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Aligning and Coordinating Instruction for Students With Disabilities Across Tiers

Students with and without disabilities are expected to master grade-level standards. For students with disabilities who are eligible for special education services, an individualized educational program (IEP) provides academic and behavioral supports designed to level the playing field and create opportunities to succeed in the general education curriculum (Florida Department of Education, 2013). While IEPs should be standards-based, they are not verbatim restatements of grade-level standards or lists of standards from lower grades (Virginia Department of Education, 2011). The annual goals stated in an IEP should be based on the student’s present level of performance and should provide a detailed structure for assisting the student in building the skills required to meet the demands of grade-level standards. This detailed structure is the foundation for specially designed instruction (SDI) (Batsche, 2015).

Well-designed and coordinated SDI requires close collaboration between general and special education teachers. Thus, the combined knowledge and unique skills of all the educators who provide instruction for students with disabilities are essential to the effective planning and delivery of SDI (Batsche, 2015). Students with disabilities may receive additional layers of instructional support from multiple service providers. In a multi-tiered system, all students receive Tier 1 instruction in the general education classroom. Tier 1 instruction is expected to meet the needs of at least 80% of the students without additional supports. When Tier 1 instruction does not achieve the desired results, students may receive supplemental instruction through Tier 2 targeted supports. Out of those approximately 20% of students, about 5% will require more intensive individualized intervention in Tier 3 in addition to the support being provided in Tier 1 and Tier 2 (Batsche, 2013). It is critical that services being provided by multiple educators across tiers be connected and coordinated to ensure that skill gaps are closed (see Figure 1). The layering of supports provides a more intensive learning experience and maximizes the benefits of specially designed instruction.

 Figure 1. Multi-tiered system.


(Adapted from Batsche, 2013)

Determining student involvement is critical when evaluating the effectiveness of co-planned academic and behavioral supports across Tiers 1, 2, and 3. Thus, educators must consider whether the student can articulate and apply the connections between supports, as illustrated below. If the student experiences disconnected learning, skill gaps are not likely to be closed (Batsche, 2013).

An example of connected specially designed instruction across tiers might be a focus on word study skills that are initiated during Tier 3 intervention. The special education teacher assesses the student’s word study skills and determines a starting point for word feature instruction. The selected word features are incorporated into Tier 2 supports, and practice turns and application are built into Tier 1 instruction when the student is asked to identify the word features in leveled text. This kind of coordination eliminates the possibility that the student is working on different word features when working with different service providers and increases the likelihood of accelerating progress and closing skill gaps. The focus of instruction across tiers might come from Tier 3 or be driven by Tier 1 grade-level curriculum goals. The key is to ensure that the focus skills are reinforced consistently across tiers.

Batsche (2013) outlined a framework for integrating instruction in a multi-tiered system of support. This framework helps educators to align resources, service providers, and standards-based instructional objectives so students experience connected and coordinated learning (see Table 1).

Table 1

Integrating Instruction in a Multi-Tiered System of Support




Tier 1 

Meeting Preparation

In advance of the meeting, 

  • Provide all participants with learning goals and progress data related to the grade-level standard’s focus.
  • Provide staff direction about meeting preparation.
  • Identify the desired outcome of the meeting.
All service providers: 

  • General education teachers
  • Remedial education teachers (e.g., Title I)
  • Special education teachers
  • Support staff (e.g., speech, OT/PT)
Meeting Activities 

Tier 1


  • Restate the instructional goal and confirm a shared understanding among participants.
General education teachers
  • Identify strategies and pacing to be used to attain curricular goal (unit plan).
General education teachers
  • Explicitly share student performance expectations.
General education teachers
  • Identify students who require support to meet specific performance expectations.
  • Select skill supports that link Tier 2 and Tier 3 to the Tier 1 expectations.
  • Review IEP goals and discuss how supports are providing access to the general education curriculum.
All service providers: 

  • General education teachers
  • Remedial education teachers (e.g., Title I)
  • Special education teachers
  • Support staff (e.g., speech, OT/PT)
  • Discuss strategies to reduce or eliminate barriers to successful student performance.
  • Assign service providers with tasks to support skill attainment (multiple providers may be involved).
  • Review the plan.
  • Discuss pacing and assessment.
All service providers: 

  • General education teachers
  • Remedial education teachers (e.g., Title I)
  • Special education teachers
  • Support staff (e.g., speech, OT/PT)
Tier 2 and Tier 3 Follow-Up Meeting
  • Review information from Tier 1 planning meeting.
  • Identify current curricular and IEP instructional goals and strategies.
  • Identify any changes to goals.
  • Determine strategies to align Tier 2 and 3 instruction with Tier 1 scope/ sequence/pacing.
  • Identify specific strategies to reduce the adverse effects of the student’s skill deficits (e.g., pre-teach, review, re-teach, strategic vocabulary instruction).
  • Coordinate instructional priorities and strategies to maximize the impact of Tier 3 interventions on Tier 2 supports and their combined impact on Tier 1.
  • Incorporate Tier 1 instructional strategies, materials, and assessment formats into Tier 2 and 3 interventions to maximize transfer of student performance/skills.
  • Identify who will coordinate effective Tier 2 and 3 strategies with Tier 1 providers and observe student performance in Tier 1.
  • Identify student engagement needs.
  • Identify and plan for strategies and personnel allocation to increase student engagement (e.g., student support services, mentor, parents).
Tier 2 & Tier 3 providers: 

  • Remedial education teachers (e.g., Title I)
  • Special education teachers
  • Support staff (e.g., speech, OT/PT)

 (Adapted from Batsche, 2013)

A grade-level standard specific example of the agenda followed in a Tier 2 and Tier 3 follow-up meeting to align instruction with Tier 1 is provided in Table 2. This example demonstrates the need to integrate strategies and prioritize the use of time across all three tiers of support. This kind of systematic planning and coordination requires concerted effort and collaboration; however, it will increase the likelihood of improved outcomes for students with disabilities and help general and special educators monitor student progress data that inform ongoing instructional planning.

Table 2

Tier 2 and 3 Planning Meeting Considerations

Grade-Level Standard

3.3 The student will apply word-analysis skills when reading.
b) Decode regular multisyllabic words
Tier 2 & 3
  • What are the student’s word-analysis skills?
  • Where are the gaps between the student’s skills and the grade-level expectation?
  • What systematic method can be used during Tier 2 and/or Tier 3 supports that will accelerate skill development and close the word-analysis skill gap?
  • When and how often will the student receive the necessary supports?
  • How will supports extend into Tier 1 instruction so the student receives additional opportunities and independent application of acquired skills?
  • How will Tier 2 and/or Tier 3 supports be progress monitored to ensure the student’s movement toward the grade-level expectation?
Tier 1
  • During Tier 1 instruction, when will the student practice and apply specially designed word-analysis strategies?
  • Which Tier 1 instructional activities (e.g., bell work, multi-syllabic decoding activities outside of the student’s instructional level) can be replaced with practice and application of skills and strategies learned during Tier 2 and/or Tier 3 instruction?
  • How will the word-analysis skills being taught during Tier 2 supports and Tier 3 interventions be reinforced during Tier 1 instruction? When will they be connected to the text the student encounters across content areas?


When multiple service providers align their talents and efforts across instructional settings to intensify support for students with disabilities, gaps in learning can be closed effectively and systematically. Students who benefit from this kind of coordinated instruction across Tiers 1, 2, and 3 are more likely to progress in the general education curriculum, graduate with a standard or advanced studies diploma, and experience improved postsecondary outcomes.


Batsche, G. (2015, June). Multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS). Symposium conducted at the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities meeting, Rockville, MD. Retrieved from

Batsche, G. (2013, December). Implementing the Virginia tiered system of supports (VTSS): District/school level action planning. In C. Cave & T. Manthey (Chairs), Virginia tiered system of supports (VTSS) professional learning. Symposium conducted at the Virginia Department of Education VTSS Cohort Pilot Training. Richmond, VA. Retrieved from

Florida Department of Education. (2013). What is “special” about special education? Specially designed instruction for students with disabilities within a multi-tiered system of supports. Retrieved from

Virginia Department of Education. (2011). Guidance document: Standards-based individualized educational program (IEP). Retrieved from