Small-group middle school interventions work as well as individualized

iStock_000022973452XSmallHow much individualized intervention do middle school students need if their reading skills are below grade level and they have not been responsive to Tier 2 interventions?
A year-long study of 7th-8th graders receiving Tier 3 interventions in small groups of 4-5 students concludes that individualized intervention is not necessarily superior to standardized interventions, even at the Tier 3 level.

The study in Exceptional Children reports that students who received instruction tailored to their individual needs performed no better on word attack, word reading or fluency measures than students who received standardized interventions. This was true of students with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) as well.

Students with disabilities (i.e. served by special education) had poorer outcomes in individualized interventions compared to standardized interventions, the study reports.  Students in both treatment conditions received 50-minute daily interventions during their elective periods for 160 lessons. For students in the individualized condition, student test scores dictated which reading components made up each lesson. Advancement and pacing of lessons was based on individual student mastery rather than group mastery.

Overall, students in both groups made significant gains in reading comprehension and standardized test scores, the researchers report. These results are heartening and noteworthy, the researchers write, but students’ need for services when they have difficulty with reading in the middle grades is sobering.

Many of the students who participated in the study had already failed to respond sufficiently to a year-long intervention, the authors write. The intervention services they provided would be too costly for many schools to provide, the authors caution. Researchers worked with 2 urban school districts in the Southwest, one in a large city and one in a medium-sized city. Struggling readers were identified by state accountability test results (approximating the 30th percentile).  Participants were inadequate responders to a previous intervention. 69 students were randomly assigned to the standardized treatment group and 71 to the individualized treatment group; 42 students who received no researcher-provided interventions served as the comparison group.

“The study points to the need to seriously consider the intensity needed to remediate reading difficulties in middle school,” the researchers write. “Even with 2 years of intervention, most students do not evidence grade-level reading for understanding and will require further intervention.” “We believe that in addition to improved student outcomes in reading (realized by students in the treatment conditions), determining whether treated students are also more likely to remain in school and graduate would be valuable.”

“Effects of Individualized and Standardized Interventions on Middle School Students With Reading Disabilities,” by Sharon Vaughn et al., Exceptional Children, Summer 2011, Volume 44, Number 4, pps. 391-407.

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