School Mental Health Project


Moving Beyond the Three Tier
Intervention Pyramid

Introduction into federal policy of response to intervention (RtI) and positive behavior intervention and supports (PBIS) led to widespread adoption and adaptation of the three tier intervention pyramid. As originally presented, the pyramid highlights three different levels of intervention and suggests the percent of students at each level.

While acknowledging that the focus on levels has made a positive contribution, concerns have been raised that continuing overemphasis on the pyramid is limiting development of the type of comprehensive intervention framework needed to address the multifaceted problems of many young people, their families, and their schools. Our Center's analyses, for example, stress that the pyramid is a one dimensional intervention framework and, as such, is inadequate as a guide with respect to developing a comprehensive, multifaceted, and cohesive system for addressing barriers to learning and teaching and re-engaging disconnected students.

For more on this, see our recent policy brief entitled: Moving Beyond the Three Tier Intervention Pyramid: Toward a Comprehensive Framework for Student and Learning Supports -- online at . The brief (1) underscores the limitations of the pyramid as an intervention framework and (2) illustrates a mulitdimensional intervention framework and the type of expanded school improvement policy that can foster development and implementation of a comprehensive and coherent system.

Response we have received to this and related recent policy briefs from the Center underscore the interest in this topic. Below are two short comments and an extended essay.

  1. From a district superintendent "I have found these policy briefs to be enormously timely and helpful. You have articulated the concerns that I have with our current RTI pyramid of interventions model."

  2. From a leader in the field of school improvement: "Thank you for "Moving Beyond the Three Tier Intervention Pyramid". I have found myself whispering to confidants about the "tyranny of the tiers" but afraid to say it out loud. The Tiers rule, these days, but the concept behind them is too reminiscent of Bluebirds, Robins, and Sparrows and may work contrary to true individualization (and personalization) of learning and social-emotional support. I know that isn't the intention, but the concern remains."

  3. "The Center's two recent publications on School Engagement, Disengagement... and Moving Beyond the Three-Tier Pyramid... have spurned a great deal of thought about the above in relation to the core values underlying my practice .... I do not, and never have, supported the use of extrinsic rewards as a method of motivating behavior. In this respect, I have drawn on the work of Kohn, Deci, Ryan, Brendtro, Brokenleg, Van Bockern, and of course, the Center. However my, what might more accurately be called, visceral response to such methodology runs deeper than efficacy alone. Until recently, I never knew why the use of extrinsic rewards pushed my buttons. Something about events in Wisconsin, Northern Africa, and the Middle East combined with the Center's piece Moving Beyond........and my own experiences in school and as a social-political activist gave rise to a host of images and reflections.

    In an effort to better understand myself and examine my practices as a consultant I've taken a more intellectual look at the above meanderings that are expressed in the attached ... essay (or what might better be called Op-ed piece or editorial). To view the essay, click here.


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School Mental Health Project-UCLA
Center for Mental Health in Schools
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