By Dia Jackson
August 09, 2018

“But we have so many kids below proficient!!”  With the majority of students with disabilities receiving instruction in the general education classroom and ESSA’s focus on improved outcomes for underserved students, many schools and educators are feeling the pressure to improve outcomes for students with disabilities in inclusive settings.  At the same time, many schools face the challenge of decreased funding for staff or materials needed to provide high quality Tier 1 curriculum as well as Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions. Don’t’ fret!! Implementing high leverage practices at Tier 1 can be an effective way for schools to address the needs of all students, especially students with disabilities and those struggling meet grade level standards.

What are High Leverage Practices?

High-leverage practices (HLPs) are defined as “a set of practices that are fundamental to support K-12 student learning, and that can be taught, learned and implemented by those entering the profession.” (Windschidtl et al., 2012, p. 880).  HLPs are professional practices that are used by effective teachers frequently, are broadly applicable to subject areas and developmental levels and foster student engagement and learning (McLeskey & Brownell, 2015). HLPs have a high probability of impacting student outcomes and changing teacher practice, making their use a win-win for both teacher and student. Additionally, HLPs are an effective way to respond to diverse learners across all grade levels. By honing in on the most critical aspects of effective instruction, HLPs provide educators with most efficient and effective instructional practice for students with disabilities across all tiers.  

There are a number of reasons why HLPs should be used with students with disabilities at Tier 1:

  • HLPs increase the effectiveness of the MTSS framework by focusing on instruction at tier 1.  These same practices can be used to intensify intervention at Tiers 2 and 3 for students in need of additional support.
  • HLPs are flexible – they are content-free and can be used to teach math, reading, social skills or a number of content areas.  HLPs can be used in grades K – 12 and are not specific to student developmental age or student population. 
  • HLPs clear the noise – instead of looking for the most impactful (and usually expensive) program, HLPs can be used in combination with intervention programs or with general education curriculum. HLPs focus on deliberate instructional practice, not a theory or specific program.
  • HLPs bring coherence to general and special education by providing a set of common instructional practices that all teachers, both in inclusive and self-contained settings, can use.

Examples of High Leverage Practices

High leverage practices should be used in combination with evidence-based practices and materials.  HLPs should be integrated into each phase of a teacher’s instruction including planning, delivery, guided practice and assessment. A full list of High Leverage Practices, with a particular emphasis on improving outcomes for students with disabilities, is included in CEEDAR & CEC’s HLPs. These HLPs support and enhance the HLPs from TeachingWorks (University of Michigan). Here are a few examples of HLPs:

  • Use student assessment data, analyze instructional practices, and make necessary adjustments that improve student outcomes.
  • Provide positive and constructive feedback to guide students’ learning and behavior.
  • Systematically design instruction toward a specific learning goal.
  • Use strategies to promote active student engagement.
  • Build respectful relationships with students.
  • Provide oral and written feedback to students.
  • Analyze instruction for the purpose of improving it

High quality Tier 1 instruction is the first level of prevention in an MTSS framework. High leverage practices offer a pathway that starts with highly effective and frequently used practices for educators to use in inclusive Tier 1 settings. These practices are foundational for learning and can be used to intensify intervention at Tiers 2 and 3.

Where should I start?

To address the achievement gap between students with and without disabilities, educators can adopt and employ a small set of high leverage practices for instruction.  To get started, begin by implementing the five HLPs below which are present in both TeachingWorks HLPs as well as CEC & CEEDAR’s HLPs for students with disabilities:

  • Explicit instruction (HLP 1/ CEC HLP 16)
  • Student engagement (HLP 10/ CEC HLP 18)
  • Multiple opportunities for practice and feedback (HLP 16/ CEC HLP 22)
  • Teach cognitive and metacognitive strategies (HLP 5 & 6/CEC HLP 14)
  • Systematically design and scaffold instruction (HLP 13/CEC HLP  12 and 15)
  • Use assistive and instructional technology (HLP 19)

Learn More

For more information on how to integrate HLPs into Tier 1, check out this new resource from CEC “High Leverage Practices for Inclusive Settings”.   


Ball, D. & Forzani, F. (2011). Building a common core for learning to teach: And connecting professional learning to practice. American Educator. 35(2), 17-21.

McLeskey, J., & Brownell, M. (2015). High-leverage practices and teacher preparation in special education (Document No. PR-1). Retrieved from University of Florida, Collaboration for Effective Educator, Development, Accountability, and Reform Center website:

McLeskey, J., Barringer, M-D., Billingsley, B., Brownell, M., Jackson, D., Kennedy, M., Lewis, T.,  Maheady, L., Rodriguez, J., Scheeler, M. C., Winn, J., & Ziegler, D. (2017, January). High- leverage practices in special education. Arlington, VA: Council for Exceptional Children & CEEDAR Center.

TeachingWorks (2016). High-Leverage Practices. University of Michigan. Retrieved from

Windschitl, M., Thompson, J., Braaten, M., & Stroupe, D. (2012). Proposing a core set of instructional practices and tools for teachers of science. Science Education, 96, 878–903.