In a recent article the International Dyslexia Association, based in USA, introduce an adapted “Response to Intervention (RTI): An Idea Whose Time Has Come” by Linda S. Siegel, Ph.D., in Volume 43, No. 3, (Summer), Perspectives on Language and Literacy

Response to Intervention (RTI) aim is to identify children early and implement appropriate early intervention.  It is agreed that on the face of it RTI sounds like just what everyone wants and needs but it’s admitted that in practice it’s not so easy. The principles are;

  • Tier 1 to provide good basic instruction
  • Identify children as early as nursery level
  • Provide intervention as soon as it’s required
  • Monitor student progress
  • If Tier 1 in not successful, small group intervention (Tier 2), followed by individualised intervention where step 2 is not successful (Tier 3)

The emphasis is on good intervention rather than assessment or diagnosis.  Knowing what is ‘good’ intervention is difficult.  Also it’s identified that some consider a child may ‘grow out of it’ and not all children are the same. Many children know, even at an early age, that their abilities and progress differ, and it’s recognised in this article that if not addressed, this can lead to long-term self esteem difficulties

It is reported in the USA that some states use RTI to identify if a child is eligible for intervention whilst others prefer the route of evaluating and diagnosis. Some consider that until intervention has taken place it is impossible to diagnose such as dyslexia, which is something which psychologists in the UK once considered.

  ‘Dyslexia is evident when accurate and fluent word reading and/or spelling develops very incompletely or with very great difficulty. This focuses on literacy learning at the “word” level and implies that the problem is severe and persistent despite appropriate learning opportunities’ (BPS,1999)’

However a valid point is made; how do we know what is ‘good’ intervention and in the meantime the child’s time in education can be lost.  More so the opportunity to keep the child engaged may also pass.

Julian Elliott of Durham University makes a valid point that “….but we were actually questioning whether children with dyslexia (as traditionally defined) respond differently to intervention from those with generalised learning problems. In rejecting this, we highlighted the absence of clear evidence that there exists a particular teaching approach that is more suitable for a dyslexic subgroup than for other poor readers”.  The Psychologist Dec 2005, Vol 18- Read the full article here .

It should be noted that specialist teachers with a Level 7 qualification do not use this BPS 1999 model for diagnosis.

Posie Boggs continues to evaluate RTi in her article for the IDA.  She compares measuring reading development to that of development of a baby.  As she rightly points out, baby development is pretty much a universal chart but we can’t measure reading development in the same way. Too many organisations are attempting to set standards so how are parents suppose to know where their child should be. In the UK we do have the National Curriculum but it’s not a reading or spelling standard as such.

In the UK we have a number of standardised tools to measure reading and spelling.  But in fairness it’s unlikely that two different tests will provide the same results.  We also have so many different ways in which we measure reading; single words, non-words, timed reading, un-timed reading, reading sentences, comprehension, read aloud, read silently, reading speed.  In addition we also have specialist teachers who can use test which  required a qualification to conduct testing, psychologists who have closed shop on tests and teachers and TAs who access to some but not all tests, this is without considering computer based reading tests.   Furthermore, some tests are much older than others and the words considered to be high frequency 15 years previous, have now altered and if using these words to assess, the test may now be out dated. So how can you establish  a universal reading standard?  I know from my own childhood experiences that I attend a primary school and they considered I was an average reader.  A cousin who attended a different primary school in the same town and within the same local authority, was considered a poorer reader yet was on a higher level book.  That was over 40 years ago!   In the UK we have now introduced the phonics checklist as an additional tool to measure childhood development.

When the measuring tools change each year or so, how can we consistently evaluate if development has taken place?

One common aspect these tests can identify is if the child is at risk, in terms of standard score this mean below 85, equivalent to 16 percentile.

Read the IDA full article here 

Posie Boggs continues to ask what parents would expect to see if a child was at risk and she identifies;

  • A teacher to contact parents informing them that their child is not developing at the expected level
  • Additional support is required
  • Additional support is provided with scientific evidence that it is effective
  • Increased time spent with the child
  • Progress will be monitored weekly/monthly

After a period of intervention and the scores don’t increase Boggs identifies that decisions would be expected such as;

  • Increased time spent with the child
  • Choose a different intervention
  • Referring a child for further evaluation

Read the full article from Posie Boggs here 

I agree that RTI is a great approach to early identification of a child’s progress.  However, we need to be able to identify a clear and consistent method to evaluate progress and development, across all local authorities.  It should be monitored and recorded accurately with specific objective information in both evaluation/testing, IEPs and SMART targets.  Parents need to be informed of the intervention programme a child is using, how often, how long each session and delivered by whom.  In order to demonstrate if progress has been made, use the same test, using parallel forms.   SMART should track targets such as specific sounds which are being worked upon, what methods are being used to deliver, how measurements of progress will be achieved and measured and date when/if it was achieved. In intervention sessions, provide measurable information in addition to observational evidence of progress. such as ability to work independently on specific tasks, able to demonstrate knowledge through spell checking and correcting own mistakes as well as reading and spelling test results.

Knowing what is ‘good’ intervention is also subjective. It can depend upon the teacher/schools knowledge of effective literacy programmes, if they are aimed at boosting literacy or targeted specifically for dyslexia. There are many good programmes available but their value can sometimes get diluted in the delivery.  For example a multi-sensory programme is extremely effective but if all aspects of multi-sensory techniques are not implemented then its effectiveness can be lost.  This can occur through familiarity of a programme or knowledge base of the deliverer, unaware of the values each multi-sensory technique has on the learning process and they may get missed.  In addition opportunities for over learning can sometimes be lost.  Seeing a student complete a task in a different way can often highlight that they have not completely understood a rule and require more practice in a different format. For example they may be able to read the word but can they identify if the word is spelled correctly and amend it, justifying why it is spelled incorrectly.

Overall Julian Elliott also summarises in his article in The Psychologist, Dec 2005, Vol 18  “At the current time, however, splitting poor readers into two groups – dyslexic sheep and ordinary poor-reading goats – has little practical value for dealing with literacy problems. Rather than pouring resources into dyslexic assessments, we would, at the current time, be wiser to target all poor readers at an early age for intervention”.

Personally I couldn’t agree more.

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