Multi-Tiered Systems of Support

Ferndale teachers have long understood that not every student enters the classroom the same. Some students start with the skills and knowledge to exceed expectations, and some have to be taught these prerequisite skills first. These challenges can be academic or behavioral. And this level of preparedness may vary for an individual student every year, or every day. In many ways, Students Returning from Distance Learning is familiar territory. Fortunately for our students, Ferndale Schools are prepared with a robust system of supports that adapts to each child.

An Overview

How is the support system “Multi-Tiered”?

Our support tools include different levels of support that can be elevated or reduced as required. All students  begin with the base level of support, and are elevated to higher levels of support as needs are identified. Typically this looks like a pyramid. Responding to the effects of the  COVID-19 Pandemic and other social changes, we have seen a significant shift toward the higher tiers of this system.

How does it work?

Struggling students can be helped with a variety of in-class interventions and out-of-class support, while other students who have met benchmarks can be supported with enrichment opportunities to challenge them further. From focused reading time and specialized web tools to engage students in math or reading to individualized family action plans and technology enhanced instruction, a wide range of tools are available to help each student excel. We call this Intervention & Enrichment (I&E), and it is one of our pillars of excellence that allows teachers to have the flexibility to support each student. 

High Quality Instruction: the Foundation

The foundation for everything we do is high-quality instruction techniques. What we describe as Tier 1 Universal Supports are really just good classroom teaching:

Lesson design and delivery

  • Intentional, meaningful and purposeful teaching occurs consistently, and content and language objectives are clearly supported by lesson delivery.
  • Lessons are rigorous and include cognitively complex tasks.
  • Key vocabulary is emphasized and reviewed.


  • Teachers provide students feedback about their learning in individual/group conferences, referring to models and examples, asking open-ended questions and taking anecdotal notes. Students incorporate the feedback by revising their work. 
  • Assessment data is shared with all stakeholders (students, parents, and staff). 

Classroom environment

  • Teacher explicitly links new concepts to students’ background & past learning. 
  • Rules and routines are established. 
  • Provide frequent opportunities for interactions and discussion between teacher/student and among students.  

How the System is Deployed

Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) include behavioral intervention strategies with academic and learning-based techniques to support the whole child. These are the key components of our system.

Identifying Needs

Before these supports can be put in place, we need to assemble a comprehensive picture of where the student is in their learning journey. This process starts with universal screening of all students early in the school year. We then compare this data with the last 3 years of data, measuring the students’ growth trajectory over time.

These screenings include reading, math, and other traditional academic assessments. Pupils are also encouraged to share feelings, frustrations, or challenges in all aspects of their life through integrated Social Emotional Learning framework. Developing a complete understanding of each student enables educators to determine the source of learning challenges, and provide appropriate supports to produce systemic improvements.

Deploying Initial Supports

Now, we can assign supports to the necessary areas. Below, you can an overview of each tier.

Tier 1

Universal supports are built on high-quality instruction encompassing all areas of a subject as part of a coherent curriculum that is developmentally appropriate for students and does not underestimate their potential for learning. Tier 1 also establishes a positive school culture and sets clear expectations for behavior and learning. This includes culturally responsive teaching practices, implicit bias education for staff and awareness of systemic racism impacts.

Research shows that Tier 1/ universal supports implemented with fidelity should meet the needs of approximately 80% of students, in a typical year.

Tier 2

Targeted Supports identify students who need interventions. These include things like small group reading work, additional math lab classes, or self-regulation/coping groups.
Research shows that typically 15-18% of students need Tier 2 interventions and supports in order to demonstrate expected educational progress in one or more areas.

Tier 3

Individualized, intensive interventions are based on a careful analysis of a student’s data to determine individual needs and strategies. Tier 3 may look like Tier 2 interventions, but with increased duration or overall intensity. Additional assessments may be required before assigning specialists and services. Tier 3 i s led by the Student Assistance Team in a collaborative process to clearly define and prioritize concerns and monitor progress while supporting teacher and parent capacity. Teacher partners and building on student strengths are paramount to success in Tier 3 interventions.

A review of multiple research studies by the National Center for Intensive Intervention (NCII) indicated that 3-5% of students (3% with behavioral needs, 5% with academic needs) will need Tier 3 intensive interventions and supports in order to demonstrate expected educational  progress in a typical year.

Student 1 Is An Accelerated Reader

At the elementary level, students who are reading above grade level are exposed to texts at higher grade levels to continue to push their skills above and beyond 

Student 2 Is Struggling in Phonics

A student is shown to be struggling in phonics based on Acadience data, so they are put into a Tier 2 group with the classroom teacher. The classroom teacher uses Orton Gillingham or Heggerty phonics lessons to support specific needs.  

Student 3 Is Struggling with Behavior

A behavioral plan is developed for them that has specific expectations and check-in points throughout a routine day and week.

Maintaining and Adapting to Changing Needs

Effective supports are not “set it and forget it” solutions. Teachers and Intervention Specialists observe the students growth and achievement on a day by day basis, collecting data and continually assessing progress and improvement.

A Culture of Support

It is vital that students actually feel supported by these interventions, and not isolated because of them. Creating an environment where support is welcome and not stigmatized is essential. A schoolwide approach to expectations and supports makes this possible. However, we cannot develop acceptance alone. The culture of support has to extend beyond our walls, into the homes and neighborhoods where students live the rest of their daily lives. Parent involvement is hugely important, and community engagement further increases a student’s level of comfort with receiving help.