Matching the Intervention to the Need:

Tiered Systems of Support

While schools are in a prime position to offer social, emotional and behavioral supports to students, services must be strategically provided in order to maximize resource efficiency. The use of multi-tiered systems of support (e.g., Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) can provide schools with a framework to appropriately match students’ needs with an appropriate level of support, and sustain practices focused on preventing new problem behavior from occurring.




Tier 1

At the universal level, or Tier 1, the primary focus is prevention, as noted above. Resources at this tier are provided at the whole-school, classroom, or grade level to address all, or a large group of students. Universal strategies are those that can be implemented with all students, such as explicitly teaching and reinforcing appropriate behavior, and delivering quality instruction.


When to Implement:

If most of your students are exhibiting a concern (e.g., more than 50%), then it is likely that you would benefit from addressing behavior at the classroom level. Likewise, if a large percentage of students are having trouble within a certain grade-level, or as a school, a universal strategy is more likely to most efficiently address the need. Generally speaking, when the number of students exceeds “a small group,” universal strategies tend to be much more effective.


Find  Tier 1 resources here and more information about effective classroom practices here.


Tier 2

At the selected level, or Tier 2, further support is provided to students who did not adequately respond to universal practices. The primary focus at this level is to efficiently address a specific concern to prevent these students from needing more intensive supports. Resources at this tier are slightly more individualized, and is usually when the brief model of function-based problem solving, should be used. Tier 2 strategies are often provided inside of the classroom, but can encompass a more specific, skill-based component (e.g., social skills training at the group level) that is offered outside of classroom.


When to Implement:

Selected strategies are most appropriately used when you have a small group of students, at the classroom or grade-level, who are exhibiting behavior concerns.


Find answers to frequently asked questions about Tier 2 supports


For Tier 2 resources, click here.


Tier 3

At the targeted, or Tier 3 level, the most intensive supports are provided to the few students whose concerns were not remedied by Tier 1 or Tier 2 instruction. Considered to be the highest level of the multi-tiered framework, the types of students requiring these supports are those who have more severe concerns. At this level, function-based problem solving is also employed, often requiring a complete Functional Behavior Assessment to be performed. Students at this level are usually on individualized behavior plans and/or receive special education services, due to the intensity of their concerns. These students may also receive individual skill-based interventions delivered during the school day, and be connected with community-based supports.


When to Implement:

Students who have not responded to previous efforts (i.e., Tier 1 & 2) to reduce behavior, would be good candidates for Tier 3 support. If a student has not yet received any support, it is not appropriate to plan for intervention at this level, unless the behavior(s) of concern are dangerous to themselves or others. It is also important to keep in mind that students should always receive the least amount of support needed, in order to encourage future success.


You can find Tier 3 resources, here.


The Center on PBIS provides a nice visual, highlighting the differences across each level:




Take a look at two examples of how tiered-systems for behavioral support are being implemented in schools:

Case Example #1

Case Example #2

Take a look at the PBIS Best Practice Guide to learn more about supporting a tiered behavior management system in your school. 

Note: it is important to not confuse “levels of support” with characteristics of students, as it is only indicative of the degree of support needed in certain situations (i.e., less intensive vs more intensive). The goals of any tiered system of support are prevention and treatment, making it important to implement practices, regardless of tier, with the intent of doing both (i.e., treating an existing need and preventing future concerns).


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