Response to Intervention by a Child with a Severe Reading Disability: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Within a short time span, response to intervention (RTI) has altered how educators serve students with reading difficulties. Its impact is most evident at the primary level, where the focus is on limiting referrals to special education by preventing reading difficulties. Educators have paid less attention to exploring how to use RTI with older elementary-aged students who experience severe reading difficulty. For that population of students, motivational issues often compound reading problems and prevention techniques have not been successful. This article applies basic RTI principles to constructing, implementing, and evaluating an individualized reading intervention program for a fourth-grade student with a learning disability (LD) who has secondary challenges in behavior and attention.


Mike is a 10-year-old fourth-grade student from a small New England town. He is a respectful boy with a keen sense of humor who is well liked by peers and adults. He is an avid dirt biker who can talk about mudguards, pinch flats, and local dirt bike trails in great detail. One would not expect this energetic young man to have complex processing issues.

The first author met Mike when he was a student new to her school, where she was his special education teacher. His records indicated that he had started receiving speech and language services when he was 3 years old and had received special education services since first grade. According to his individualized education program (IEP), Mike had a specific learning disability in reading, expressive language delays, and an attention deficit disorder (ADD). He also displayed behavioral challenges. Interviews of teachers at Mike's previous school revealed that in moments of difficulty he shouted in frustration and referred to himself as "stupid." Reports indicate that he hit his head against the wall and once bit a teacher. Mike's former school district considered his disability sufficiently significant to assign him a one-to-one paraprofessional, and this recommendation traveled with him to his new school. Mike's parents also provided important information related to his needs. Recently Mike had begun to have headaches and visited a neurologist, who discovered that a portion of his right cerebellar hemisphere was missing, a condition that occurred in utero.

Meeting Mike's needs afforded his special education teacher and her professor, who was teaching a course on reading and inclusion, a perfect opportunity to connect theory with practice: How do principles of RTI apply to service delivery for a student identified with a learning disability? How would the design of interventions in reading, with attention to behavior, be affected? How would educators monitor his progress? This article describes Mike's fourth-grade school year, one that was ultimately satisfying for Mike as a reader and as a learner.

Assessment and Evaluation

In September, Mrs. Katz, Mike's fourthgrade teacher, asked her students to read selected texts aloud for independent reading. Like his classmates, Mike picked a series book. He was not able to identify most of the words and spent several minutes reading and rereading the first two sentences. Mrs. Katz tried to offer suggestions for other books, but Mike was adamant that this was the book that he wanted and that it was not too difficult for him.

The next day, the teacher used the Developmental Reading Assessment 2 (DRA2) to obtain Mike's instructional reading level (Beaver, 2006). The results placed him at Level 16, a first-grade level. His oral reading was labored and dysfluent. Obtaining an estimate of his reading comprehension through story retelling was difficult. Mike struggled with that task, but he clearly understood more than he could express. He could recall a general phrase or note an illustration, but then stop, unable to elaborate. When prompted to tell more, he was quick to say, "I don't know."

A weakness in reading comprehension, as indicated by Mike's DRA2 retelling score, was not consistent with teacher observations and assessment records. …