Benefits of intensive 1st-grade reading intervention with ELLs evident 1 year later

Teacher Helping Boy With SchoolworkHispanic English Language Learners (ELLs) with reading difficulties in 1st grade who received a very intensive reading intervention in Spanish or English continued to show improved performance in their core reading instruction language a year after they received the intervention, says a recent study in the American Educational Research Journal.

“The strength of these results comes from the fact that these students were assessed a full year after termination of the intervention,” write the authors from 2 Texas universities.

Students improved in spelling, decoding, comprehension and fluency compared to controls.

Improved language skills in one language have been shown to promote learning in another language, but in this study, the effects of transfer were limited. However, the researchers note that there were no detrimental effects on language skills across the two languages in comparison with controls.

The study did not address the debate whether to provide early reading instruction to ELLs in English or their primary language. The study took place in bilingual schools with populations that were at least 60% Latino. Children received interventions in the language in which they already were receiving core reading instruction.

Participants were 300 students from 10 schools that had 80% pass rates on 3rd-grade state reading achievement tests, indicating they were effective bilingual schools. Students with reading difficulties were randomly assigned to intervention or control groups.

The English and Spanish interventions were conducted for 50 minutes daily in groups of 3 to 5 students from October of 1st grade until May of 1st grade to allow time for pre- and post-testing.

One-year follow-up data was available for 215 of the 300 students in the study. In 2nd grade, instruction continued to be in English for students in the English studies. In Spanish, 2nd-grade instruction occurred in both English and Spanish as the program model in these schools was one of early transition to English.

For the English intervention, an enhanced version of Proactive Reading was used. The intervention was modified by including an oral and vocabulary component and by emphasizing appropriate language support activities based of effective practices for ELLs. For the Spanish intervention, Lectura Proactiva was used. A primary objective in the design of Lectura Proactiva was to promote connected text fluency. The researchers’ goal was to prepare students to read 75 words per minute correctly by the end of 1st grade.

Comprehension not in average range The effect sizes of the intervention on performance were modest across most outcomes, the researchers report. The performance levels of intervention students in Spanish outcomes were mostly higher than those of intervention students in the English study. Despite the gains in reading comprehension, performances were not yet within the average range, even for intervention students.

“Clearly, interventions that have a more significant impact on comprehension and broader language outcomes are desirable, and it is hoped that the results of experimental studies such as this one may assist in the development of interventions that may have such an impact,” the authors write.

Measures used in the post-test were: WLPB-Revised sub-tests for oral language and reading outcomes, the Oral Reading Fluency sub-test of the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) and Word Reading Efficiency along with a spelling test.

“Of particular importance to teachers and parents will be the performance of these students on state-based accountability measures,” the researchers write. “While knowing the eventual effects of these interventions would be desirable, we interpret the positive findings at the end of second grade as an indication of the value of intensive early intervention and the promise for reducing the negative effects of low early reading skills in ELLs.”

“One-Year Follow-Up Outcomes of Spanish and English Interventions for English Language Learners at Risk for Reading Problems,” by Paul Cirino et al., American Educational Research Journal, September 2009, Volume 46, Number 3, pps. 744-781.


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