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A Guide to the 3 PBIS Tiers and How it Works with MTSS 

30 Min Read
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Schools that implement a PBIS system are committed to encouraging positive behaviors among their students. The PBIS way of directing students involves recognizing and rewarding those who follow the rules rather than focusing on punishing those who don’t. The PBIS model includes a multi-tiered support system, with each tier targeted at a specific group of the student body. This guide will explore the 3 PBIS tiers and how it works with a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS).


MTSS offers a structured system for addressing academic and behavioral challenges through 3 tiers of increasingly intensive interventions, while PBIS emphasizes proactive strategies to promote positive behaviors and create a supportive school climate. Together, MTSS and PBIS create a cohesive framework.

What Are the 3 Tiers of PBIS?

Here we break down the 3 tiers of PBIS, who they are designed for, and how you can ensure the system works for your school.

PBIS Tier 1: Generalized support

Tier 1 of PBIS is arguably the most important of the three because it sets the foundation for all other levels of support. Tier 1 is aimed at the student body as a whole. Here’s what you need to ensure the success of Tier 1:

PBIS team

The first thing you need to do is implement a robust, schoolwide positive behavioral intervention and support (SWPBIS) system that is dedicated to its development. This usually consists of a group of teachers and administrators who work together to establish the core behaviors and values to focus on to ensure a solid intervention response. 

Consistent expectations

Once your PBIS team has decided which behaviors and values to reward, you must remain consistent in your expectations:

  • Pay close attention to each student
  • Be sure to recognize model behaviors 
  • Reward them accordingly each time they occur


It is essential to continue to evaluate your expectations over time. You may find that student behavior has shifted negatively or that your approach isn’t working. This is the perfect time to test changes, but you can only know where you stand if you consistently evaluate your PBIS program with data-based decisions.

PBIS Tier 1 best practices

Tier 1 of PBIS focuses on creating a solid foundation that supports Tiers 2 and 3. Here are some best practices you should follow to implement PBIS at your school successfully: 

Setting expectations

Your Tier 1 team should identify which core behaviors to encourage within your student body. Once that’s settled, you need to communicate these behavioral goals with your students and make sure they understand them. You can make this process easier for students and teachers by focusing on a small group of behavioral adjustments. Generally speaking, 3 to 5 is a good number to start with.

Teaching students

Simply stating behavioral goals isn’t enough to bring about real change in your school climate . You must ensure these behaviors are taught or demonstrated if you expect students to model them. This means your teachers need to be heavily engaged with your PBIS system and invested in helping children understand what they need to do to meet the set expectations. You should also have unanimous teacher buy-in — even if one teacher decides to forego your PBIS system within their own classroom, this will undermine your schoolwide efforts once students notice the inconsistency.

Tier 1 is the most comprehensive of the three PBIS tiers. Since the majority of your student body will belong in this category, you should make sure your teachers, staff, and parents are supporting it to its fullest extent.

PBIS Tier 2: More targeted support

No matter how detailed and well executed your Tier 1 PBIS plan may be, you will still have students who need some extra support. This doesn’t mean your system has failed; it just means that you need to have a plan in place for students who are at higher risk of falling short of expectations. This is where PBIS Tier 2 comes in.

Identifying students who need Tier 2 support

Perhaps the most important part of PBIS Tier 2 is identifying the students who actually need individualized support at this level. Most successful schools have a clearly organized referral process that hand-picks students who will get the most out of Tier 2 support. 

Some tools you can use to identify students who fall into this group are:

  • Office referrals
  • Parent-teacher conferences
  • Teacher recommendations
  • Screening scores
  • Formal tests or assessments

All other avenues must be explored before a student is moved into a more targeted PBIS group. This reduces the chances of incorrectly categorizing a student, which in turn gives these students the extra time and attention they need. The end game is a more well-behaved and successful student population.

PBIS Tier 2 best practices

Tier 2 success rates are greatly influenced by the foundations set in Tier 1 support groups. Your first step should be to make sure you are doing everything you can to establish that solid ground in Tier 1. There are several things you can do to help students who are moving into this more advanced tier.

More adult attention

Tier 2 students often need more adult care to model after positive behaviors in school. Teachers and administrators must pay close attention and provide more supervision and support students who need it.

More positive reinforcement

PBIS revolves around positive reinforcement to get the behaviors you want out of children in your school. When you are dealing with a student who needs a little more attention or support, you should turn up the dial a little. Offering more frequent positive reinforcement to children at this level can improve their behavior.

Setting up kids for success

Another essential part of behavior management is anticipating the needs of children who act out. If teachers and administrators can anticipate when a student might act out, they can get ahead of the issue and remind the student, group, or entire class how to behave well.

Better understanding from teachers

To offer the behavior support needed, teachers must be committed to understanding the reasoning behind specific PBIS actions at school. You could, for example, create a specialized PBIS training course for all teachers to make sure they are well equipped in the classroom.

Academic interventions

Many students who act out in class do so as a way of avoiding class instruction that is difficult for them to understand. Offering additional academic support like tutoring and one-on-one instruction can help these struggling students.

All school staff must remain heavily engaged in learning more about your school’s PBIS system. Your goals and target behaviors may change, but the basis of the system and its practices should always remain the same. Remember to stay consistent and have a process for everything — this is the best way you can ensure your school thrives when using PBIS.

PBIS Tier 3: Intensive support

Tier 3 support systems are designed for students who engage in highly disruptive, problem behavior, mental health or dangerous behaviors. This level of the PBIS system is reserved only for a small percentage of students in most cases and is extremely intensive.

PBIS Tier 3 best practices

In addition to continuing the evidence-based practices of Tiers 1 and 2, you will need to take a more targeted approach for any students who fall in Tier 3 of your PBIS program. 

Functional behavioral assessments (FBAs)

The goal of a functional behavioral assessment is to understand why students behave the way they do. Once that’s determined, a plan can be set in place to address specific triggers for misbehavior and resolve or alleviate behavioral problems.

Focusing on behavior

Once triggers and other factors are understood, you should focus on changing social and emotional academic factors that could be contributing to poor behavior. This involves preventing unwanted behavior by refusing rewards, teaching and positively reinforcing positive behaviors, and ensuring that each student is safe and secure.

Consider cultural factors

Several factors may influence a student’s behavior in school. For Tier 3 behavioral intervention, it is vital to consider cultural aspects to make instruction more valuable to students, teachers, and administrators. Some of these factors include race, ethnicity, location, family history and routines, and language barriers.

Understanding each of these factors will play a big part in the success of the Tier 3 interventions at your school. Take some time to ensure that all teachers, administrators, and other support staff understand the goals and the infrastructure behind each tier. A well-educated team is your best line of defense against the failure of PBIS.

How to Develop Effective MTSS Tier 1 Interventions

When implementing a tiered intervention plan, start by ensuring that Tier 1 of your MTSS implementation is as comprehensive as possible and that the instruction and intervention methods are clear.  By doing this, you’ll end up referring fewer students to Tiers 2 and 3. You can expect to make some critical decisions along the way. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at those evidence-based decisions and how you can use them to strengthen Tier 1 at your school.

Making decisions for Tier 1 interventions

In Tier 1, all students receive the same level of instruction. They aren’t given any specialized treatment until they need additional positive behavioral intervention. Here are some guidelines about making the right decisions for Tier 1 interventions. 

At the student level

Decisions made at Tier 1 are designed to ensure that the instruction meets the student’s needs. First of all, you have to determine: 

  • What those needs are
  • How you can measure if they’re being met
  • Which students need more behavioral interventions and support and what form that will take

What are your school’s goals?

In order to determine your students’ needs, you have to  prioritize your school’s goals. Most of them will fall under the category of academic performance or student behavior.

These priorities will be decided by your MTSS team, which will include various members of staff from different departments, levels and functions. You should aim to get as much input as possible from the entire faculty. 

The MTSS leadership team is responsible for determining which metrics need to be improved in order for the school climate to progress and their students to thrive. You should focus on the metrics that offer the most leverage or will cause the most significant “domino effect,” such as honing in on attendance and tardiness or improving the school’s culture.

Set benchmarks

Once you’ve identified the areas you’d like to improve,  you need to create a set of benchmarks to measure your students’ progress: 

These benchmarks can be:

  • Set by other schools in your district
  • Based on a curriculum-based screening tool
  • Created by your MTSS team 

Studies have shown that MTSS is considered a success when 80% of students meet the chosen benchmark. 

Use screening tools

Next, you’ll have to determine whether or not a student has passed a benchmark. You’ll need the right screening tools or criteria. This includes:

  • Formal assessments
  • Observations
  • Checklists

It’s critical to select the right screening tools because they’ll show you which individual students require intervention. If you don’t have the right tools, you could end up intervening too early, which could render your Tier 1 instruction ineffective. 

Finally, you have to decide what form or method the intervention will take. Ultimately, the desired outcome is knowing how to match the right students to the right interventions and PBIS supports. 

At the system level

Decisions made at the system level must ensure that the core instruction, which all students receive, is working. As we mentioned earlier, MTSS is considered a success when 80% of a student population meets an established benchmark. If you don’t have enough students reaching the benchmark, it’s time to take a closer look at your teaching methods. You don’t want to earmark students for Tiers 2 and 3 before they’re ready. Doing this could  stretch your school’s finite resources, which is a costly way to compensate for inadequate instruction.

Look at the data

Want to know if your school’s instruction is effective? Look at the relevant data. Many of the critical decisions you make will be concerned with how differentiated instruction is recorded and subsequently analyzed. You’ll have to decide what your objectives are and which data will give you that information.  

Analyze the data

Let’s say you want to look at data about problem behaviors. How will you collect it? It’s important that your data is both accurate and timely. Choose the right methods to record it. 

Then, you’ll want to analyze it. In this case, you’ll have to consider the following: 

  • Where it will be stored
  • How it can be accessed
  • Your methods of analysis

Remember, where the data ends up and how it can be interpreted is just as important as the collection process. 

Looking at data is the MTSS team’s responsibility. However, it’s important that the entire faculty who are directly involved with the data have  a means of providing feedback and offering suggestions.

Identify problems

If your data reveals that instruction in a specific area isn’t effective, the next step is to identify the particular practices that are causing trouble. You can do this by auditing daily actions and routines for that instruction. Here are some questions to consider: 

  • How much time is allocated to instruction? Is it enough, and if not, how much more is required?
  • Which educational materials are used?
  • How is the classroom instruction delivered? (text, video, audio, etc.) Is it delivered in more than one form?
  • How do the students give feedback on what they’ve learned? How is their comprehension tested?
  • When and how are reviews (assessments) carried out? 
  • How are students actively engaging with the instruction?

Asking these questions will reveal which elements of your Tier 1 instruction are working and which ones need to be addressed.

Determining priorities, collecting data, and reviewing findings

Making the right decisions at Tier 1 is vital in getting your MTSS right and ensuring that all your improving students benefit from it. Although these decisions are often taken separately from the student and system levels, the two are actually symbiotic. A student’s needs are met when core instruction is effective. But this instruction can only be considered effective when the students’ needs are met. The key is to determine your priorities and goals, collect the right data, and continuously review your findings.

How to Develop Effective MTSS Tier 2 Interventions

Your first step in developing effective MTSS Tier 2 interventions is to identify the students who will actually benefit. The best way to do this is to standardize your screening process so that each student is graded against the same criteria. This ensures that no student will fall through the cracks or be misplaced in Tier 2.

Standardizing screening

One way that schools standardize their screening process is by using benchmark tests. If your school already has standardized testing in place, this is a great place to start since that data is readily available for your review. 

When you begin a new school year in the fall, you can use data from your spring testing to place students in the appropriate support tiers. Even though you’re relying on the previous year to do your initial screening, you should still gather more data in the fall to ensure students are placed in the right tier. This screening should take place within the first four or five weeks of the semester.

Get teachers involved 

In addition to benchmark screenings, it’s also important to train teachers to identify student behavior and other indicators that could suggest if a student belongs in a different tier. While looking at test scores can help determine who needs individualized support, taking a more human approach is better. Some students may be wonderful test-takers but still need additional support in different areas, such as staying on task during homework assignments and behaving well during instruction time. Students are more than just numbers and statistics, and involving teachers in their placement process ensures that this is not overlooked.

The best way to ensure Tier 2 of MTSS runs as smoothly as possible is to assemble a task force to help implement and improve your overall support systems. This should include teachers and administrators who are good at problem solving and invested in making the process work. Conduct meetings once a month to allow your task force to discuss what is, or isn’t, working. This is a wonderful way to ensure that your screening process is accurate and up to date.

Implement research-based programs

Using research-based programs is the best way to ensure that your MTSS Tier 2 interventions are effective. When you are implementing new interventions and support systems in your school, you might find that some approaches don’t work. There are several variables involved in the success of an MTSS program, so it’s impossible to create a one-size-fits-all strategy. The key is not to get discouraged when something doesn’t work for you — there is always another option out there. 

On the other hand, if something isn’t working at first, that doesn’t mean you must find an alternative immediately — some things take time. Remember: when you introduce a new way of doing things, everyone will need to learn about it, adjust, and overcome a few obstacles before you see the results you seek. This doesn’t mean the program has failed; it just means that you need to wait a little longer to see what it can truly do for your school.

Be supportive

Offer plenty of support to your teachers and students during the introduction process. Everyone is likely to have questions and might even experience some frustration trying to integrate an entirely new process. In addition to providing training, you should also offer help at every step of the way so that your students and staff feel as comfortable as possible with their new support structure.

Collecting, storing, and analyzing data

As the school year goes on, your goal is to move students down a tier until they reach Tier 1. This is where the majority of students should be. When deciding which students should move up or down a tier, you should rely on the data that is collected and stored. This can be done through standardized testing, which should take place at least three times a year.

When closing out the school year, you should gather all relevant data into a format that is easy to read. Doing so provides a visual representation of how the school year went. It can also be used to improve on processes or support ones that have worked well. Overall, taking stock and keeping track of data will help you develop the right MTSS Tier 2 interventions for you, your student body, and your staff.

Implementing structured schedules 

While MTSS supports are an essential part of leading students to success, you should also set aside time for core instruction. Teachers already have an overwhelming number of objectives to complete in the school year. Providing a structured schedule can help make Tier 2 interventions more effective at your school. 

These schedules aren’t rigid; rather, they serve more as a guide. Keep in mind that each teacher has their own way of doing things in their classroom, and they know what works best for them. Instead of imposing a strict schedule, try creating a few different examples so that teachers can adopt the schedule that’s best suited to their needs and those of their students.

3 sessions a week

When creating these schedules, you should include a few essentials. First, core instruction should remain at the heart of the classroom. When it comes to Tier 2 MTSS support, teachers should allow at least three sessions a week that should last a minimum of 30 minutes. If time permits and students need extra support, these sessions can be extended. However, they shouldn’t be shortened under any circumstances. Doing so could compromise the effectiveness of Tier 2 interventions.

Putting initiatives into writing

No matter how many meetings you have or how resourceful your support people are, some information will always slip between the cracks. To avoid confusion and create a seamless experience, you should put all initiatives into writing and make these documents readily available to students, teachers, parents, and administrators.

The effectiveness of MTSS Tier 2 interventions starts at the top, with your school administration. When you provide initiatives in writing, you eliminate the possibility of misinformation being spread about the systems. Providing informative, all-inclusive literature about your efforts contributes to a successful, well-rounded support system for everyone.

Getting everyone involved 

Any time you introduce something new to your school, you should use information that’s already available to ensure students and teachers benefit from your efforts. By involving parents, teachers, and administrators in the process of testing, implementing schedules, and collecting data, you’ll get a much clearer picture of MTSS. Ultimately, if you trust your team and follow research-based methods, you’ll enjoy more effective MTSS Tier 2 interventions in your school.

How to Develop Effective MTSS Tier 3 Interventions

When implementing a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) model at your school, you need effective interventions at every level of the pyramid. The top tier of MTSS consists of the smallest group of students (approx. three students per teacher) who need targeted support in order to achieve academic success. Here are a few things you can do to implement effective interventions for Tier 3 students. 

Screening your students properly

The first step to implementing MTSS is to make sure students are placed in the right tiers. Here’s how to get the best results: 

  1. Schools should use standardized testing to rank students based on the same criteria across the board. 
  2. Afterwards, more in-depth personal assessments and intervention can be administered by teachers to ensure that students are placed into the right category. 
  3. As the year goes on, students should also be reassessed at least three additional times to ensure they remain in the tier that is appropriate for their level of academic progress.

Other tools available

While standardized testing scores are a great place to start, that’s not the only screening tool you need to ensure the effectiveness of Tier 3 interventions at your school. 

  • Teachers should also receive rigorous training on how to screen students for behavioral cues. 
  • Some students who score well on tests still need interventions to help them succeed in a class environment and  develop healthy social skills. 
  • Putting in the time to ensure that teachers know what to look for in their classrooms helps add a human touch to the screening process.

How to screen 

Ultimately, the goal of MTSS is to guide students to a place where they can participate in traditional class instruction and succeed in school. By splitting students into smaller groups, teachers can spend more time catering to support models that will help these kids to succeed. 

As long as teachers are dedicated to properly screening and assessing students throughout the year, most students can:

  • Effectively move down a level
  • Get acclimated to that level
  • Eventually eliminate their Tier 3 supports  

Assembling an MTSS task force

If you want your MTSS program to succeed, you’ll need to constantly monitor students, collect data, and iterate. No single MTSS program will work for every school, so you will likely run into obstacles along the way as you begin your initiative. Assembling an MTSS task force that is dedicated to creating and improving critical goals is a great way to keep your program on track.

Typically, these Data Analysis Teams (DAT), should meet three times a year (fall, spring and summer) to: 

  • Review standardized test scores
  • Communicate important information to teachers
  • Facilitate successful intervention plans for students placed in each tier

Choosing the ideal candidates

The DAT is multidisciplinary and doesn’t need to include any particular number of people. It’s a good idea to consider the population of your school when deciding how many people should be on this team. However, when selecting your candidates, it’s essential to make sure that each member meets a few guidelines. The ideal candidate for the DAT should:

  • Be knowledgeable about school MTSS initiatives, initiative personnel, and evidence-based MTSS programs, specifically for Tiers 2 and 3 
  • Be able to accurately place students into the right tier of MTSS based on their screening results
  • Understand how to assess student performance benchmarks and estimate their risk of falling behind without the proper support
  • Be able to match students with the appropriate MTSS supports and know when it is time to try new supports if students aren’t showing progress
  • Have the resources needed to properly document students’ journeys as they receive Tier 3 interventions

What to expect from a DAT member

Following these simple guidelines is the easiest and most efficient way to ensure that your DAT functions well and does everything it needs to support your MTSS initiatives. All DAT members should also be:

  • Instructed and encouraged to keep up to date with current trends, new researched-based programs, and new interventions that will arise as Response to Intervention (RTI) becomes more and more prevalent in modern schools.
  • Committed to the success of the program and be available to support teachers when needed.

Creating tailored intervention programs

Most of your student body will likely fall into Tier 1 of MTSS supports. These students thrive in a traditional school environment and get the support they need to succeed in a large classroom setting with traditional classroom instruction.

Tier 3 students, however, need lots of extra support in small groups to succeed. Intervention programs must be structured enough to make a difference while also leaving some flexibility so that they can be modified to fit each student’s needs.

Addressing different needs 

What works well for some Tier 3 students might not for others. Creating intervention programs that have several support options is the best way to address the different needs of each student. For example, an effective MTSS Tier 3 intervention plan might have several suggestions for supporting students that struggle with being disruptive in class. 

These might include:

  • Options for one-on-one instruction
  • Directives for teachers to discourage misbehavior

It’s also crucial that these plans include reward systems for students who exhibit model behaviors after an intervention. As this Classcraft blog explains, rather than punishing students for acting out, teachers should be encouraged to praise positive behavior.

Creating customized programs

Overall, creating and enforcing custom-tailored MTSS programs ensures that no student is left behind in the MTSS system. Giving the proper attention to the needs of each individual student is essential to the effectiveness of Tier 3 interventions. 

Since each child is different, they have their own personal barriers and obstacles to overcome. Having a set of proven intervention methods empowers educators to support Tier 3 students, while also making it possible to customize or modify plans quickly and easily.

Developing effective interventions

Tier 3 students are:

  • Students who have been identified as having significant barriers to succeeding in school when compared to their peers.
  • In-need of intensive individualized and dedicated support to help them reach academic or behavioral goals. 

Educators can focus on a few key areas to develop the proper interventions for these students. In addition to using researched-based programs that are most effective in helping students, limiting group sizes to three students and monitoring interventions can make a big difference. 

Paying close attention to these areas:

  • Ensures that students receive the care and attention they need 
  • Their interventions are adequate for the challenges they face.

Before any interventions are put into action, a clear, actionable plan must be created for each student. These plans should be written in collaboration with:

  • The DAT
  • The student’s parents
  • Your school administration

Create a written plan

These agendas should be made available to all parties who might request them. Having a written plan minimizes the chances of confusion or wandering off task when completing intervention sessions. They can also be used as a reference resource during DAT meetings since they contain valuable data about successful and unsuccessful interventions.

Since Tier 3 interventions are so intensive, it can be difficult for some educators to juggle Tier 3 interventions with their typical schedule. While core instruction is important, it is also vital that the right amount of time be dedicated to MTSS support. In order to facilitate the accelerated learning that Tier 3 students need, instructors should plan for at least three thirty-minute sessions weekly with all Tier 3 students.

Stay flexible

You can create example schedules for teachers to model after. Still, it’s a good idea to be flexible and let each teacher decide where MTSS intervention sessions will fit best into their class schedule, which reduces frustration and helps raise morale surrounding the program as a whole.

While the intervention process is in motion, it’s also a good idea to continually measure the effectiveness of the initiatives in place. This involves collecting and recording daily data such as identifying student attendance and the overall behavior of each student. This directive ensures that Tier 3 interventions are delivered with integrity and that the interventions are helping each student to reach their MTSS goals.

Tier 3 interventions at your school

Tier 3 interventions are all about collecting data and using it to create support systems to help students progress in school. There are varying levels of support needed, even among students who are within Tier 3, so it’s essential to have a variety of different resources and intervention methods available for the most effective MTSS framework. Doing things like assembling a task force and formulating a clear, actionable plan are some of the best ways that educators can strengthen MTSS programs to be as useful as possible for students in need.

What Is the Difference Between MTSS Tiers 2 and 3?

Tiers 2 and 3 were created to provide additional support to students who need it. Each of these tiers targets a different type of student. Although they’re often confused, Tiers 2 and 3 are in fact different in a number of ways.

Assessing tiers

Both tiers use the same assessment methods, such as standardized benchmark scores and teacher evaluations, to evaluate students and their eligibility for placement in Tier 2 or 3. However, the data collected during the assessment step is used differently between each tier.

  • Students in Tier 2 of MTSS do not need as much academic support as those in Tier 3, so there’s less of a need to develop curricula and protocols for one-on-one interventions. 
  • In Tier 2, data collected from assessments is used to create group-based interventions and problem-solving directives. 

Tier 3 data collection is examined more closely to identify specific types of classroom activities and interventions that would support students in a one-on-one setting. For this reason, benchmark scores and other assessments must be analyzed to develop curricula at the individual level, rather than for small groups or an entire classroom. For example, two students may take the same math assessment and score equally poorly. But while one student struggles with solving equations, another may find it more difficult to translate word problems into equations. These two students may not benefit from the same types of targeted support since they have different needs at a granular level. 

The differences in group size

  • Tier 2 of MTSS consists of smaller group sizes of five to eight students who receive academic support beyond the general curricula of Tier 1.
  • Students in Tier 3 often receive one-on-one support because of their unique needs or challenges.

Tier 2 students have a moderately difficult time with academics as compared to their peers, but they don’t struggle with school to the point that they’re on the verge of failing. 

  • Small group sizes allow instructors to provide just the right level of targeted support these students need, without isolating them too much from their peers and the rest of the classroom. 
  • Grouping Tier 2 students into groups of this size allows more time for one-on-one instruction where it is needed. These group sessions are generally spent doing enrichment exercises that expound upon core instruction.

Tier 3 students, on the other hand, are placed in this category because they need intensive, specific interventions for academic or behavioral success. These students are identified as being highly at-risk for failure in comparison to their peers and do best when given as much one-on-one support as possible.

  • Group sizes in Tier 3 should be limited to no more than three students at a time. 
  • This gives teachers plenty of flexibility to carry out interventions with each individual student and to give them the personal attention they need to catch up to other students at their grade level. 
  • Tier 3 primarily focuses on remediation techniques.

Applying instruction frequencies

The MTSS model doesn’t neglect core instruction and general education. In fact, it’s the opposite. When students are placed into higher tiers on the MTSS pyramid, the goal is to provide them the level of support they need in order to gradually work their way back down to Tier 1. Tiers 2 and 3 differ in the frequency of instruction, which helps educators and students balance personalized attention with core instruction.

  • Tier 2 students need semi-frequent support from teachers in order to overcome academic challenges.
  • At least three intervention sessions per week, a minimum of thirty minutes each. 
  • Sessions can be extended or made to be more frequent, but these are considered the bare-minimum recommendations.

Tier 3 students, on the other hand, need serious and immediate direction in order to come up to par with the other students of their grade level. 

  • In an effort to move these children down the pyramid as quickly and efficiently as possible, instructors should hold daily meetings at a time when students are most likely to pay attention and complete their work. 
  • The minimum session time is thirty minutes, but if time allows, spending an hour or more per day on MTSS interventions can make a big difference in their performance.

Applying instruction durations

In addition to the frequency of intervention sessions, Tiers 2 and 3 also differ with regard to the duration of the programs they involve:

  • Tier 2 students typically need instruction that lasts anywhere from eight to fifteen weeks
  • Tier 3 students generally spend at least twenty weeks on their programs

The main reason these differences exist is due to the average time it takes to move students down one tier when using targeted interventions. 

  • Tier 2 students typically don’t struggle as much as Tier 3 students and receive targeted support with the intent of academic enrichment, so it’s usually less time-consuming to give these students the right tools they need to succeed. 
  • With Tier 3 students, educators must spend an ample amount of one-on-one time with them so that they have the best chance of success.

Requiring at least twenty weeks of remediation helps ensure that teachers have plenty of time to address students’ needs and that the students have the opportunity to learn and grow with the least amount of stress and anxiety as possible.

In some cases, no matter which tier a student is placed in, additional weeks of support may be necessary to guide them toward a new tier. This does not mean that support isn’t working or that your program must be modified. Each student learns at their own pace; regardless of which tier they are placed in, they still have individual struggles that won’t always conform to the standards that are set when creating these programs.

Tier 2 students generally complete programs faster, but it’s possible that a Tier 3 student could improve more quickly.

Tailoring the delivery 

Tier 2 support helps students to understand their core instruction better. It’s similar to a tutoring session, so there is not very much modification to a student’s typical academic schedule. In fact, many students placed in this tier can complete their work from their assigned seats in class since the support they receive doesn’t differ too much from the general education of Tier 1. This means that Tier 2 can be overseen by an instructor or intervention specialist.

Tier 3 students typically need more support and guidance, but their meetings still need to tie into core instruction. Understanding and implementing this balance is essential to a successful Tier 3 intervention session, so a more experienced instructor is better suited. Often, an intervention specialist, content specialist, or special education teacher is ideal for this role.

Differentiating between MTSS tiers

Even though Tier 2 and 3 MTSS supports are both designed for struggling students, they are not the same. As we’ve seen, they differ in:

  • How data is interpreted in the assessment stage
  • Group sizes
  • Session duration and frequency
  • And content delivery. 

These differences ensure that students receive adequate support and attention catered to their needs.

The Bottom Line

If your disciplinary model needs a change, MTSS is a framework that can make a huge difference in your school. Focusing on positive reinforcement to encourage model behaviors rather than punishing undesirable ones is a wonderful way to improve your students’ behavior problems. The 3 PBIS tiers can also lead to less animosity between students, teachers, and administrators since it creates a high-quality environment of teamwork and trust. 

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


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Shaped Executive Editor

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