Action Step and Orientation

E4. Provide more intensive Tier III literacy intervention for students who do not respond adequately to Tier II instruction.

In this lesson, you will learn about Tier III, the tertiary level of the multilevel RTI framework.

Part 1 explores the characteristics of Tier III literacy instruction and describes how Tier III instruction differs from Tier II instruction.

In Part 2, you will learn how to establish assessment-driven collaboration and communication across the tiers of instruction.

To get started, download the Implementation Guide for this component and refer to the Action Step for this lesson. Review the Implementation Indicators for each level of implementation and note the Sample Evidence listed at the bottom of the chart.

Part 1—Characteristics of Tier III Literacy Instruction

Tier III instruction is the most intensive level of prevention in the three-tier instructional framework. Tier III instruction, like Tier I and Tier II instruction, must incorporate evidence-based instructional practices. However, Tier III instruction should be even more explicit and systematic and incorporate additional modeling and focused opportunities for practice with feedback.

Tier III is for students who, following sustained Tier II intervention, “continue to show marked difficulty in acquiring necessary reading [or literacy] skills. These students require [Tier III] instruction that is more explicit, more intensive, and specifically designed to meet their individual needs” (Vaughn, Wanzek, Woodruff, & Linan-Thompson, 2007, pp. 19).

Although Tier III is implemented similarly to Tier II, Tier III increases the intensity of key variables: amount of time spent in the intervention per week, the duration of the intervention over time, the frequency and precision of focus for progress monitoring, and the instructional and curricular adaptations required to individualize and intensify support. Let’s look at each of these variables in the context of Tier III intervention.

First, the instructional time in Tier III is substantially longer and more frequent than in Tier II. The scheduling of Tier III is based on student need and school resources. Students who have significant gaps will need an intervention schedule that is “as intensive as the school schedule will allow” (Vaughn & Fletcher, 2012; p. 253), but intervention should be provided for a minimum 50 minutes per day (Gersten et al., 2009; Vaughn et al., 2007). It is essential that this instruction remain highly explicit and systematic.

Administrators should ensure that the daily time allocated within the master schedule for Tier III intervention doesn’t overlap or interfere with Tier I. Additional information about building multitiered schedules can be found in Lesson E3—Tier II intervention.

Gersten and colleagues (2009) recommend multiple and extended daily Tier III sessions or a “double dose” of intensive instruction. For example, students receive Tier III twice a day, but in the second session, they don’t receive more of the same kind of instruction as in the first. Instead, the lessons are broken into manageable chunks with each session containing different steps toward a learning goal.

A second variable that distinguishes Tier III from Tier II is the length or duration of the intervention. Research has not identified an optimal duration for effective Tier III instruction. However, we do know that Tier III needs to be longer than the other tiers of intervention and can last for several semesters, or even several years, depending on the individual student’s needs and response to instruction (Gersten et al., 2009). Vaughn and Fletcher (2012) also recommend that secondary schools consider providing summer programs with Tier III level support as well.

Student-to-teacher ratios are smaller in Tier III than in Tier II. In Tier III, the groups should be between two and four students, depending on student need (Vaughn & Fletcher, 2012), and instruction should be individualized to the greatest extent possible.

The TSLP requires you and your staff to monitor students’ responses to Tier III intervention instruction. Student progress is measured more frequently in Tier III than in Tier II. More data points permit you to more precisely identify student response and the effectiveness of the Tier III instruction, allowing for immediate adjustments (e.g., grouping, materials, and instructional time), if necessary, to accelerate student learning (Gersten et al., 2009; Vaughn et al., 2007).

Additionally, Tier III, like Tier II, consists of carefully designed and implemented instruction that is data informed and tailored to individual student needs. In Tier III, you should use diagnostic assessments to individualize instruction by pinpointing specific student deficits in critical literacy areas such as

  • the ability to read text accurately and fluently;
  • enough background knowledge and vocabulary to make sense of the content;
  • knowledge and skill in using reading strategies that improve understanding or repair it when it breaks down;
  • the ability to think and reason about the information and concepts in the text; and
  • motivation to understand and learn from text (Torgesen, Houston, & Rissman, 2007).

Qualified Tier III intervention providers who specialize in designing and providing individualized interventions should be identified. These might be special education teachers or reading specialists. Some schools use paraprofessionals, community volunteers, or computer programs to provide additional services to struggling students, but keep in mind that this type of additional practice should complement and supplement what has already been taught by a qualified teacher or interventionist. Additional practice should not be random student-selected literacy activities or computer games (Gersten et al., 2009).

“Many schools use a program for Tier III, but it is important that instruction is provided by a skilled teacher who can individualize within the program” (Hall, 2008, p. 69).

Because Tier III students have been unable to reach grade-level targets in Tiers I and II, interventionists must make additional curricular and instructional adaptations and adjustments to individualize and intensify each intervention lesson.

Ways to intensify intervention instruction include

  • making learning visible by explicitly modeling and thinking aloud;
  • scaffolding learning by using, and then fading, prompts and cues and breaking down tasks into even smaller steps;
  • providing repeated opportunities for practice and review; and
  • incorporating additional opportunities for correction and feedback.

“Students with intensive reading needs require substantial supports during the initial stages of learning. As students progress in their understanding and knowledge, these supports are gradually withdrawn so that students begin to apply skills and strategies independently” (Gersten et al., 2009, p. 28).

Tier III is characterized by extraordinary intensity and focus. Compared to Tier II, it is even more systematic and slower paced, with more practice cycles for a given concept (Hall, 2008, p. 69). Therefore, lessons should include an increased amount of time on task when students are actively engaged in literacy instruction and increased time for drill repetition and cumulative practice and review (Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts, 2005). Researchers have found that Tier III students often require 10 to 30 times as many practice opportunities as their peers to reach mastery (Gersten et al., 2009). To facilitate maximum levels of engagement throughout each Tier III lesson, interventionists need to be fluent with their materials and instructional routines. The “Intervention Observation Checklist” provided as a resource in Lesson E3 can also be utilized with this Action Step.

Your campus-based leadership team should identify professional development that is needed for various aspects of this component. For example, as you reflect on Action Step E4, your team may decide to target the characteristics of high-quality Tier III instruction and curricula, progress monitoring, and collaboration across tiers as focuses for professional development.

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TO LEARN MORE: Use the resources below to learn more about Tier III literacy instruction.

The “Building Capacity for Response to Intervention Implementation Project” at the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk contains links to resources on all aspects of RTI.

Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) Implementation Components: Ensuring Common Language and Understanding” is a resource jointly developed by the Florida Problem Solving and Response to Intervention project and the Florida Positive Behavior Support project. It provides specific information about the characteristics of each tier, including how to differentiate among Tiers I, II, and III.

Part 2—Assessment-Driven Communication Across the Tiers of Instruction

When implementing a multitiered approach, frequent communication must occur at each tier and with all stakeholders, including parents, to efficiently and effectively address student needs. Because instruction and movement across tiers must be dynamic and performance based, strong collaboration and communication is required. Let’s explore how you can establish effective cross-tier communication with all stakeholders, especially when reviewing and making decisions about eligibility and student progress in Tier III intervention.

Every person in your school who works directly with a student should have ongoing knowledge of the student’s

  • assessment data (screening, diagnostic, progress monitoring);
  • areas of strengths and needs, including specific skill deficits;
  • individualized instructional focus at each tier;
  • response to the intervention(s) that have been provided; and
  • instructional changes within the multitiered framework, including adjustments in the intensity of support students are receiving (Building RTI Capacity for Implementation, Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk, 2008).

Communication and collaboration about individual student progress across tiers may occur during periodic grade-level or department data analysis meetings, and if necessary, you can schedule additional time to focus only on students who are making insufficient progress in Tiers II and III. Ideally, every person who works directly with that student will be in attendance.

Scheduling data analysis meetings can be challenging, but it is important that all educators and specialized staff who serve Tier III students attend these collaborative meetings. As Hall (2011) suggests, “There should be two or three staff members who attend all the meetings . . . the principal and RTI coordinator . . . reading specialist . . . the classroom teacher, an intervention teacher, and an ESL or special education teacher, if the student is receiving those services. Sometimes a school psychologist or speech-language pathologist is also present” (p. 109).

Your campus-based leadership team will need to discuss the challenges of scheduling such meetings and establish a way to successfully gather the appropriate personnel. The purpose of these discussions is to examine student progress in supplementary Tier II and Tier III intervention and determine the next steps—either to continue or intensify instruction to best meet a student’s needs.

These meetings often include a recap of progress monitoring data; an overview of all interventions received to date; a discussion about the levels of intensity; and a decision regarding any instructional changes in and across tiers (Hall, 2011).

“Data changes everything in these meetings. It focuses the team on student achievement and provides a foundation for meaningful professional dialogues . . . [T]he team’s discussion focuses on what’s been provided so far and what else can be done to intensify intervention instruction” (Hall, 2011, p. 108).

Additional information about collaboration across the tiers of instruction can be found in To Learn More at the end of this section.

Let’s look at how one middle school collaborates across tiers to determine the next steps for one student who is receiving Tier III instruction.

Scenario: At LMN Middle School, the principal, RTI coordinator, and all the teachers in the school who work (in any capacity) with struggling students come together for a 15- to 20-minute meeting. These meetings occur periodically to help everyone collaborate and intervene when a student receiving either Tier II or Tier III instruction is not making sufficient progress. Before the meeting, the teachers do their homework and arrive ready to talk about their kids. They come prepared with progress monitoring data, intervention logs, work samples, and other relevant information on the specific student who is having difficulty.

Today they are discussing Theo, a struggling eighth-grader. The meeting begins with the Tier III interventionist sharing Theo’s progress monitoring data. The team discusses the slope of the trend line on his graph. Theo has fluctuating scores with the majority falling below his aim line. Based on this current rate of progress, it’s evident he is not going to reach his end-of-year goal. Next, the team examines the data of the other three members in his Tier III group. They discover that Theo is the only one not responding to the current intervention.

Before they determine what instructional changes should be made, they delve deeper into Theo’s intervention history. Because LMN teachers use a type of collaborative instructional log to track student performance across tiers, Ms. Hernandez, his Tier I teacher, is able to quickly showcase the interventions Theo has received prior to beginning Tier III. These logs provide detailed information, including assessment data, specific instructional focus areas, attendance, group size, materials, duration, interventionists, and observational notes.

Next, the team discusses whether more intense intervention instruction might help Theo get back on track. The team agrees to add more instructional time, decrease the size of his group, and monitor his progress more frequently. Theo will immediately begin receiving Tier III instruction twice a day with a 1:2 teacher-student ratio. Because his progress monitoring scores have fluctuated widely, the interventionist will monitor his progress twice a week to get a more accurate assessment of how he’s responding to the new intervention. Theo’s parents will be notified of the changes to his instruction, and his progress monitoring data will be shared during the next parent-teacher conference. (Adapted from Hall, 2011; Shapiro, n.d.)

As you can see, it’s important to keep records of all progress monitoring data and collaborative decisions in the file of each student receiving Tier III services. You should establish a consistent record-keeping system to use during collaborative meetings to facilitate communication across tiers with all stakeholders, including parents. For example, a Collaborative Instructional Log can be used to help coordinate instructional efforts and review student outcomes (Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk, 2008).

Now let’s take a closer look at how to use progress monitoring results and predetermined criteria to identify the next steps of intensive intervention, including whether to begin, continue, or discontinue Tier III intervention.

If a student receiving Tier I and Tier II support demonstrates a consistently inadequate response “after every adjustment to Tier II has been made” (Hall, 2008, p. 85), it may be necessary for the student to begin receiving more intensive (i.e., Tier III) instruction. A change may also be necessary if, early in the progress monitoring process, a student receiving only Tier I support demonstrates severe or significantly low literacy performance. In this case, the student can begin receiving Tier III services right away to get the necessary intensive and individualized support required in a timely fashion rather than delaying access by making the student wait to receive Tier II support first (Ervin, n.d.).

Students receiving Tier III support, as well as other struggling learners, especially benefit from instruction provided by teachers who are collaborating and communicating. You should ensure grade-level Tier III intervention instruction is consistent with the other tiers of instruction in and across grade levels.

Never lose sight that in RTI, “students should move back and forth across the levels of the multi-tiered instructional framework based on their success (response) or difficulty (minimal response) at the level where they are receiving intervention . . . ” (National Center on Response to Intervention, April 2010, p. 13).

With effective intervention instruction, your school will have some students who discontinue Tier III intervention and receive only Tier I or Tiers I and II instruction. Your campus-based leadership team and administrators should ensure that a system of collaboration and communication is in place to provide the substantial support and frequent monitoring these students will need to maintain adequate progress. If students begin to experience difficulty, they can once again receive Tier III support.

“Schools should carefully develop each tier of instructional support . . . in response to students’ instructional needs. The essential features of purposeful instructional design and delivery, prioritized content, protected time and grouping, and performance monitoring can help schools focus on critical factors within their control to maximize the instructional time for students who do not have a minute to lose” (Harn, Kame’enui, and Simmons, 2007, p. 181).

Tier III is typically delivered outside of the general education classroom. Your school needs to decide how it will address the relationship between Tier III and special education. For example, Tier III can include special education services, or it can be considered part of general education with students receiving both Tier III and Tier I literacy instruction (Burns & Gibbons, 2012; Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts, 2005).

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TO LEARN MORE: The following resources provide additional information about establishing assessment-driven collaboration and communication in a multitiered system.

Tiered Instruction and Intervention in a Response-to-Intervention Model” by Edward S. Shapiro and published by the RTI Action Network explains the different dimensions of instructional intensity at each tier and the importance of collaboration across tiers and within school structures.

Considering Tier 3 Within a Response-to-Intervention Model” by Ruth A Ervin and published by the RTI Action Network provides specific information about decision making processes for Tier III and special education.

Additional information about the role of special education in a multi-tiered system is available in Lesson E5—Meeting diverse needs.

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NEXT STEPS: Depending upon your progress with implementing Tier III instruction, you may want to consider some of the following next steps:

  • Examine your current Tier III intervention practices within and across grade levels to determine if they are evidence based and effective in increasing students’ literacy achievements. Determine actions your campus needs to take, which staff will be responsible, and any further resources needed.
  • Schedule professional development (e.g., collaborative planning, observation and feedback, coaching, professional learning communities) as needed, based on your assessment of current Tier III intervention practices.
  • Explore the resources listed in To Learn More for Parts 1 and 2, taking particular note of further opportunities to improve any Tier III interventions currently in place.
  • Determine how you will facilitate data-based collaborative decision making within tiers and across grade levels and document student progress in Tier III. Consider all stakeholders (e.g., special education teachers, parents, coaches, principals, and paraprofessionals). Schedule meetings between relevant groups or individuals, as appropriate.
  • Determine the relationship between Tier III and special education services and schedule meetings that include both the campus leadership team and the special education department, as appropriate.


E4. Provide more intensive Tier III literacy intervention for students who do not respond adequately to Tier II instruction.

With your site/campus-based leadership team, review your team’s self-assessed rating for Action Step E4 in the TSLP Implementation Status Ratings document and then respond to the four questions in the assignment.

TSLP Implementation Status Ratings 6-12

In completing your assignment with your team, the following resources and information from this lesson’s content may be useful to you:

  • Refer to Part 1 for the characteristics of Tier III instruction.
  • Refer to Part 2 for establishing assessment-driven collaboration and communication across tiers and throughout your school.

Next Steps also contains suggestions that your campus may want to consider when you focus your efforts on this Action Step.

To record your responses, go to the Assignment template for this lesson and follow the instructions.


Building RTI Capacity for Implementation, Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at the University of Texas at Austin College of Education. (2011). Closing the achievement gap: Collaborating to support student success . Retrieved from

Burns, M. K., & Gibbons, K. (2012). Implementing response-to-intervention in elementary and secondary schools: Procedures to ensure scientific-based practices (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Ervin, R. A. (n.d.) Considering tier 3 within a response-to-intervention model . Retrieved from the RTI Action Network website:

Gersten, R., Compton, D., Connor, C. M., Dimino, J., Santoro, L., Linan-Thompson, S., & Tilly, W. D. (2009). Assisting students struggling with reading: Response to intervention and multi-tier intervention for reading in the primary grades . A practice guide. (NCEE 2009-4045). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

Hall, S. L. (2008). Implementing response to intervention: A principal’s guide . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Hall, S. L. (2011). Jumpstart RTI: Using RTI in your elementary school right now . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Harn, B. A., Kame’enui, E. J., and Simmons, D. C. (2007). The nature and role of the third tier in a prevention model for kindergarten students. In D. Haager, J. Klingner, & S. Vaughn (Eds.), Evidence-based reading practices for response to intervention (pp. 161–184). Baltimore, MD: Brookes.

National Center on Response to Intervention. (2010). Essential components of RTI—A closer look at response to intervention . Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, National Center on Response to Intervention.

Shapiro, E. S. (n.d.). Tiered instruction and intervention in a response-to-intervention model . Retrieved from

Torgesen, J., Houston, D., & Rissman, L. (2007). Improving literacy instruction in middle and high schools: A guide for principals. Retrieved from the Center on Instruction website:

Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts at The University of Texas at Austin. (2005). Introduction to the 3-tier reading model: Reducing reading difficulties for kindergarten through third grade students (4th ed.) Austin, TX: University of Texas/Texas Education Agency.

Vaughn, S., & Fletcher, J. M. (2012). Response to intervention with secondary school students with reading difficulties. Journal of learning disabilities , 45: 244. doi: 10.1177/0022219412442157.

Vaughn, S., Wanzek, J., Woodruff, A. L., & Linan-Thompson, S. (2007). Prevention and early identification of students with reading disabilities. In D. Haager, J. Klingner, & S. Vaughn (Eds.), Evidence-based reading practices for response to intervention (pp. 11–27). Baltimore, MD: Brookes.