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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Tsapakis

What is Tier 2 and Tier 3 Intervention in the Educational Setting?

Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 - these are popular educational terms, but have they actually ever been explained to you?

If not, it is probably because educators are not great about spelling out all the acronyms and educational terms we use when communicating with non-educators (and I say this as an educator myself!).

Basically, Tier 1 is the regular curriculum (classroom instruction). Tier 2 and Tier 3 are extra help provided to your student if they need additional support to succeed in Tier 1.

However, there are large differences between Tier 2 and Tier 3.

Tier 2 vs Tier 3 Intervention

The "tier" system is setup to work like levels. The lower the level, the less intensive the intervention.

You will most often see the tiers represented on a pyramid, with Tier 1 being the base and considered general education that is delivered to every student. As you move up the pyramid, the instruction increases in intensity and the number of students receiving these services decreases.

In other words, most students spend most of their day receiving only Tier I instruction.

The information below is meant to help you better understand that various tiers, but it's important to remember that this does vary state-to-state. For the purposes of this blog, we will be discussing Tier III as services provided to students that have been found eligible for special education and have IEPs in place.

Tier 2 Intervention is:

  • not for every student

  • for students that appear to need a small amount of additional support with a concept

  • for students that have tested in below average ranges on an area in state testing or that have a low grade in a subject area

  • usually delivered in small groups within the same classroom, but can be pull-out

  • can be delivered by the general education teacher or a specialized teacher

  • often focuses on increasing a child's understanding of the concepts in the subject area of need by re-teaching material within a small group setting

  • does not often use specialized programs

  • does not last for a specified or set amount of time, and students can move between Tier I and Tier II intervention repeatedly throughout their academic career as the need is identified

As a way to simplify and speak in general terms, think of Tier 2 as a small group of students working at a back table with their teacher while the rest of the class works independently on an activity.

For a lot of our students, Tier II also may be when they are pulled out by a reading teacher for extra support, but they do not have an IEP. You will sometimes hear Tier II referred to as part of the Response to Intervention (RTI) process where a district provides increased support over several weeks to see if they can help improve areas of weakness.

Laws vary from state-to-state, but most states do not need permission

or to notify parents in order to place a child in Tier 2 intervention.

Tier 3 Intervention is:

  • not for every student

  • for students identified as eligible for special education with an IEP

  • usually delivered 1:1 or in a small group within a resource room or the special education classroom

  • delivered by a specialized teacher

  • intensive, individualized, specialized instruction provided to a student based upon the areas of need identified on their evaluation

  • lasts throughout their IEP and until they are dismissed from special education

  • required by law to be provided according to the service minutes listed within the IEP


One very frustrating reality is that your child might need extra help, but be moved in and out of Tier 2 intervention because there are others lower than them.

It is important to know that districts typically decide who qualifies for Tier 2 based upon the performance of the class as a whole. If a teacher has 30 students in the classroom, the lowest 6 students in a subject area may receive that increased instruction in a small group. As the lowest students fluctuate, the small group changes.

What we tend to see happen then is that the student is given a boost and then sent back to the regular group until they dip back down into the lowest group.

It's a familiar story to hear that a student repeatedly bounced between Tier I and Tier II for help with reading fluency for years only to have them diagnosed with dyslexia privately when their parent finally threw up their hands (and money) in frustration with a district.

It's also very important to state that Tier II really does help so many of our kids when used appropriately.

How do I know if my child needs help?

If your child appears to be struggling, has low test scores, struggles with homework, or is currently receiving Tier II support, now is the time to ask LOTS of questions.

  • Where is your child performing in relation to their peers?

  • What are the teachers concerns?

  • What would the teacher's response be if it were his or her own child struggling?

  • What curriculum is your teacher using?

  • How much explicit instruction of concepts happens during class, and is there an opportunity for extra instruction time?

Districts often will tell a parent that a student must receive Tier II support before they can begin the evaluation process for special education.

This is not true.

If you've repeatedly had concerns or feel in your gut that your child needs more individualized support, you always have the right to request an evaluation to determine if your child is eligible for special education.

This process should take no more than 90-days, but we are all familiar with stories about push back and delays, so starting now is a good idea.

If you aren't even sure where to start or wonder if your mama gut is pointing you in the right direction, you can always obtain a private screening, evaluation, or intervention services. These are services provided by LD Expert to help your child reach their full academic potential!

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