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Intervention vs. Remediation: What’s the difference?

Intervention vs. Remediation: What’s the difference?

Intervention and remediation (also commonly referred to as reteaching) have the same fundamental goal: supporting struggling students with focused learning opportunities to achieve academic success. But still, the differences between these two flavors of instruction are critical to determining what sort of environment, time, and approach might be required to best serve your students. We’ll take a closer look at defining these terms and provide guidance on when and where they might fit into your instructional day.


Intervention is often identified as a formal process for helping students who are struggling, where research-based instructional approaches are implemented around very specific skill deficits and where progress is regularly tracked. This intensive approach was first introduced with the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) as a method to help identify students with specific learning disabilities. Some of the more popular models include response to intervention (RTI) or a multi-tiered support system (MTSS). In practice, most school districts use intervention to prevent learning gaps from widening in later grades and to identify students for special education referral.

Intervention frameworks are often divided into three sections, where about 80 percent of students are considered Tier 1 and receive core instruction and necessary remediation or reteaching. Tier 2 (5 to 15 percent of students) and Tier 3 (less than 5 percent of students) are then most directly involved in regular small-group or 1:1 interventions. To determine which students require intervention services, a formalized screening and diagnostic assessment process is often used, during which specific strengths and needs are identified, growth targets are set, and a regimented plan for delivery and progress monitoring is outlined.


At a basic level, remediation (or reteaching) means “teaching again” content that students previously failed to learn. As a teacher recognizes misconceptions or errors in understanding, he or she may quickly redirect students through explicit remediation of that concept. This is done early on and for the benefit of all learners during core instruction in hope of preventing the majority of students from requiring more targeted, intensive interventions. Many teachers engage in remediation regularly as a natural part of instruction, without using a formal process or even explicitly recognizing their actions as intentional reteaching.

Remediation is also often guided by some sort of formative assessment, whether formal or informal, in order to gather enough insight to recognize the large breakdown in knowledge that students are experiencing. For this approach to be impactful, teachers must use a different method to the one initially used—one that builds on previous learning and focuses on the specific omissions in student thinking experienced the first time around. Ideally, remediation or reteaching is done early in the learning process, before additional skills are layered in or more formal mastery tests or summative exams are administered.

When to Employ Each Approach

The best educators recognize both intervention and remediation as central to their day-to-day instructional practices. In between delivering core instruction for a specific standard aligned to their explicit scope and sequence, these educators are constantly pausing to reflect and reteach, while similarly baking in intentional intervention time for those who might be struggling with underlying skills or concepts. This balancing act can often feel like navigating a decision tree but for instruction. Look at the following graphic for one such example.

When you understand the key differences of these instructional approaches and, better yet, the value each one holds, your practices as an educator can become even more intentional. For example, don’t spin your wheels organizing all students into small groups for an intervention block when only 10 percent of them require this level of focused engagement. Also, don’t stop to remediate a concept to the whole class when just a subset of learners would really benefit from a hands-on alternative instructional method to achieve understanding. Knowing what your students need and how to best meet student needs will make for a more balanced learning ecosystem where everyone is receiving the right level of services at just the right time.

Interested in learning more about tiered intervention? Discover how to support Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 students with proven programs.

This blog was originally published October 2018 and has been updated.

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Madison Michell

Madison Michell has been a member of the Edmentum team since 2014 and currently serves as a Marketing Manager. As a former Kindergarten and 3rd grade teacher during her time as a Teach For America corps member, she believes education truly has the power to transform lives. She is passionate about connecting educators with online programs, best practices, and research that improve teaching and learning for today's students.