Over the last two decades, multi-tiered systems of support have become a common framework for organizing service delivery in public schools. The effectiveness of multi-tiered support systems depends on adopting effective programs and implementing those programs well. An effective program implemented well is the best way to obtain desired benefits. An effective program implemented poorly loses much of its impact. Conversely, an ineffective program will not likely produce significant student benefits even if implemented well. Despite the critical importance of thoughtful, systematic implementation, more attention has been paid to identifying effective programs than implementation.
In terms of an overall implementation strategy, ensuring that the universal tier of intervention achieves the desired benefits is necessary. This requires an empirically supported intervention implemented well. If the desired benefits are not obtained, it is not possible to know if a student’s failure to benefit is a result of an ineffective program, poor implementation, or if the student requires more intensive instructional or behavioral support. The lack of clarity about the source of the issue can contribute to poor decision-making. The student might be referred to more intensive support when the actual problem is poor implementation. Valuable and limited school resources may be allocated to the student when the resources would be better spent on improving implementation. If the universal intervention is implemented well, a decision that a student requires more intensive services if they are not progressing is more likely to be correct and benefit the student.
If a student is referred to the second tier of intervention support, the implementation logic is the same as the universal tier. If a student is to progress, a scientifically supported intervention must be adopted and implemented well. Suppose the intervention has scientific support and is implemented well, and the student is not making progress. In that case, the student will likely benefit from even more intensive interventions presuming that the intervention has scientific support and is designed to address the identified problem.
High-quality implementation of effective programs across all three tiers of a multi-tiered system of support is necessary to assure valid decision-making. To date, relatively little research has been completed evaluating treatment integrity across all three tiers. Measures of implementation at each level are important, but ultimately it is necessary to measure across tiers to determine the most effective and efficient approaches so we can be confident in the decisions we are making at each tier.