Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Use of Evidence-Based, Small-Group Reading Instruction for English Language Learners in Elementary Grades: Secondary-Tier Intervention

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Use of Evidence-Based, Small-Group Reading Instruction for English Language Learners in Elementary Grades: Secondary-Tier Intervention

Article excerpt

Abstract. This experimental/comparison study of secondary-level, small-group instruction included 318 first- and second-grade students (170 ELL and 148 English-only) from six elementary schools. All schools served high numbers of ELL students with varying school SES in urban and suburban communities. Experimental schools implemented a three-tier model of intervention. In addition to primary-tier reading instruction, the second-tier, small-group experimental interventions included use of (a) evidence-based direct instruction reading curricula that explicitly targeted skills such as phonological/phonemic awareness, letter-sound recognition, alphabetic decoding, fluency building and comprehension skills; and (b) small groups of 3 to 6 students. Students at comparison schools were not exposed to a three-tier reading program but received (a) an ESL intervention using balanced literacy instruction with a focus on word study, group and individual story reading, and writing activities; and (b) small groups of 6 to 15 students. The ESL/balanced literacy intervention was generally in addition to primary reading instruction. Results indicated generally higher gains for ELL students enrolled in direct instruction interventions. Implications for research and practice are discussed.


The percentage of public elementary and secondary school students in the United States who were identified as English language learners (ELL) rose from 5.1% in the 1993-94 school year to 6.7% of the total school population in the 1999-2000 school year (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). This represents an increase of over 920,000 ELL students in our public schools in a six-year period. Although there is not a direct correlation between ELL students and ethnicity, the large percentage increase of the ELL school population is due to growth in the Hispanic subpopulation.

This growing school population has an impact on the instructional environment across America's schools. As a group, Hispanic students traditionally perform poorly on national assessments. According to the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) (U.S. Department of Education, 2005), only 13% of fourth-grade Hispanic students and 15% of eighth-grade students meet proficiency reading standards. At the same time, the statement of purpose in No Child Left Behind legislation notes "that all children will have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to receive a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging state academic achievement standards and state academic assessments" (Section 1001, p. 15). That statement includes ELL populations, and as ELL populations increase so do the pressures on teachers, schools, districts, and states to increase the numbers of ELL students who meet state-governed reading proficiency (Anderson et al., 1998).

The specific skills students need to learn to become good readers and perform adequately on assessments are well established. These skills include phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency (National Reading Panel, 2000). The National Reading Panel suggests that teachers working with ELL students must be sensitive to the fact that the sounds of English and other phonetic languages are not exactly the same and that these differences may constitute an area of difficulty for students in learning English word structures. Additionally, challenges in vocabulary proficiencies affect comprehension. However, existing ELL research suggests that all children, regardless of primary language, must learn these essential reading skills and that English-driven reading instruction with these skills is linked to reading success (Baker & Gersten, 1997; Garcia, 2000; Gersten & Geva, 2003).

For students who have reading challenges, intervention research suggests that instruction should be (a) evidence-based and (b) explicitly taught, and that (c) the curricula should include a scope and sequence of essential reading skills (Foorman, Francis, Fletcher, Schatschneider, & Mehta, 1998). …

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