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.

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

Wraparound supports

Wraparound supports involve working with students and the adults invested in their success to identify how a student’s natural support systems, strengths, and needs can work together to improve their outcomes. The Wraparound plan typically includes both formal, research-based services and informal supports provided by friends, family, and other people drawn from the student's social networks. For more information, check out the National Wraparound Initiative’s introduction to key concepts.

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 the article "Examining the Evidence Base for School-wide Positive Behavior Support" each lay out some of the research and provide additional resources to explore the topic further.