Kansas Center finds early success with 3-tiered intervention for students with reading problems

iStock_000016876858XSmallAfter early screening of students for their risk for reading problems, the Kansas Center for Early Intervention in Reading and Behavior is reporting early signs of success with a three tiered schoolwide intervention model aimed at boosting the reading skills of as many children as possible before third grade. With federal mandates such as IDEA and No Child Left Behind and advances in targeting emerging/beginning reading skills, educators are intensely focused on how best to deliver interventions once children have been identified as atrisk for reading problems.

In a recent issue of the Journal of Learning Disabilities, researchers report on initial results for the use of a three tiered intervention model with first graders in four Midwestern schools compared to outcomes in four comparison schools (total 340 students 176 from experimental schools and 164 in the comparison schools). Students had similar demographic characteristics, based on percentages that received reduced price lunch, were English learners, etc. The three-tiered intervention model features:

  • Tier 1:Use of the most effective instructional programs by general educators to accelerate the learning of most children and reduce the number of children with behavioral and learning problems;
  • Tier 2: Small group instruction in deficit areas for children unresponsive to the primarylevel instruction; and
  • Tier 3: Intensive intervention of selected students with pull out instruction, multiple practice opportunities, systematic feedback and progress monitoring.

Although emphasizing that the results were preliminary, researchers concluded that all children in the experimental schools receiving small group instruction under a schoolwide program were more likely to meet benchmarks after a relatively short time (50%, 42%, 24% and 22%) than students in the comparison schools (4%, 6%, 11% and 36%). The amount of smallgroup instruction in the comparison schools varied widely from no time at all to 35% of the time in the intervention curricula.

First-graders were tested with DIBELS in the fall of 2002, winter of 2003 and the spring of 2003. Intervention began from November to January.

A striking finding, note the researchers, was the high percentage of students who showed reading risk in the beginning of their first grade year in all schools. Results indicated that, based on testing with Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), 61%, 32%, 74% and 46% of students in the experimental schools and 65%, 82%, 62% and 46% were at risk.

Three-tiered model a compelling option

“The three tiered model is compelling,” the researchers say, “because typical general and special education services in elementary school settings often lack a cohesive process for ensuring early access to the most successful reading interventions for all children in Grades K through 3. In many cases, at risk students receive no services for reading concerns until they are referred for special education evaluation, typically later than the second grade.” The researchers attributed the high percentage of children identified at high risk in all schools to the use of “curricula choices that are not based on scientific evidence.

“Our findings indicated that there will continue to be a need for secondary intervention for more students in high-risk schools given use of non phonics reading instruction.

“High-risk schools need reading programs with strong emphases on phonemic awareness and systematic phonics instruction combined with three-tiered models that identify early and intensive instruction to students’ learning to read before problems emerge,” the article states. Among the key differences between the experimental and comparison schools:

  • Increased amounts of time in small-group versus whole-class instruction;
  • Increased use of systematic phonics instruction as part of the reading program
  • Increased amounts of time spent on active reading engagement (reading aloud and reading silently); and
  • Higher levels of teacher praise and lower levels of reprimands for intervention schools.

Frequent monitoring

In another article in the Journal of Learning Disabilities, a second group of researchers reports on the use of tiers for reading intervention with about 400 children in grades K 3 in two schools. Students moved in and out of intervention as needed based on the results of frequent testing.

“Although all of the students eventually identified with LD were caught in the broad net we cast in kindergarten, we found more ‘in-and-out’ movement, in which students appeared to be at risk at some time points, reached the average range (with Tier 2 or 3 interventions) for short periods of time, and then fell behind again when supports were removed or reading tasks became more difficult,” the researchers note. The three tiers of intervention featured:

  • Tier 1: Professional development for teachers to improve reading instructions. Following each session, teachers met in grade level groups to discuss implementation, activities and instructional changes.
  • Tier 2: Small group instruction three days per week for students behind their peers on phoneme awareness and letter knowledge and who had made poor progress in classroom instruction. More than half of students who continued to receive Tier 2 past kindergarten were in the average range on reading measures by the end of second grade.
  • Tier 3: Daily small group or individual instruction for those who needed more intervention. Nearly 40% of students who received Tier 3 were performing at average levels in grade three without additional interventions.

The researchers noted that a comparison of children who were identified with learning disabilities and those who tested at risk for reading, showed that it was only in second grade that their scores became clearly differentiated. “Tiers of Intervention in Kindergarten Through Third Grade” “Formulating Secondary-Level Interventions ” Journal of Learning Disabilities Volume 38, Number 6, December 2005 pp. 500-509, 532 538.

Published in ERN February 2006 Volume 19 Number 2

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