ELLs benefit as much as EFLs from struggling reader interventions

Schoolkids in classroom. Girl reading task aloud at lesson.Struggling readers who are English Language Learners (ELLs) will benefit just as much from reading interventions as struggling readers who speak English as a First Language, says a recent study in the Journal of Learning Disabilities.

Response to intervention was similar whether readers received a phonological intervention or participated in a special education reading program. However, readers in the phonological intervention made bigger gains as a group than readers in the special ed program.

“These data suggest that the same principles of systematic and explicit phonologically based intervention are effective for struggling readers irrespective of primary language status, as long as a basic level of English-language competence had been achieved,” write the authors.

Data for the study was collected over 4 years in 16 elementary schools in a large multicultural and linguistically diverse urban school district in Canada, the Toronto Catholic District School Board. A total of 166 struggling readers from grades 2-8, ages 6 to 13 participated in the study. They spoke 9 languages with Portuguese and Spanish, the most common languages. Other languages were Tagalog, spoken in the Philippines, Italian, Polish, Arabic, Syrian and Urdu.

To qualify for the study, students had to score 1 standard deviation or more below age norm expectations

All children whether ELLs or English as First Language (EFL) met the criteria for reading disability and were below average in oral language and verbal skills. The intervention group spent 105 hours in the intervention program while those in the control group spent an equivalent time in the special ed program.

“Rather than primary language, it was level of language impairment that emerged as a highly significant predictor of reading outcomes, particularly on more complex measures of reading achievement (e.g., challenge words, passage comprehension),” the authors write.

“Interventions for Reading Difficulties, A Comparison of Response to Intervention by ELL and EFL Struggling Readers,” by Maureen Lovett et al., Journal of Learning Disabilities, Volume 41, Number 1, July/August 2008, pp. 333-352.

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