Even when they receive high-quality instruction in general education classrooms, approximately 15–20% of students continue to struggle with academic skills. Like Natalia, who you heard about in this module’s Challenge, these students might require targeted instruction, also referred to as Tier 2 or secondary level instruction. Targeted instruction is additional small-group instruction designed to support and reinforce skills taught in the core instructional program in a way that is more responsive to students than typical classroom instruction (i.e., Tier 1 instruction).
Despite this additional support, however, some 30–50% of students who receive targeted instruction (or 5–10% of all students) will not respond adequately. Students like Natalia who have severe and persistent academic difficulties will need more intensive intervention, often referred to as Tier 3 or tertiary level instruction. In contrast to targeted instruction, intensive intervention is characterized by:
Increased intensity (e.g., more instructional time, smaller group size)
Individualization of instruction based on data
Research indicates that intensive intervention is critical for the success of some students.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) administers annual achievement tests to fourth- and eighth-grade students. Following are the 2013 results for students scoring at the “Below Basic” level.
Students with Disabilities
Reading: 4th grade
Reading: 8th grade
Math: 4th grade
Math: 8th grade
(National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2013)
Although 90–95% of elementary students benefit from primary and targeted instruction (i.e., Tier 1 and Tier 2 instruction), 5–10% of all students do not respond to these types of instruction and, therefore, require intensive intervention. (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Vaughn, 2014)
Although older students (i.e., students in middle and high school) benefit from intensive intervention, it is recommended that intensive intervention begin as early as possible. (Scammacca, Roberts, Vaughn, Edmonds, Wexler, Reutebuch & Torgensen, 2007)
In the videos below, Rebecca Zumeta Edmonds, deputy director of the National Center on Intensive Intervention, and Sharon Vaughn, Senior Advisor to the National Center on Intensive Intervention and the Executive Director of the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk, discuss why it is important to use intensive intervention.
Narrator: Why is intensive intervention important?
Rebecca Zumeta Edmonds: What we know about students with disabilities, even kids with the most intensive cognitive challenges, is that they can all make progress. All students can learn and can make improvement from where they are starting. And so this approach and this focus on intensive intervention, it’s really about helping move the bar for kids to the extent that we can. Students with disabilities on the whole have really had very flat achievement when we look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Proficiency rates for students overall hover around thirty percent, and that number has gone up over these last fifteen years; whereas when we look at students with disabilities at fourth and eighth grade in reading and math, the proficiency rates hover around ten percent. As the students get older and we start looking at things like graduation, post-secondary outcomes, incarceration rates, and so on, also the numbers are much more dismal.
There has been more recently a focus on making sure all students make progress towards standards, and so I think sometimes that gets interpreted to mean we have to teach all students the same way because we have to get them to the same place. There is no such thing as an acceptable failure rate. And this is a group of kids where we need to continue to look at data and individualize our instructions so that we can get these students closer to where we want them to be and so that their performances is more in line with that of their peers.
Narrator: Why is it important for schools to focus on intensive interventions?
Sharon Vaughn: It’s important for schools to focus on intensive interventions because it gives an opportunity for the schools to figure out ways to serve their neediest students. And you might wonder even, what do we mean by an intensive intervention? The idea is really that if you have your core program—whether it’s reading or math or your sort of central school system approaches to behavior—then for those students for whom that is not enough, sufficient, you want to provide something supplemental, whether it’s in behavior or math or reading, and that gets increasingly intensive to respond to the instructional or behavioral needs of the students.
And so an intensive intervention is really viewed as an intervention that is the most specific for the students most in need. And so that is important because otherwise what we are really saying as a society is that we believe in appropriate education for some students, not all students. And so by providing intensive interventions, by organizing your school to address them, you are really embracing every student who comes to your school, and you are saying that no matter what their behavioral needs are, no matter what their instructional needs are, we are going to specify, articulate, and implement an appropriate intervention for that child. And so that means a willingness to make modifications, a willingness to make adaptations, and a willingness to reflect on evidence-based decision making so that the kind of intensive intervention you provide is really specific to that student.
A model or approach to instruction that provides increasingly intensive and individualized levels of support for academics (e.g., response to intervention or RTI) and for behavior (e.g., Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports or PBIS).
response to intervention (RTI)
A multi-tiered approach for delivering instruction to learners through increasingly intensive and individualized interventions.
positive behavioral intervention and supports (PBIS)
A three-tiered framework (i.e., primary, secondary, tertiary) that provides a continuum of supports and services designed to promote appropriate behaviors and to prevent and address challenging behaviors.
Intensive intervention (also referred to as tertiary or Tier 3 instruction) is provided in a smaller-group setting of one to three students or more frequently than in targeted instruction to meet the individual needs of students; it is provided to students in addition to primary instruction.
Targeted instruction (also referred to as secondary or Tier 2 instruction) offers a standard validated instructional approach or program to students in a small-group setting of three to five students; it is also provided in addition to primary instruction.
Primary instruction (also referred to as Tier 1 instruction) is high-quality instruction provided in the general education classroom.
As the illustration above depicts, intensive intervention is intended to meet the needs of a relatively small number of students. These students include:
Those, both with and without disabilities, who are not responding adequately to targeted instruction (i.e., Tier 2)
A written plan used to delineate an individual student’s current level of development and his or her learning goals, as well as to specify any accommodations, modifications, and related services that a student might need to attend school and maximize his or her learning.
In the following video, Steve Goodman, Director of Michigan’s Integrated Behavior and Learning Support Initiative, discusses why it is beneficial to embed intensive intervention within multi-tiered systems of support (time: 2:44).
Narrator: Why is it important for schools to focus on intensive interventions?
Steve Goodman: There’re a number of advantages for considering intensive intervention within a three-tiered model. A three-tiered model provides a proactive approach where we are investing in early intervention to reduce the likelihood of more intensive needs later on. So if we do well with a universal or core program, we may reduce the need or the severity for students who would require Tier 2 or Tier 3 approaches. There’s also an advantage that we can use a multi-tiered system of supports to identify students with more-intensive needs because they are not successful enough with the universal or the tier. Another advantage is that we can layer supports. So with a multi-tiered system, those requiring the most-intensive supports may also require the universal program, as well as a Tier 2 approach. And, finally, students’ needs really vary across context and content, so a student who has severe needs in the area of reading may do well with math, or they may do well with behavior, so we need to look at the specific context and the content of what the intensive needs are and provide multiple levels of support across.
We also need to set up the environment to be most effective and efficient, and a multi-tiered system of support will…By reducing the number of students who need more intensive support, we can then allocate staff to be more effective and really provide the time and the intensity for students with a Tier 3 support.