Interventions Only Work as Well as the Foundation of Tier 1 Supports They are Implemented Upon


Dr. Clay Cook

Intervention delivery is perhaps best conceptualized within a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS). MTSS is like a computer operating system that helps organize and guide the delivery of a continuum of supports that are matched to the level of student need.  Most MTSS models involve a graduated sequence of intensifying supports (Tiers 1, 2, and 3). In MTSS, Tier 1 refers to the universal supports that all students receive. 

Tier 1 serves three broad purposes:

  • Tier 1 serves the purpose of prevention, which is to prevent academic and behavior problems from ever developing in the first place. 
  • Tier 1 serves the purpose of promotion, which is to enhance or optimize outcomes by promoting success enabling factors. 
  • Lastly and often forgotten or undervalued, Tier 1 serves the purpose of providing the foundational supports necessary to enhance the effectiveness of Tier 2 and 3 interventions for students who have social, emotional and behavioral needs that go beyond Tier 1 alone.   

When there are fractures in the delivery of Tier 1 universal supports (for example, there is a weak teacher-student relationship or classroom lacks clear behavioral expectations), many students exhibit needs that appear to warrant more intensive interventions. For many of these students, improvements in Tier 1 implementation is precisely the fix that is needed to improve their behavior and performance. For students who do need an intervention, fractures in Tier 1 undermine the impact and weaken the potency of the intervention to produce beneficial effects for the student.  A brief analogy illustrates this point. Imagine a child who is swimming in a dirty pond, but needs to get clean. In this case, the intervention is to hose the child after he is taken out of the pond. The trouble is that the child eventually goes back in the dirty pond, only to get dirty again. To ensure that the child stays clean, the ultimate goal is to clean the pond. This is akin to ensuring that Tier 1 is in place to enable interventions to work for those students who require additional support. 

Tier 1 Checklist: 
The following is a checklist that many educators find helpful to examine whether Tier 1 is in place when making decisions regarding whether an intervention is warranted for a particular student or whether Tier 1 enhancements are needed. The checklist also informs deliberate activities to improve the delivery of Tier 1 supports to provide a more solid foundation that enables Tier 2 and 3 interventions to work. 

Click to Download the Checklist


About the Author: Dr. Clay Cook is the John and Nancy Peyton Faculty Fellow in Child and Adolescent Wellbeing at the University of Minnesota and Associate Professor in the School Psychology Program. He has extensive research and practical experiences involving the implementation of multi-tiered systems of support to promote children’s social, emotional and behavioral wellbeing as the foundation for academic and life success.

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