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How to Identify Students For Math Intervention

Have you ever heard this quote, if it quacks like a duck it must be a duck?  Well, certain data points may quack like a duck, but it’s really not a duck. This means sometimes what the numbers tell us about students may not be consistent with who shows up for class everyday.

We always meet our students on paper first. Test scores and grades can be misleading, because students connect with teachers in different ways. For example, I’ve had students who have come to me on a third grade level. By the end of the school year, the students’ math achievement surpassed all of my expectations. This didn’t happen all of a sudden because I was this great teacher. It happened because the students had the potential and I was the right teacher for them.

Interpreting  Data

Interpreting student data can be tricky, especially when you haven’t met the students. Using only standardized test scores to make instructional decisions can cause pitfalls for you and the students.

I’ve been in many data meetings with administrators and the only interpretation that comes from standardized test scores is either the student is doing well or failing. The next question is ALWAYS what is the teacher doing to close the gaps? This is where the fallout happens between teachers and administrators.

Standardized test scores are only one data point and give one point of view. Making instructional decisions solely based on one data point can cause students to be placed into the wrong intervention.

When using data to make instructional decisions the interpretation of data should include:

  1. Multiple data points
  2. Attendance
  3. Work ethic
  4. Teacher made test

As a rule of thumb, I don’t begin interventions until after one grading cycle. This allows me to see if the students are able to grasp the math concepts with good Tier 1 instruction.

A Multi-Tiered System

Response to Intervention is a multi-tiered system with different criteria for each tier.  In my opinion, the most overlooked tier is Tier 1.

Tier 1 Instruction

Tier 1 instruction includes but is not limited to:

  • Flexible grouping ( teams, partners, whole group, small group,etc.)
  • Use of Mnemonic cues ( songs, rhymes, stories, images.)
  • Differentiated Instruction
  • Break assignments into smaller chunks
  • Tiered assignments
  • Gradual Release model

In a perfect classroom eighty to ninety percent of your students would be expected to be academically successful with Tier 1 instruction. Unfortunately this isn’t the case for many teachers that work in high poverty schools.  Based on my experience, only thirty to forty percent of students in high poverty school respond to Tier 1 instruction.

Tier 2 Intervention

For teachers in high poverty schools the majority of their students receive Tier 2 interventions. This tier is designed to provide another layer of intervention in addition to core instruction (Tier 1).

This tier is supposed to be for students who are performing one or two grade levels below the current grade placement. In Title I schools, this could mean that over half of the students in your classroom will receive Tier 2 instruction.

Tier 2 interventions are researched based interventions that are provided as targeted individual interventions and delivered through small group instruction. During small group instruction the teacher uses the student data to determine where to begin instruction.

Tier 3 Intervention

When students do not show progress with Tier 2 interventions, they are then given more individualized, intensive interventions in Tier 3. 

In addition to the teacher’s core instruction, students in Tier 3 interventions are usually serviced by other school personnel such as an interventionist. Unlike Tier 2 the teacher-student ratio in these groups are reduced to 1:3 and the intervention time is increased. 

Placing Students Into Tiers

Deciding which tier to put students in is not an exact science. Sometimes students may move quickly with certain concepts and you want to exit them but then they begin to struggle. 

The concepts and skills that you use at each tier is never the same because it’s based on student qualitative and quantitative data. It is also important to remember that the primary goal of Response to Intervention is to accelerate learning. You’ll be able to tell how effective RTI is based on the students’ progress or lack of progress with your core (on grade level) instruction.

I cannot stress how important it is to use multiple data points before putting a student into Tier 2 or 3 intervention. Identifying student should never be based solely on raw data or standardized testing. 

Also give the students some time with the teacher at the beginning of the year before starting interventions. Educators often think that because a student received intervention the previous year they’ll get the same support next year. 

The goal of RTI is to get the student on grade level. If the student is consistently receiving intervention every year, you have to ask the question is the student getting the right support?

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I help math teachers who teach high need students to effectively manage their classrooms and deliver high quality math instruction. Learn more about me


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