The Multi-level Prevention System

The Response-to-Intervention approach is an educational framework for further support, in which prevention is of central importance and which takes individual learning and development goals of school children into consideration. In the long run, top-performing as well as underachieving students will reach their aims with the help of gradual interventions on different prevention levels. The effectiveness of each measure is continuously monitored and adjusted. If a child doesn’t respond to the interventions on one level, they will be intensified on the next one. It has been noted that the amount of prevention levels differs at US-American schools, but in most cases the frameworks includes three levels. It is also important that teachers as well as any other educational co-worker (such as language pathologists) have their defined responsibility areas on each level.

As you may know, it can be quiet challenging to individually adjust a lesson to each child’s learning condition - even for experienced teachers and educators. It is especially difficult to serve individual needs in classes with more than 25 children. This is taken into consideration in the multi-level prevention system, which faces high heterogeneity by additional and differentiated support on several levels of prevention.

Primary Level

On the primary level lessons follow the regular curriculum for each grade. At the same time, teachers focus on establishing a differentiated learning environment for both the top-performing as well as weaker students. In addition, the teachers are consulted by assisting qualified pedagogues, such as speech therapists or school psychologists, to help them enhancing the children’s educational and behaviour development.

Secondary Level

When students with learning and development difficulties are identified on the first level via screenings and curriculum-based measurements, they receive additional support on the second level. These children are so-called “non-responders” to the general interventions on the former level, which is why further measures need to be applied in order to help them. Studies about the RTI approach in America show that approximately 20% of the children in one class need additional support to the common educational framework. For about ten weeks the responsible teacher tutors small groups of four to five children in additional remedial lessons. The small group size allows the teacher to give direct and more detailed instructions in order to close current knowledge gaps. In general, the children work on materials and exercises that they already know from their regular lessons. The learning progress and success is continuously monitored so that adjustments can be made on a regular basis.

Tertiary Level

If a child doesn’t respond to any supporting intervention on the primary or secondary level and still shows learning and development difficulties, it receives additional help by intensive interventions on the third prevention level. It is estimated that approximately five per cent of the school children in each class need further learning support on a high-intensity level. A qualified teacher for special education tutors these children in one-on-one sessions or in small groups of three children maximum. Under those circumstances, an intensive and individualized support for each child can be granted. On this level they work for instance on calculating, reading or writing exercises combined with methods to improve their speech or concentration skills. Children who are taught additionally on the secondary and tertiary level necessarily need further supporting interventions on the first level, that are also more differentiated. Every measure and following learning progress is continuously assessed and documented to evaluate its success.

If the required objectives are still not achieved, further educational measures need to be applied. In this case, the child concerned needs additional assistance during the regular lessons and on the subsequent two prevention levels. The intention is to achieve learning goals that are adequate to the student’s learning capabilities. It is assumed that approximately two per cent of all school children need a special education framework. In Germany, these children need to be officially tested for special educational needs.


Blumenthal, Y., Kuhlmann, K. & Hartke, B. (2014). Diagnostik und Prävention von Lernschwierigkeiten im Aptitude Treatment Interaction- (ATI-) und Response to Intervention-(RTI)Ansatz. In: M. Hasselhorn, W. Schneider & U. Trautwein (Eds.), Lernverlaufsdiagnostik. Tests und Trends N.F. 12 (61-81). Göttingen: Hogrefe.

National Center on Response to Intervention. (2010). Essential Components of RTI – A Closer Look at Response to Intervention. Washington,DC. Available online at <>. 13 March 2014.

Wember, F.B. (2001). Adaptiver Unterricht. Sonderpädagogik 31, 161-181.