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February 1, 2007
Vol. 64
No. 5

Special Report / Early Intervention

It seems logical that if you screen students for possible learning difficulties early on, you can prevent failure down the road. Unfortunately, this identification process tends to take place rather late in schooling—often not until 2nd or 3rd grade. By then, many students may already have fallen into a pattern of repeated failure.
In the research synthesis, Recognition and Response: An Early Intervening System for Young Children At-Risk for Learning Disabilities, the FPG Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill discusses a new intervention model under development that can help parents and teachers respond to learning difficulties in young children ages 3–5. Recognition and Response is based on the Response to Intervention (RTI) model, which focuses on school-age children.

Response to Intervention

  • In Tier 1, teachers screen all students to determine whether the curriculum and instruction are meeting the needs of the majority of students. If 80 percent of students meet the predetermined benchmarks, the curriculum is assumed to be acceptable. If 80 percent of students fail to meet the benchmarks, classroom interventions should be implemented to improve instruction.
  • In Tier 2, teachers use targeted interventions, such as differentiated instruction, to address the needs of students who didn't make adequate progress in Tier 1, even when the curriculum was considered to be of good quality. Research suggests that approximately 15 percent of students will respond to these interventions and make adequate progress.
  • In Tier 3, teachers intensify individualized instruction for those students who failed to make adequate progress in Tier 2. Research suggests that a small proportion—5 percent—may not respond to these interventions and may have specific learning disabilities. Teachers refer these students for formal evaluation for special education.
In addition to its multiple tiers of intervention, RTI incorporates a problem-solving approach in which classroom teachers and specialists identify and evaluate relevant instructional strategies and monitor student progress using ongoing data collection and assessment.

The Research on RTI

In its research synthesis on RTI, the Institute focused on 14 empirical studies, in which a total of 1,627 children ages 4–8 were involved. Findings indicated that a great deal of variability characterizes the implementation of the RTI model—in assessment and data-monitoring procedures, specific intervention strategies, duration and intensity of interventions, and benchmarks for determining when to initiate a new phase or tier. Only one study focused on an essential feature of RTI: assessing the initial quality of the general education curriculum and instruction.
None of the studies directly assessed the effectiveness of the tiered approach. Some focused on intervention strategies, and some used the tiers out of sequence. Nevertheless, results suggest that RTI can produce positive outcomes for young children at risk for learning difficulties. Studies indicated that the later incidence of placement in special education decreased as a result of implementing the RTI model starting in kindergarten.

Recognition and Response

Similar to RTI, Recognition and Response adopts an approach that includes assessing the quality of the general education curriculum, making program modifications, using targeted instructional strategies, and providing appropriate supports. There is limited reliance on formal diagnosis and labeling. The problem-solving component emphasizes collaboration among parents, teachers, and specialists.
  • In Tier 1, teachers provide a research-based curriculum and effective teaching strategies. Screening should occur for all children within three months of their entering the program. Teachers screen students and monitor their progress through observation and by using such tools as checklists, rating scales, work samples, and curriculum-based assessments.
  • In Tier 2, teachers provide interventions to students who do not make adequate progress in Tier 1. Interventions require minimum adjustments to classroom activities. Parents, teachers, and specialists can collaborate to develop specific group interventions, such as introducing relevant vocabulary before a read aloud. Assessments focus more closely on areas of concern, such as phonological awareness or basic math concepts.
  • In Tier 3, teachers implement more intensive interventions for students who do not make adequate progress in Tier 2. For example, a teacher might work individually with a student to reinforce rhyming concepts. Teachers collaborate with parents and early childhood specialists to determine a student's eligibility for special education services. Teachers may find it necessary in this tier to use norm-referenced and standardized diagnostic tests.
To support further development of the model, the Institute recommends more in-depth study of the model's four components: (1) the intervention hierarchy; (2) screening, assessment, and progress monitoring; (3) researched-based curriculum, instruction, and interventions; and (4) collaborative problem solving. There is also a need to create the tools required to implement each component.
For more information about the Recognition and Response model, visitwww.fpg.unc.edu. Under FPG Sites, click on Recognition and Response.

Amy Azzam has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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