To what lengths must early reading intervention go for low-responders?

iStock_000016876858XSmallMany students with reading difficulties respond well to early reading interventions. But what about students who show little response to those first interventions? How much more support and what kinds of support do they need to make adequate progress toward grade-level reading skills?

A recent study in Exceptional Children reports on a group of 2nd graders who were low responders to a 1st-grade intervention and continued to receive intervention services in 2nd grade. In this study, children who showed early signs of reading difficulties received 13-26 weeks of intervention in 1st grade. If they did not show an adequate response to that intervention, in 2nd grade they received another 26 weeks of intervention or about 100 additional sessions in smaller groups.

“We were interested in examining whether students would profit from continued intervention after the level of intensity was altered (e.g., more time each day and smaller group size),” the authors write, “and the intervention was more extensive (provided for a longer period of time).”

Students who had relatively higher oral reading fluency (ORF) scores in the fall of 2nd grade, benefitted from the tertiary intervention in 2nd grade were those the researchers conclude. Those with relatively lower ORF made little progress.

“For both Passage Comprehension and Word Identification, lower responders participating in the tertiary intervention with the highest ORF scores in the fall of second grade demonstrated significant benefit from the intervention,” they write.

But even after 100 intervention sessions, students who had relatively lower ORF scores at the beginning of 2nd grade showed little gain in oral reading fluency. The lack of progress in oral reading fluency is of concern, the researchers write, because reading fluency is associated with reading comprehension and word reading at the end of 2nd grade and with passing early high-stakes reading comprehension tests.

Views of academic competence

Teachers also were asked about their perceptions of the academic competence of students participating in the study. Not surprisingly, teachers viewed students who were lower responders as less academically competent than students who were higher responders.

Academic motivation and academic study skills are indicators of students’ academic competence, the authors write. Scores from teachers on academic competence improved over time for the higher responders, but not for the lower responders.

“This finding suggests that based on teachers’ perceptions, students who are higher responders began to initiate those kinds of behaviors that are typically associated with school success, whereas lower responders were perceived as less likely to do so,” they write. “This corresponds with research that suggests that academic competence or academic enablers are often very low in students with reading disabilities.”

Participants in the study on the effectiveness of a 3-tier intervention model were from 2 cohorts of students from 7 elementary schools in a small school district near a large city in the southwest. One cohort received intervention services from 2003 to 2005 (Cohort 1) and the other from 2004 to 2006 (Cohort 2). In August, all 1st grade students were screened (Cohort 1–536, Cohort 2–494) and those meeting criteria for reading difficulties (Cohort 1–153 and Cohort 2–121 )were randomly assigned to treatment and comparison groups.

Students assigned to the treatment group in 1st grade received 13 or 26 weeks of intervention for 30 minutes daily. The instruction was provided in groups of 4 to 6 students by one tutor hired and trained by the research team. The intervention was provided in addition to the students’ regular classroom. Students who received intervention services in 1st grade only after meeting benchmarks at the beginning of 2nd grade are called the higher responders (Cohort 1–21 and Cohort 2–13).

Students who did not meet the benchmarks received a tertiary intervention (100 sessions, approximately 26 weeks) in 2nd grade. There were 7 students in Cohort 1 and 7 students in Cohort 2. Thirteen of the students received either free or reduced lunch. The tertiary intervention was provided in longer sessions and in smaller groups ( 50 minutes daily in groups of 2 to 4 students).

The researchers selected oral reading fluency scores below 27 in the fall of 2nd grade as the criterion for higher and lower responders. The criterion was selected based on data that the odds of achieving ORF of >90 are only 10% for those scoring below 27 on ORF at the beginning of 2nd grade.

“Because we were providing a tertiary intervention, we were interested in identifying students most at risk,” they write. The ORF scores of students in the lower responder group averaged only 40 words correct per minute at the end of 2nd grade.

The secondary intervention in 1st grade, which was provided 30 minutes daily, included the following segments:

  • phonics and word recognition (15 minutes)–letter names; letter sounds; reading and spelling regular and irregular words; word family patterns and word building
  • fluency (5 minutes)–focused on improving speed and automaticity with letter names and sounds, word reading and passage reading
  • passage reading and comprehension(10 min)–short passages with comprehension questions

The tertiary intervention in 2nd grade, which was provided 50 minutes daily, included the following segments:

  • sound review (1-2 minutes)–review of previously taught letter sounds, letter combinations and other phonic elements
  • phonics and word recognition and vocabulary (17-25 minutes)–introduction of new decoding skills or strategies, new letter sounds, letter combinations, prefixes and suffixes
  • fluency (5 minutes)–improving accuracy and speed of text reading
  • passage reading and comprehension (12-20 minutes)–before reading each passage, tutors highlighted relevant vocabulary words and story words. Students read each passage 2 or more times–once for word recognition and phrasing and the second for under- standing and fluency.

Researchers have continued to work with the low responders to the tertiary intervention in 3rd grade in order to document students’ response to additional intervention. An expert interventionist provides services one-on-one. “Although the follow-up of these students is incomplete, we can report that the progress monitoring data based on ORF indicates that their progress is very minimal,” they write.

“Response to Early Reading Intervention: Examining Higher and Lower Responders,” Exceptional Children, Volume 75, Number 2, pp. 165-183.

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