Thursday, March 31, 2016

Initial Assessment for Reading Readiness and Strategies for Sustaining Student Success

Reading interventions such as Reading Recovery®Reading Rescue®, or Wilson Reading System®, provide options for Tier III reading interventions.  However, too often parents concerned with their child’s below-average reading development either are unaware of the availability of an effective reading intervention program or believe focused reading intervention can only be provided through special education services.  Related to the availability of the school system’s Response to Intervention (RTI)the fractured communication of options between the school and parents exhibit ineffective home-school relationships.  Therefore, many school districts continue to experience a relatively high percentage of special education referrals based on reading or language concerns prior to the conclusion of the student’s first-grade.   
Early assessment to identify students at-risk for reading failure is the prudent first step in the evaluation process.  In order to provide efficient access to the most effective early intervention programs, a valid assessment instrument will be necessary to reliably identify students at-risk for reading failure.  While evaluating instruments that assess reading readiness, Gilbertson & Bramlett, (1998) found it is important to identify variables that will predict reading success in school. This is especially important for children who are “at-risk for language and learning delays” (p 109). 
Valid assessment instruments that ascertain the student’s reading readiness and at-risk factors will provide equitable criteria for participation in the district’s reading intervention program for first-grade students.  Using the Swank and Catts (1994) methodology, Gilbertson & Bramlett (1998) replicated a moderate relationship “between five phonological awareness measures and first-grade reading.  All of the phonological measures were more highly correlated with broad reading ability as measured by the Woodcock–Johnson Psychoeducational Test Battery-Revised” (1995, p.113).  The authors concluded the “high correlations suggest that phonological awareness skills are strongly associated with both decoding ability and comprehension” (p 113).  
The broad reading subtests of the Woodcock–Johnson Psycho Educational Test Battery-Revised (Woodcock & Johnson, 1995) would be a valid and reliable assessment instrument for identifying the reading skills of first-grade students who may be at-risk for reading failure.  A district could provide professional development in the administration of the Woodcock –Johnson broad reading subtest.  This standardized instrument would then satisfy theopportunity to assess first-grade students with a standardized instrument. 
An Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement (Clay, 2002, 2005) provides a systematic review of early reading and writing behaviors.  It is the primary assessment tool used in Reading Recovery.  The Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement was reviewed and rated as a screening tool by the National Center for Response to Intervention (NCRTI) using a composite score for all six tasks.  NCRTI assigned the highest possible rating -- Convincing Evidence -- in all categories: classification accuracy, generalizability, reliability, validity, and disaggregated data for diverse populations.  With approval by the NCRTI Technical Review Committee, the Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement can be used by school psychologists, special educators, and others as an evidence-based screening instrument to identify children at risk for literacy failure. 
The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) provide a set of procedures for measuring the acquisition of early literacy skills and assessing the Big Ideas in Reading.  DIBELS are predictive of later reading proficiency.  DIBELS have been researched and validated for benchmark testing in kindergarten through sixth grade.  Benchmark testing with DIBELS can help determine which students are at risk for later reading difficulties. 
Once a student is identified as being at-risk for reading failure, it is incumbent upon the district to provide the most appropriate reading intervention.  Vacca & Padak, (1990) cited  Armbruster, Echols, & Brown (1982), who found “knowledge of self in relation to texts and reading tasks puts students in a strategic position to learn” (p 487).  The difference between the student’s current independent level of skill and understanding, and where the child can progress with expert guidance is grounded in Vygotsky’s concept known as the “zone of proximal development” (Kozulin, 1990, p170).  Effective manipulation of the zone of proximal development appears to be the philosophical underpinnings of Reading Recovery (Clay, 1985), a reading intervention program that has been proven effective for Tier III RTI.  
A common school intervention in the past has been retention of the student.  Juel and Leavell (1988) examined the effects of retention.  In their study of retention and non-retention of at-risk readers in first grade they concluded, “the value of retention per se for at-risk readers would seem to be limited” (p.579).   
Research indicates student retention is an ineffective intervention.  Retention can actually increase the prevalence of affective problems comparative to the mitigation of the reading problem.  If retention is not beneficial for at-risk first-grade students then schools need to provide a more appropriate reading intervention.  
Related to the increase in affective problems relevant to retentionVacca & Padak (1990) found that at-risk learners are seldom more academically vulnerable than during instructional situations that require them to engage in acts of literacy.  Newmann (1981) identified a correlation between students’ failure to develop effective reading skills, their sense of alienation from the school, and an increase in dropout rates.  Coley & Hoffman (1990) believed this alienation may have its genesis in the “negative or disinviting messages” ( p 497) that teachers unintentionally send to at-risk students in regard to their chances for reading success.  Students who are at risk for reading failure certainly need appropriate instruction in reading strategies that will enhance their ability to get meaning from text, but just as surely, they need techniques that “focus on their affective needs to help them see themselves as capable learners and good thinkers” (p 497). 
Slavin (1989) identified self-esteem, learned helplessness, and school alienation as prevalent issues among at-risk students.  Students often learn quickly to view themselves as incapable of learning.  Caught in the failure cycle, at-risk readers develop their own behaviors to cope with their lack of reading success.  These behaviors amount to learned helplessness in the face of repeated failure (Licht, 1983).  Research has suggested that once into the learned helplessness mode, students develop a passive orientation to learning (Torgeson, 1982). 
As discussed in the February 2016 blog postprograms that utilize a phonemic and phonological awareness approach in a multisensory, systemic reading intervention model offer research-based Tier 3 RTI.  However, for at least two years following successful participation in any early intervention program, the effective school needs to ensure the student is exposed to “good classroom instruction and moderate personal motivation that should be achievable” (Clay, 2005, p. 52).  Therefore, elementary teachers need to become proficient with the following five areas:  
  • Identification of students “at-risk" for reading failure 
  • Assessment for Reading Readiness 
  • Provision of Tier II and Tier III Reading Interventions 
  • Integration of Decoding and Spelling Skills,  
  • Direct Instruction of Critical Reading Skills. 
Collins (1993) cited literacy scholar Paulo Freire, who contends that those who share in the learning process are empowered by a critical consciousness of themselves as meaning makers.  Freire (1976) suggested it is language that provides the tool for meaning construction.  Language is a thinking process, which allows students to learn and grow. 
Although educators have had this tool at their disposal for years, they have failed to respond to the need for greater competency by looking to language as the source for improvement.  During the last decade, researchers have begun to identify ways to optimize language use to promote higher-level thinking.  For decades. professional organizations and the professional literature supported the need for critical thinking in the classroom and called for teachers to guide students in developing higher level thinking skills (Neilsen, 1989).   
Teaching higher-level cognitive processes requires comprehension, inference, and decision-making.  The reading classroom, therefore, is the logical place to begin.  These skills have been associated with reading instruction for years.  Now, instead of being enrichment skills, they must become core skills. 
Overall “critical reading” refers to teaching students to think while reading.  Carr (1988) defined critical reading as “learning to evaluate, draw inferences, and arrive at conclusions based on evidence” (p.69).  Children’s literature is a powerful tool for teaching critical reading because it offers children the opportunity to actively engage in texts while simultaneously considering ideas, values, and ethical questions.  Through literature, students learn to read personally, actively, and deeply. 
Two techniques for developing critical reading skills include problem solving and learning to reason through reading.  Flynn (1989) described an instructional model for problem solving which promotes analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of ideas.  She stated that, “When we ask students to analyze we expect them to clarify information by examining the component parts.  Synthesis involves combining relevant parts into a coherent whole, and evaluation includes setting up standards and then judging against them to verify the reasonableness of ideas” (p.665).  
Collins (1993) noted when literature is approached from a problem solving perspective, students are asked to evaluate evidence, draw conclusions, make inferences, and develop a line of thinking (Riecken and Miller, 1990).  According to Flynn (1989), “children are capable of solving problems at all ages and need to be encouraged to do so at every grade level” (p.667).   
Wilson (1988) suggested that teachers re-think the way they teach reading and look critically at their own teaching and thinking processes.  She disliked skills lessons that are repackaged in the name of critical thinking but are merely renamed worksheets.  She pointed out that teaching students to read, write, and think critically is a dramatic shift from what has generally taken place in most classrooms.  Wilson (1988) believed critical literacy requires the use of strategies and techniques.  These may include:  
  • Formulating questions prior to, during, and after reading;  
  • Responding to the text in terms of the student’s own values;  
  • Anticipating texts, and acknowledging when and how reader expectations are aroused and fulfilled;  
  • Interacting with texts thru a variety of writing activities that ask readers to go beyond what they have read to experience the text in personal ways. 
Critical thinking requires readers to be actively and constructively engaged in the process of reading.  Readers continually negotiate what is known with what they currently are trying to comprehend.  The role of background knowledge and the student’s ability to draw upon it are essential to critical thinking/learning. 
Teachers need to encourage pre-reading discussions to help readers activate prior knowledge or fill in gaps in their background knowledge in order to set the stage for critical reading.  Activation of schema allows students the opportunity to identify purposes for reading, formulate hypotheses, and test the accuracy of their hypotheses throughout the reading process.  Asking students to examine their own reading and learning processes creates the awareness necessary for critical reading. 
Next month’s post will address the need for a systemic professional development program for developing classroom-based literacy assessment.  Such a program will include, but not be limited to: 
  • Systemic professional development to improve curriculum and instruction in literacy for students either with special needs or at-risk for failure.   
  • Systemic professional development providing strategies for integrating decoding and spelling skills.   
  • Systemic professional development to understand new concepts, learn new skills, develop new attitudes, research, discuss, reflect, assess, try new approaches and integrate them into their practice.   
Of essential need with the latter is providing time to self-reflect upon their professional development (Cambone, 1995; Corcoran, 1995; Troen & Bolles, 1994; Watts & Castle, 1993). 


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To cite:
Anderson, C.J. (March 31, 2016) Initial assessment for reading readiness and strategies for
               sustaining student success.[Web log post] Retrieved from


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