RIOT/ICEL Matrix: Organizing Data to Answer Relevant Student Questions

When a student displays serious academic or behavioral deficits, the Response to Intervention model adopts an inductive approach that begins with educators collecting a range of information to better analyze and understand the student’s intervention needs (Fuchs, Fuchs & Compton, 2010).

However, this investigative RTI problem-solving approach can be compromised at the outset in several ways (Hosp, 2008). For example, educators may draw from too few sources when pulling together information about the presenting problem(s)—e.g., relying primarily on interviews with one classroom teacher -- which can bias the findings. Also, educators may not consider the full range of possible explanations for the student’s academic or behavioral problems—such as instructional factors or skill-deficits—and thus fail to collect information that would confirm or rule out those competing hypotheses. And finally, educators may simply not realize when they have reached the ‘saturation point’ in data collection (Hosp, 2008) when stockpiling still more data will not significantly improve the understanding of the student problem.

One tool that can assist schools in their quest to sample information from a broad range of sources and to investigate all likely explanations for student academic or behavioral problems is the RIOT/ICEL matrix. This matrix helps schools to work efficiently and quickly to decide what relevant information to collect on student academic performance and behavior—and also how to organize that information to identify probable reasons why the student is not experiencing academic or behavioral success.

The RIOT/ICEL matrix is not itself a data collection instrument. Instead, it is an organizing framework, or heuristic, that increases schools’ confidence both in the quality of the data that they collect and the findings that emerge from the data (Hosp, 2006, May).  The top horizontal row of the RIOT/ICEL table includes four potential sources of student information: Review, Interview, Observation, and Test (RIOT). Schools should attempt to collect information from a range of sources to control for potential bias from any one source.

The leftmost vertical column of the RIO/ICEL table includes four key domains of learning to be assessed: Instruction, Curriculum, Environment, and Learner (ICEL). A common mistake that schools often make is to assume that student learning problems exist primarily in the learner and to underestimate the degree to which teacher instructional strategies, curriculum demands, and environmental influences impact the learner’s academic performance. The ICEL elements ensure that a full range of relevant explanations for student problems are examined.

The power of the RIOT/ICEL matrix lies in its use as a cognitive strategy, one that helps educators to verify that they have asked the right questions and sampled from a sufficiently broad range of data sources to increase the probability that they will correctly understand the student’s presenting concern(s). Viewed in this way, the matrix is not a rigid approach but rather serves as a flexible heuristic for exploratory problem-solving.

At the very least, RTI consultants should find that the RIOT/ICEL matrix serves as a helpful mental framework to guide their problem-solving efforts. And as teachers over time become more familiar with the RTI model, they also might be trained to use the RIOT/ICEL framework as they analyze student problems in their classrooms and prepare Tier 1 interventions.

View the document The RIOT/ICEL Matrix: Organizing Data to Answer Questions About Student Academic Performance (see attachment at the bottom of this page) for a more detailed description of the matrix, as well as examples and a RIOT/ICEL worksheet.


  • Christ, T. (2008). Best practices in problem analysis. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology V (pp. 159-176). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
  •  Fuchs L. S., Fuchs, D., and Compton, D. L. (2010). Rethinking response to intervention at middle and high school. School Psychology Review, 39, 22-28.
  •  Hosp, J. L. (2006, May) Implementing RTI: Assessment practices and response to intervention. NASP Communiqué, 34(7). Retrieved September 8, 2010, from:
  • Hosp, J. L. (2008). Best practices in aligning academic assessment with instruction. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology V (pp.363-376). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.