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All About Tier 1 Interventions

October 20th, 2020

updated August 12th, 2022

As an educator, you understand the importance of Tier 1 core instruction as well as goals and interventions for student success. But you may not always know the best way to set those goals or provide the interventions in the general education classroom.

It’s not complicated if you break it down and have a system in place.

This guide will explain the importance of Tier 1 intervention, lay out the steps for setting Tier 1 goals, and suggest ways to provide intensification.

Table of Contents

  • The Difference Between Differentiation and Intervention
  • Is Intervention Meant Only for Tier 2 or 3 Students?
  • 5 Steps for Setting Tier 1 Goals
  • 4 Ways to Provide Intensification in Tier 1 Interventions

The Difference Between Differentiation and Intervention

Two terms that we often use in schools when we talk about teaching practices are differentiation and intervention. But there can be some confusion around these terms. What’s the difference between the two?

Differentiation refers to student-specific efforts that teachers take to foster grade-level annual growth. In other words, it’s what you do every day in the classroom to help students get — or stay — on track to reach the end-of-year learning goals. An example of differentiation is repeating information for a student with attention difficulties. 

An intervention, however, is an additional instructional resource or support beyond the high-quality classroom instruction all students receive that is aligned to a student’s needs. It is a student-specific effort designed to foster grade-level catch-up growth. An example of a Tier 1 intervention is pre-teaching target vocabulary words to a student prior to presenting them to the whole class.

The concept of growth is the key that distinguishes intervention from differentiation. Differentiation focuses on day-to-day practices for all students to reach grade-level annual learning goals. Intervention focuses on helping kids catch up so they can be on track.

Is Intervention Meant Only for Tier 2 or 3 Students?

This is a common misconception, but the truth is you can also do intervention at Tier 1

Essentially, one way to do Tier 1 intervention is through intensification of instruction for some or all students. Here you should consider the 80% rule: if less than 80% of students in your class are meeting a learning goal, it’s recommended that you intensify for all the students.

Research shows that this will benefit students who are farther behind — without holding back or delaying the learning of students who are already on track or ahead.

But when 80% or more of students have reached a benchmark, it might make more sense to provide interventions on a small-group basis for some students — simply because the need is different. Overall, it’s a matter of using resources as effectively as possible.

5 Steps for Setting Tier 1 Goals

When meeting with your data analysis team to discuss Tier 1 interventions after universal screening, you want to address the following ideas to set Tier 1 goals.

#1: Decide Which Goal You Will Aim for by Your Next Meeting

You should always ground instructional decisions  in data to decide if what you’re doing is working. When choosing your next goals, make sure they are SMART:

    • Specific 
    • Measurable
    • Attainable
    • Realistic; and
    • Time-bound

For instance, you may decide that you will try to have a certain percentage of students move from the some-risk to the low-risk range by the next screening period.

#2: Make a List of Possible Strategies That Will Address the Goal

Once you brainstorm your list of strategies, you should rate them using the following questions:

    • Which ones are research-based?
    • Which ones are most practical?
    • What materials do we have available?
    • Which requires additional training?

Having the answers to these questions will help you and your team decide which strategies may be the most productive and efficient for your students at this time.

#3: Select the Strategy That Will Be Used

Once you decide on a strategy (or strategies, if you opt for more than one), be sure to explicitly describe it. Being as specific as you can about your strategy helps you in the next step, where you plan exactly how you will implement it.

#4: Plan Logistics for the Strategy

When planning logistics, you and your team should ask questions like:

    • Do we need to purchase something?
    • What training is required?
    • Does this strategy require additional team members to be involved?
    • When can the strategy be implemented?

#5: Set Your Next Review Date

Finally, decide when you will sit down as a team and review the data again. Remember, part of your SMART goal is that it is time-bound, so you should always have your time frame in mind when evaluating Tier 1 goals.

4 Ways to Provide Intensification in Tier 1 Interventions

Intensification is any teaching practice that is designed to accelerate learning. It’s a way of helping students engage in catch-up growth by providing more opportunities for learning.

Here are four ways we can help students meet Tier 1 goals through intensification.

#1: Frequency of Lessons

With more days of learning (or lessons per week), more learning happens. The more we can ensure that students are participating in targeted instruction on a daily basis, the more likely they’ll be able to engage in catch-up growth.

This will have important implications as you’re thinking about your schedule. The work is to figure out how to provide as many effective lessons as possible across instructional formats and to help kids catch up to the learning goals.

#2: Duration of Lessons

Based on research about time on task, it’s a tried-and-true finding that longer lessons will equal more learning. Here you must consider how many minutes have been allocated for instruction — and what you can do to maximize that time for student learning.

#3: Opportunities to Practice

Opportunities to practice allow students to have the repetitions that help them achieve mastery. It’s also part of making sure we have active student engagement. Finding ways to ensure that students are all actively engaged in lessons requires our creativity as teachers to optimize the likelihood that they will meet those learning goals.

Furthermore, we also need to be providing immediate feedback. The “honesty factor” plays a big role here because the nature of our feedback will be a predictor of whether students will trust us.

For example, if teachers were to provide only one type of feedback, whether all positive (e.g., “Awesome, great job!”) or negative (e.g., “Nope that’s not right.”), students will start to tune it out.

If the feedback being provided is not in relation to actual performance, it won’t be taken seriously. 

Note: if you find that most of your feedback with a group of students is, “No, that’s not right,” it means the difficulty level of the material isn’t matched to where the students are right now. The teacher has a responsibility to adjust the content in order for the students to have more success.

#4: Group Size

Often, when we consider who might benefit from small group instruction, we think of active students who have difficulty with attention. However, other students can benefit as well — particularly very quiet students who might otherwise hide in the group and not speak up.

As you think about the format in which you would be ab

le to provide any kind of intervention activity in your Tier 1 core instruction, consider the strategic use of subgroups — such as small groups within the larger class — as a way to make sure all students can engage. The goal for group size is to ensure that all students participate an equal number of times in lesson activities.


Illuminate Education equips educators to take a data-driven approach to serving the whole child. Our solution combines comprehensive assessment, MTSS management and collaboration, and real-time dashboard tools and puts them in the hands of educators. As a result, educators can monitor learning and growth, identify academic and social-emotional behavior needs, and align targeted supports in order to accelerate learning for each student.


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