How can Tier 3 intervention be implemented?

Page 4: Determining Which Students Will Receive Tier 3 Intervention

Most of the students who require Tier 3 intervention have difficulty decoding words, reading fluently, and comprehending what they have read. Additionally, they often lack:

    • Phonological awareness and knowledge of the alphabetic principle
    • Verbal knowledge and strategies that are needed for reading comprehension
    • Experience with letters, print, and language prior to entering kindergarten
    • Motivation to read or an appreciation for reading, often due directly to their reading struggles

Doug Fuchs, PhD
Nicholas Hobbs Endowed Chair
in Special Education
and Human Development
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN

Listen as Doug Fuchs describes some of the other characteristics of students who might benefit from Tier 3 intervention (time: 1:12).

View Transcript

The Tier 3 Eligibility Process

If the data indicate that the student is not making adequate progress in Tier 2, he or she should be considered for Tier 3, or special education, services. However, to qualify for special education services under current law, students must meet certain criteria: 1) a student must have a disability, and 2) that disability must significantly affect his or her educational performance. The formal process for determining whether a student is eligible for Tier 3 services consists of three basic steps:

  • Referral
  • Evaluation
  • Determination of eligibility for special education


Based on a student’s progress in Tier 2, school personnel may refer a student for special education services. Once the referral is made, school personnel and parents should meet to review the student’s progress (e.g., Tier 2 progress monitoring data, work samples) and to decide whether an evaluation for special education services (i.e., Tier 3 intervention) is warranted.


The purpose of the evaluation is to rule out other possible factors for the student’s academic performance, and, in turn, to indicate whether the student does in fact have a learning disability (LD). Factors to rule out include:


  • The existence of other disabilities (e.g., intellectual and developmental disabilities, visual impairment, hearing impairment, emotional or behavioral disorder)
  • A lack of appropriate reading instruction
  • A low level of English proficiency
  • An environmental or cultural disadvantage
  • Low motivation
  • Situational trauma (e.g., the death of a parent)

Ruling these factors out will require school personnel to make use of multiple sources of information. Though they often begin by administering the assessments noted in the table below, the IEP team may request other assessments to gain additional information about a student.

Assessment Purpose
  • Vision screening
  • Hearing screening
To eliminate vision or hearing deficits as causes of learning problems
  • Intelligence test (abbreviated version)
  • Adaptive behavior scales (if warranted by the intelligence test)
To eliminate intellectual and developmental disabilities as a cause of learning problems
  • Speech and language screening
To eliminate speech or language impairments as a cause of learning problems
  • Behavior checklists (parent and teacher)
To eliminate an emotional or behavioral disorder as a cause for academic failure

Because the student’s progress monitoring data can serve as a measure of achievement, an achievement test is often not included in the evaluation. However, the specific measures required as part of this evaluation vary by state.

Sec. 300.304 Evaluation procedures.

(a) Notice. The public agency must provide notice to the parents of a child with a disability, in accordance with Sec. 300.503, that describes any evaluation procedures the agency proposes to conduct.
(b) Conduct of evaluation. In conducting the evaluation, the public agency must–
(1) Use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information about the child, including information provided by the parent, that may assist in determining–
(i) Whether the child is a child with a disability under Sec. 300.8; and
(ii) The content of the child’s IEP, including information related to enabling the child to be involved in and progress in the general education curriculum (or for a preschool child, to participate in appropriate activities);
(2) Not use any single measure or assessment as the sole criterion for determining whether a child is a child with a disability and for determining an appropriate educational program for the child; and
(3) Use technically sound instruments that may assess the relative contribution of cognitive and behavioral factors, in addition to physical or developmental factors.
(c) Other evaluation procedures. Each public agency must ensure that–
(1) Assessments and other evaluation materials used to assess a child under this part–
(i) Are selected and administered so as not to be discriminatory on a racial or cultural basis;
(ii) Are provided and administered in the child’s native language or other mode of communication and in the form most likely to yield accurate information on what the child knows and can do academically, developmentally, and functionally, unless it is clearly not feasible to so provide or administer;
(iii) Are used for the purposes for which the assessments or measures are valid and reliable;
(iv) Are administered by trained and knowledgeable personnel; and
(v) Are administered in accordance with any instructions provided by the producer of the assessments.
(2) Assessments and other evaluation materials include those tailored to assess specific areas of educational need and not merely those that are designed to provide a single general intelligence quotient.
(3) Assessments are selected and administered so as best to ensure that if an assessment is administered to a child with impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills, the assessment results accurately reflect the child’s aptitude or achievement level or whatever other factors the test purports to measure, rather than reflecting the child’s impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills (unless those skills are the factors that the test purports to measure).
(4) The child is assessed in all areas related to the suspected disability, including, if appropriate, health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, general intelligence, academic performance, communicative status, and motor abilities;
(5) Assessments of children with disabilities who transfer from one public agency to another public agency in the same school year are coordinated with those children’s prior and subsequent schools, as necessary and as expeditiously as possible, consistent with Sec. 300.301(d)(2) and (e), to ensure prompt completion of full evaluations.
(6) In evaluating each child with a disability under Sec. Sec. 300.304 through 300.306, the evaluation is sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child’s special education and related services needs, whether or not commonly linked to the disability category in which the child has been classified.
(7) Assessment tools and strategies that provide relevant information that directly assists persons in determining the educational needs of the child are provided.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1414(b)(1)-(3), 1412(a)(6)(B))

Determination of Eligibility for Special Education

Once the evaluation process is complete, the IEP team and the parents meet to review the test results. If the team determines that the student meets the criteria established by the state for a learning disability, the student will receive the more intensive, individualized intervention provided in Tier 3. Before this intervention can begin, however, an individualized education program (IEP) must be developed to address the learning needs of the student.

For Your Information

The formal process for referring a student for an evaluation and determining whether the child meets the criteria for special education services in Tier 3 requires school personnel to communicate with parents in order to:

  • Request referral to evaluate the child for special education services (can be initiated by parent or school personnel)
  • Provide written prior notice of the action the school is taking or refusing to take (e.g., evaluating or determining that there is not enough evidence to proceed)
  • Inform parents of their procedural safeguards and their legal rights and protections under IDEA ’04
  • Invite parents to participate in the IEP planning process


Laney is a student at Rosa Parks Elementary. When she doesn’t respond adequately to Tier 2 intervention, her teacher refers her for a special education evaluation.

Assessment Responsible Party Results
Hearing screening School nurse Normal
Vision screening School nurse Normal
Intelligence test School psychologist Average
Speech and language screening Speech and language pathologist Below average: A speech and language evaluation is warranted
Speech and language evaluation Speech and language pathologist Speech impairment
Behavior checklists (teacher and parent) School psychologist No significant problem

The IEP team, together with Laney’s parents, reviews the results and rules out hearing and vision impairments, intellectual disabilities, and emotional or behavioral disorders as reasons for her continuing struggles with reading. In addition, the team rules out a lack of appropriate reading instruction, low level of English proficiency, environmental or cultural disadvantage, motivation, and situational trauma as potential factors. The IEP team reviews Laney’s progress monitoring data along with the results of the evaluation and determines that Laney has a learning disability and therefore qualifies for special education services.

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