Tier 3

What is Tier 3 Support?

Triangle - Tier 3
The PBIS Triangle—The red area represents Tier 3 that supports a few students. Tiers 1 and 2 supports are still used with students engaged in Tier 3 supports.

PBIS’ framework doesn’t just work with school-wide and targeted supports. It’s also an effective way to address sometimes dangerous, often highly disruptive behaviors creating barriers to learning and excluding students from social settings.

At most schools, there are 1-5% of students for whom Tier 1 and Tier 2 supports have not connected. At Tier 3, these students receive more intensive, individualized support to improve their behavioral and academic outcomes. Tier 3 strategies work for students with developmental disabilities, autism, emotional and behavioral disorders, and students with no diagnostic label at all.

Foundational Systems

Tier 3 practices stem from strong foundations in Tier 1 and Tier 2 supports. With both tiers in place, schools are free to organize individualized teams to support students with more intense needs.

The foundational systems involved in Tier 3 supports are:

Multi-disciplinary Team

Tier 3 team membership includes an administrator, a coach/behavior representative, others with basic knowledge of problem solving. Team members should also include personnel who actively provide Tier 3 support in the school. This gives them input on decisions about interventions they provide to students they serve. Including school personnel from different departments ensures an array of perspectives.

Behavior Support Expertise

A school’s Tier 3 team must include someone who has experience providing formal behavior support. They need to have applied behavior expertise and experience developing multi-agency support.

Formal Fidelity and Outcome Data Collection

Documenting student outcomes lets teams monitor how the resources allocated and the practices adopted affect student’s outcomes. These data are essential to:

  • Supporting data-based decision making and problem solving
  • Identifying needed adjustments to Tier 3 practices
  • Maximizing resources
  • Ensuring all students are supported fully and equitably
  • Evaluating the system’s overall effectiveness
  • Determining student eligibility for additional resources
  • Evaluating individual education programs·  

Assessing how closely Tier 3 supports are implemented as intended (fidelity of implementation) ensures student outcomes can be attributed to the interventions provided.

For more information on how to setup Tier 3 supports, check out our guides:

Key Practices

Tier 3 practices start with strong Tier 1 and Tier 2 foundations. In addition to these practices, the key practices involved in Tier 3 supports are:

Function-based Assessments

Functional behavior assessment (FBA) is the formal process for ensuring a student’s plan centers on why a student behaves the way they do. FBA allows teams to identify which interventions are most likely to be useful for an individual student. Plans resulting from a formal FBA process will include strategies for:

  • Preventing unwanted behavior
  • Teaching appropriate behavior
  • Positively reinforcing appropriate behavior
  • Reducing rewards for unwanted behavior
  • Ensuring student safety

For more information, check out our FBA guides:


Wraparound differs from many service delivery strategies, in that it provides a comprehensive, holistic, youth and family-driven way of responding when children or youth experience serious mental health or behavioral challenges. Wraparound puts the child or youth and family at the center of the process to develop a support plan. With support from a team of professionals and natural supports, the family’s ideas and perspectives about what they need and what will be helpful drive all of the work in Wraparound.

The student and their family members work with a Wraparound facilitator to build their Wraparound team, which can include the family’s friends and people from the wider community, as well as providers of services and supports.

With the help of the team, the family and young person take the lead in deciding team vision and goals, and in developing creative and individualized services and supports that will help them achieve the goals and vision. Team members work together to put the plan into action, monitor how well it’s working, and change it as needed.

Bruns and Walker (2008) identified ten principles of the wraparound process that included:

  1. Family voice and choice
  2. Team Based
  3. Natural Supports
  4. Collaboration
  5. Community based
  6. Culturally Competent
  7. Individualized
  8. Strengths-based
  9. Unconditional
  10. Outcome based

All of these principles are consistent with a PBIS approach and can result in a seamless connection between PBIS practices at Tier3, that include Functional Behavior Assessments and Behavior Intervention Plans,and wraparound supports.

For more information about wraparound, please visit the National Wraparound Initiative.  The Midwest PBIS Network also has an abundance of materials for both the wraparound and person-centered planning process.

Person Centered Planning

Person-Centered Planning (PCP) is a way for diverse people, who share a common need to align:

  • Their vision, purposes, and goals,
  • Their understanding of the student’s past,present and future life, and
  • Their actions for change, mutual support,personal and team development, and learning.

PCP makes a commitment and takes action to ensure that changes will be accomplished for the student. The PCP philosophy aims to 1) build support based on a capacity-based perspective of the student, 2) use natural school, family and community resources to fulfill a vision of a positive future for the student, and 3)build a circle of support for the student that includes friends, family, school personnel and service providers. The PCP team coordinates supports around the life of the individual rather than around the needs of the system and existing services.  The team also recognizes that abilities of ordinary citizens, neighbors, fellow students, and school personnel, can teach students skills, help them participate, model appropriate behaviors, and foster interdependent relationships.

PCP is a planning process that involves long-term commitment to an action plan and a positive vision for the future of the student. This plan is not intended to replace an IEP or a Behavior Intervention Plan, but can be seen to supplement and extend those plans by addressing broader quality of life and community, personal, and life goals of the student.  PCP has much in common with wraparound, with wraparound being a broader umbrella under which PCP can be used as an effective planning process. Both approaches, as well as PBIS, share a commitment to five essential goals of PCP that include:

  • Being present and participating in community life,
  • Gaining and maintaining satisfying relationships,
  • Expressing preferences and making choices in everyday life,
  • Having opportunities to fulfill respected roles and live with dignity, and
  • Continuing to develop personal competencies.

There are several Person-Centered Planning processes that have been developed using group facilitation techniques and graphic planning supports including:

  • Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope (PATH),
  • Making Action Plans (MAP),
  • Essential Lifestyle Planning (ELP),
  • Personal Profile,
  • Futures Plan,
  • Circle of Support, and
  • A combination of the above approaches into hybrid models.

For more information about Person Centered Planning visit the Administration for Community Living and the National Parent Center on Transition and Employment.

Cultural and Contextual Fit

With every practice, the student's and the school's culture and context must be considered. Each of these element influences and adds value to a school’s Tier 3 practices:

  • Local environments such as neighborhoods and cities
  • Personal characteristics such as race, ethnicity, and nationality
  • Learning histories such as family, social routines, customs, and experiences
  • Language such as dialect and vocabulary 

Tier 3 Teams

There are two types of teams associated with Tier 3 supports: the Tier 3 leadership team and individual student support teams.

Tier 3 Leadership Team

Tier 3 teams won’t look the same in every school. Whether you have one team looking at Tier 3 specifically, or one team monitoring Tier 2 and 3 systems together, this leadership team meets regularly to be sure:

  • Students who need additional support have access to those systems
  • Students who receive Tier 3 supports are successful

Tier 3 leadership teams are led by someone with applied behavior expertise, administrative authority, multi-agency support experience, knowledge of students, and knowledge about how the school operates across grade levels and programs.

Tier 3 Student Support Team

In addition to a team committed to monitoring Tier 3 systems, there must be a problem-solving team for each student receiving Tier 3 supports. These teams meet regularly to design and refine strategies specific to one student. The team’s goal is always to transition a student to fewer intensive supports.

Tier 3 student support teams typically include people from the student’s school, home, and community. Students and their families input and approval on who is on the team. The school’s administrator must have enough involvement to allocate resources as needed for a student’s plan.


The Tiered Fidelity Inventory (TFI) assess how closely school personnel apply the core features of PBIS. The TFI includes three separate surveys – one for assessing each tier – schools can use separately or in combination with one another. Schools at every stage of implementation may use the TFI to assess any tier.

Explore the Evidence Base for Tier 3

At its foundation, PBIS is a framework supported by research spanning decades. Study after study confirms the positive impact Tier 3 systems and practices have on improving student outcomes. The evaluation brief, "Is School-wide Positive Behavior Support an Evidence-based Practice?" and "References for the Evidence Base of PBIS" each lay out some of the research and provide additional resources to explore the topic further.