instruction for all students, and differentiated approaches should be infused within each component of the RTI model. Below, we revisit the fundamental components of RTI and address some ways in which diverse student needs are served by this effective instructional framework.

Tier 1: All learners should receive comprehensive, evidence-based, and quality Tier 1 literacy instruction. Core instruction should implement explicit and systematic instruction for all learners as well as incorporate the use of assessment data to inform instructional decisions, student groupings, and strategies for differentiating instruction. Evidence-based, in this respect, refers to practices that are shown to be valid for the particular target population (Klingner, McCray Sorrells, & Barrera, 2007). Particularly for English learners (ELs), core instruction needs to systematically develop students’ listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in English, their first language, or both.

Universal screening: An effective RTI framework ensures that students are systematically screened to identify students who are making adequate grade-level progress and/or students who are falling behind and are at risk for learning difficulties. A common method of screening in secondary school is looking at cut scores and student performance on state-level assessments. State-level assessments are a good use of data for screening at the secondary level because they are comparable across grades (i.e., one can look at performance from 7th–10th grades and compare changes). State-level assessments provide a data source that is useful for all districts and can provide valuable information when screening a student who has no other accessible data. For ELs, assessments need to be linguistically aligned with the students’ language of instruction, and the interpretation of screening data must take into account the students’ level of language proficiency.

Tiers II and III: All learners who are identified to receive additional Tier II or Tier III intervention instruction should be provided with systematic evidence-based interventions that are differentiated to meet students’ unique learning needs. Tiers II and III instruction should supplement, not replace, quality Tier I instruction, and they should focus on the skills and areas of need that are identified through systematic review of student performance data. For ELs, supplemental instruction must address students’ English language development needs in the four domains of listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

Progress monitoring: Learners with specific needs should be regularly monitored for progress toward learning goals within each tier of instruction (at least monthly in Tier I and every two weeks in Tiers II and III). Valid progress monitoring assessments ensure that students are receiving appropriate instruction and are on track for reaching established goals.

(Alber-Morgan, 2010; Echevarria & Hasbrouck, 2009; Klingner & Edwards, 2006; Vaughn, Bos, & Schumm, 2010; Vaughn & Ortiz, 2010)

Educators need to be well informed of the different student needs to be addressed in each of these components of RTI. For example, specific assessment accommodations need to be considered when administering RTI screening and progress monitoring to students who are English learners or who have learning disabilities so that the assessment will be a valid measure of these students’ progress. Also, administrators and instructional staff will want to review additional types of student data (such as English language proficiency data for ELs) to validate the need for student support identified through screening measures. An instructional framework that is effective for diverse student populations requires staff to be flexible, responsive, and able to draw on differentiated expertise. At the same time, what is universal across all tiers of the model is access to high-quality instruction that includes equal opportunities to learn for all students. Additional information about differentiating instruction for diverse populations can be found in Part 2 and To Learn More at the end of both sections.

At the systems level, there are important factors to consider when implementing an RTI model that supports students from diverse populations. Thoughtful scheduling of specialized services (e.g., special education, dyslexia, English language support, gifted and talented programs, etc.) ensures that they are delivered with minimal impact upon the instructional time provided at each tier of the multitiered framework (Hall, 2008). An effective RTI framework ensures that all students have adequate opportunities to learn; thus, your campus-based leadership team will need to create a schedule of intervention instruction and specialized services that effectively supplements (not impedes) high-quality, Tier I literacy instruction.

Furthermore, as Lesson E4 discusses, your team will need to establish communication structures that facilitate collaboration and the coordination of services among all stakeholders, including the providers of specialized services and the teachers and interventionists in Tiers I, II, and III. As part of the efforts to provide effective instruction to all students at your campus, it will be necessary to draw upon the range of your staff’s expertise and to facilitate collaboration among staff so that the expertise is shared. Effective communication structures ensure that one important message is continuously reiterated at your campus: Everyone is responsible for student learning.

Effective communication structures can also minimize misconceptions or misunderstandings regarding the relationship between RTI and special education. Although RTI is now an option for identifying students with specific learning disabilities based on their response to appropriate instruction, staff could undermine the fundamental purpose of RTI if it is conceived as solely a pre-referral process for special education.

It is true, however, that an RTI approach and special education are intertwined in necessary ways. For example, valid and reliable protocols for documenting each student’s progress in the RTI process is a critical part of his or her comprehensive evaluation (i.e., to corroborate that low achievement is not due to inadequate instruction or inequitable learning opportunities). However, the leadership team should clarify that the RTI process is only one part of the comprehensive evaluation system for special education services. Your campus-based leadership team will need to emphasize that the RTI model is a framework for efficiently identifying student needs and responding to those needs in all tiers of instruction.

“When teachers use an RTI model to teach diverse learners, they are better able to identify struggling students quickly and provide them with timely supplemental instruction” (Alber-Morgan, 2010, p. 2).

Finally, RTI processes should never trump student needs. This means that RTI should not be viewed as a lock-step instructional approach in which students who need specialized supports must go through each tier of intervention before receiving the necessary services. Districts and schools must ensure that the RTI process does not delay or deny students the evaluation for services they may be eligible for through special education. In the same vein, students who may not need specialized services but could benefit from immediate instructional intervention should not be delayed by the special education evaluation process. All instructional staff should be skilled in systematically reviewing student data (e.g., through regular data meetings) and responding to students’ needs as they fit within the parameters of the RTI framework at your campus. You can find additional information about the role of special education in To Learn More at the end of this section.

Note: Keep in mind that this Action Step will need to be integrated as you implement all of the other Action Steps. As you plan professional development, consider the specific Indicators and your level of implementation for Action Step E5. For example, your team may need to target evidence-based instructional approaches and assessment procedures that have been validated for each student population in your school.

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TO LEARN MORE: The resources below provide more information about RTI and meeting the diverse learning needs of students.

The Building Capacity for Response to Intervention Implementation Project at the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk contains links to resources on all aspects of RTI.

The following resources provide specific recommendations and evidence-based practices for implementing RTI with the following student populations:

Classroom Instruction and Teacher Training for Gifted Students from Diverse Populations,” published on the National Association for Gifted Children’s website, discusses how classroom practices and strategies can support advanced learners, including those who are limited English proficient, disabled, or from minority or low-income backgrounds.

The National Association of State Directors of Special Education’s “Myths about Response to Intervention (RTI) Implementation” clarifies eleven misconceptions about the relationship between RTI and special education, such as false assumptions about RTI as a pre-referral service and Tier III services.

Part 2—Differentiated, Multitiered Instruction

We have discussed ways in which the RTI framework serves as a comprehensive approach for addressing the needs of all learners. In this part of the lesson, we will examine what it takes to differentiate Tiers I, II, and III instruction and assessment processes to meet the unique needs of each student.

As emphasized in Part 1 of this lesson, all students require data-driven, differentiated instruction across all tiers. The evidence-based instructional practices discussed in Action Steps E2 (Tier I), E3 (Tier II), and E4 (Tier III) are applicable when teaching students with diverse needs, such as culturally and linguistically diverse students, gifted and talented learners, and students identified as having a learning disability.

“The RTI model is ideal for serving the needs of diverse learners because interventions and materials can be customized to the backgrounds, abilities, and experiences of individual learners“ (Alber-Morgan, 2010, p. 5).

Differentiating instruction in Tiers I, II, and III includes the incorporation of specific accommodations and modifications to ensure that all learners are able to access the curriculum and validly demonstrate their learning. The content (what students need to learn), the process (how students will learn it), and the product (how students express what they have learned) may need to be adapted or modified to specifically address each student’s unique needs. Click here for specific ways to make such adaptations at each tier of instruction.

The Texas Education Agency’s website provides numerous resources and documents related to evidence-based practices for students with diverse instructional needs. You can access these links in To Learn More at the end of this section.

Differentiating instruction requires the campus-based leadership team to identify qualified personnel to serve students with diverse instructional needs. For example, you might seek a certified specialist such as a bilingual or an English-as-a-second-language teacher with a strong background in literacy to provide intervention instruction to ELs (Vaughn & Ortiz, 2010). Also, the campus-based leadership team should facilitate collaboration among staff with diverse expertise. This could mean that general educators and special educators engage in co-teaching or peer coaching so they can build on each other’s strengths and provide the best instruction for all students. Facilitating collaboration among staff supports the campus-wide message that everyone is responsible for student learning.

Throughout the implementation process, a strong professional development plan is essential. The campus-based leadership team should provide evidence-based professional development (e.g., collaborative planning, observation and feedback, coaching, and professional learning community discussions) to support your staff in cross-tier implementations of high-quality, differentiated instructional practices.

Another foundational component of high-quality differentiated instruction is the systematic review of student assessment data. Each student’s individual performance data should be used to plan, design, and deliver high-quality differentiated instruction and intervention in each tier. When considering the role that learner diversity plays in planning and delivering instruction, your campus-based leadership team will want to think critically about the types of evidence and data sources used to make instructional decisions for students with diverse needs.

For some students, subsets of performance data should be reviewed before making instructional decisions. For example, decisions about changes in intervention may differ for students at the beginning levels of English language proficiency or for students who are dyslexic. Criteria for determining when students should begin or discontinue intervention are useful guides, but they must be applied in ways that are appropriate for each student’s individual needs. Also, it is imperative that individual performance data be utilized to determine the provision and intensity of any specialized support services necessary for each student’s success.

Finally, disaggregating assessment data can be very helpful in evaluating the efficacy of particular instructional practices or interventions for students with diverse needs. For example, if you find that a disproportionate number of culturally and linguistically diverse students are continually identified as needing intensive intervention, you have a compelling rationale for re-evaluating the instruction delivered throughout Tier I. There is a strong possibility that students’ needs are not being met by current practices.

In Part 3 of this lesson, we will look at how RTI applies to culturally and linguistically diverse students.

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TO LEARN MORE: The Texas Education Agency’s website provides many resources specific to evidence-based practices for each diverse population, including documents, related links, and contact information.

Part 3—RTI and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students

Culture and language are influential sociocultural factors in student learning. An RTI framework for diverse student groups includes multitiered instruction that is culturally and linguistically responsive. This means teachers purposefully consider the cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic factors (background knowledge and experiences) that students bring from their homes and communities (Klingner, McCray Sorrells, & Barrera, 2007; National Center on Response to Intervention, April 2010).

A fundamental component of culturally responsive instruction is taking an assets-based approach when working with students and families. This refers to the belief that the language and cultural knowledge that students bring to school are assets in their academic achievement rather than deficits or obstacles to learning. It also includes a view of parents and families as “capable advocates for their children and as valuable resources in school improvement efforts” (Ortiz, 2001, p. 1). High-quality evidence-based instruction requires teachers to know students individually, to learn about the literacy practices of their homes and communities, to have a strong knowledge of students’ language background, and to understand the stages of second-language acquisition. Knowing the social, cultural, and linguistic differences among students allows teachers to respond to students’ unique needs and deliver literacy instruction that builds on prior language, knowledge, and experience.

“Today’s classrooms are characterized by diversity of student ability, achievement, social and emotional development, background experience, culture, language, and economic means. Because teachers are responsible for providing effective instruction to all students, they must design instruction that . . . incorporates various levels of support and flexible teaching methods, materials, and assessments” (Alber-Morgan, 2010, p. 1).

Keeping the tenets of culturally responsive instruction in mind, let’s take a closer look at the instructional needs of English learners (ELs). Action Step E5 calls on schools to provide staff with the knowledge and skills to implement instruction and assessments that are appropriate for diverse student populations. An effective RTI framework is one that is equally and adequately implemented in classrooms in which students’ native languages differ from English. Teachers in bilingual classrooms should apply the RTI model to literacy instruction in both languages, not just English. Teachers working with ELs in content or English-as-a-second-language classes should apply evidence-based practices for that population, such as sheltered instruction and differentiation. Regardless of the language of instruction, however, materials and methods (e.g., instructional and screening assessments) may need to be adjusted to be valid for English learners.

In working with students who are learning English as a second language, remember that “limited English proficiency” does not mean limited potential or limited ability. Your team should stress to instructional staff across Tiers I, II, and III that literacy instruction should never be delayed because students are in the process of learning to understand and speak English (Escamilla, 2007; Vaughn & Ortiz, 2010). Students at each stage of the second-language-acquisition process can develop strong literacy skills. On the other hand, teachers should not hone in on literacy skills at the expense of developing students’ oral language in English (Escamilla, 2007). Instructional staff should be skilled in setting goals and implementing strategies that simultaneously support listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills.

To accomplish this, teachers need to systematically review appropriate data, such as TELPAS scores, to gain a strong knowledge of their students’ level of language proficiency. Knowing students’ English proficiency levels, as well as the stages that learners go through when they acquire a second language, allows teachers to identify student behaviors at each stage and to respond with the appropriate instructional strategies. As the Standards-based Instruction module discusses, the TSLP requires that all of your teachers integrate the English Language Proficiency Standards (ELPS) as they plan and provide literacy instruction across the tiers.

Learning a second language is a challenging and complex social task that demands a lot from students. Echevarria and Hasbrouck (2009) sum up the importance of providing instruction in accordance with student needs: “Because English learners face the challenge of learning new material, skills, and information in a new language, teachers need to use practices that have been shown to be effective in making instruction understandable for them” (p. 1).

Baker et al (2014) present four evidence-based recommendations for effective literacy and English language instruction for ELs in the elementary and middle grades. These recommendations can be extended and adapted to high school instruction.

Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners

  • Teach a set of academic vocabulary words intensively across several days using a variety of instructional activities.
  • Integrate oral and written English language instruction into content-area teaching.
  • Provide regular, structured opportunities to develop written language skills.
  • Provide small-group instructional intervention to students struggling in areas of literacy and English language development.

These recommendations focus on teaching academic language and can be integrated across content areas. Supplemental instruction and interventions for middle and high school ELs need to incorporate English language development in each of the language domains (listening, speaking, reading, and writing), along with the development of literacy skills. When making intervention decisions about ELs, educators need to review both student data on literacy and academic skills, along with student data on English language proficiency (TELPAS) so that instructional needs are accurately identified.

You and your team can review the educator practice guide Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle School for further guidance and specific instructional strategies for meeting the four recommendations above.

As your team works to implement the RTI instructional framework, it is important to include an intentional focus on addressing the diverse needs of the students you serve. An instructional framework that is effective for all students provides for system-wide practices that are responsive to the needs of diverse student populations in all aspects, from scheduling and assessments to instructional practices.

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TO LEARN MORE: The resources below provide additional information about addressing the needs of English learners in the RTI framework.

Texas English Language Learners Portal on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website provides information and resources for administrators, teachers, and parents of English language learners, including information about online courses such as “Implementing the ELPS.”

Culturally Responsive Teaching Resources” provides dozens of links to articles and publications pertaining to culturally responsive teaching.

A Cultural, Linguistic, and Ecological Framework for Response to Intervention with English Language Learners,” a practitioner brief published by the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems, provides information about cultural and linguistic instruction in an RTI model, including guidelines and guiding questions for delivering culturally responsive instruction at each tier.

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NEXT STEPS: Depending on your progress toward implementing evidence-based practices to enhance achievement for diverse student populations, you may want to consider some of the following actions:

  • Peruse the resources listed in To Learn More for Parts 1–3.
  • Assess the needs for professional development in meeting the needs of diverse student populations at your school.
  • Review the RTI components currently in place to determine if they include appropriate assessments and instruction for all student populations.
  • Brainstorm how to facilitate the collaboration and coordination of services among the providers of specialized services and other teachers and interventionists in Tiers I, II, and III.


E5. Ensure that evidence-based practices are used to address the diverse needs of all students.

With your site/campus-based leadership team, review your team’s self-assessed rating for Action Step E5 in the TSLP Implementation Status Ratings document and then respond to the four questions in the assignment.

TSLP Implementation Status Ratings 6-12

In completing your assignment with your team, the following resources and information from this lesson’s content may be useful to you:

  • Refer to Part 1 for an overview of how to implement RTI with diverse student populations.
  • Refer to Part 2 for information about differentiating instruction in the RTI model.
  • Refer to Part 3 for information about serving culturally and linguistically diverse students in the RTI framework.

Next Steps also contains suggestions that your campus may want to consider when you focus your efforts on this Action Step.

To record your responses, go to the Assignment template for this lesson and follow the instructions.


Alber-Morgan, S. A. (2010). Using RTI to teach literacy to diverse learners, K-8: Strategies for the inclusive classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Baker, S., Lesaux, N., Jayanthi, M., Dimino, J., Proctor, C. P., Morris, J., . . . Newman-Gonchar, R. (2014). Teaching academic content and literacy to English learners in elementary and middle school (NCEE 2014-4012). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

Echevarria, J., & Hasbrouck, J. (July 2009). Response to intervention and English learners. Retrieved from

Escamilla, K. (2007). Considerations for literacy coaches in classrooms with English language learners. Retrieved from

Hall, S. L. (2008). Implementing response to intervention: A principal's guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Klingner, J. K., McCray Sorrells, A., & Barrera, M. T. (2007). Considerations when implementing response to intervention with culturally and linguistically diverse students. In D. Haager, J. K. Klingner, & S. Vaughn (Eds.), Evidence-based reading practices for response to intervention (pp. 223–244). Baltimore, MD: Brookes.

Klingner, J. K., & Edwards, P. A. (2006). Cultural considerations with response to intervention models. Reading Research Quarterly 41(1), 108–117.

National Center on Response to Intervention. (April 2010). Essential components of RTI—A closer look at response to intervention. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, National Center on Response to Intervention.

Ortiz, A. (2001). English language learners with special needs: Effective Instructional Strategies. Retrieved from Center for Applied Linguistics website:

Vaughn, S. R., Bos, C. S., & Schumm, J. S. (2010). Teaching students who are exceptional, diverse, and at risk in the general education classroom. (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Vaughn, S., & Ortiz, A. (2010). Response to intervention in reading for English language learners. Retrieved from