Acceleration vs. Remediation vs. Intervention: What’s the Difference?
Acceleration, remediation, and intervention have the same fundamental goal: supporting struggling students to ultimately achieve academic success. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll find that the differences between these three flavors of support are critical to determining what sort of environment, time, and approach might be required to best serve your students. Let’s take a closer look at these terms to unpack the differences and provide guidance on when and where they might fit into your instructional day.
Acceleration is the concept of teaching grade-level material but weaving in stopping points periodically to address a small missing piece in fundamental understanding before popping back up to the original skill. This concept is intended to overcome the vicious circle of reviewing below-grade-level concepts with struggling learners repeatedly, never giving them sufficient opportunity to demonstrate grade-level mastery.
Proponents of this approach note that the brain is flexible enough to allow for these quick pivots in instruction, and they are leaning on new research from TNTP (The New Teacher Project) to support this strategy. TNTP recommends acceleration over remediation based on evidence in elementary math classrooms, particularly following pandemic-affected learning that occurred from March 2020 to May 2021, which perpetuated learning loss and achievement gaps for so many.
The ED COVID-19 Handbook by the U.S. Department of Education describes acceleration as a focus on quickly diagnosing gaps in critical concepts that may impede students from accessing grade-level coursework. Acceleration includes accessing prior knowledge and teaching prerequisite skills that students need to learn at a pace that allows them to stay engaged in grade-level content and lays a foundation for new academic vocabulary.
At a basic level, remediation (or reteaching) means “teaching again” content that students previously failed to learn. As teachers recognize misconceptions or errors in understanding, they may focus on this missing, below-grade-level materials before returning to grade-level learning. 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 later on. 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 than the one initially used—one that builds on previous learning and focuses on the specific gaps in student thinking experienced the first time around. Ideally, remediation or reteaching is done early in the learning process, before additional skills are taught or more formal mastery tests or summative exams are administered.
Intervention, popularized by two common models: response to intervention (RTI) and multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS), 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. In today’s teaching, most school districts use intervention to prevent learning gaps from widening in later grades and to identify students for special education referral.
Intervention frameworks like RTI and MTSS are often divided into three sections, where about 80 percent of students are considered tier 1 and receive core instruction and small doses of necessary remediation or reteaching. Tier 2 (5 to 15 percent of students) and tier 3 (less than 5 percent of students) students are then most directly involved in regular small-group or one-to-one 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.
When to Employ Each Approach
Different circumstances and student needs can lead to a need for all three instructional approaches. In between delivering core instruction for a specific standard in accordance with curriculum, regularly pausing to reflect and reteach, while similarly baking in intentional intervention time for those who might be struggling with underlying skills or concepts is simply good teaching. This balancing act can often feel like navigating a decision tree but for instruction. Look at the following graphic for one such example.
This graphic illustrates the nuanced differences between acceleration and remediation for addressing learning gaps with large populations of students and simultaneously demonstrates where and how intervention fits alongside each approach.
As an educator, it is important to understand the key differences between instructional approaches and the value each one holds. This can make your practice more intentional.
For example, if only 10 percent of your students require a small dose of acceleration or extended remediation style of instruction, it may not be necessary to organize all students into small groups for an intervention block. Similarly, if only a subset of learners would benefit from a hands-on alternative instructional method to achieve understanding, it may not be necessary to stop and remediate a concept to the whole class.
Knowing when to turn to remediation versus intervention to best meet student needs will make for a more balanced learning ecosystem. This way, 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.