Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Determining English Language Learners' Response to Intervention: Questions and Some Answers

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Determining English Language Learners' Response to Intervention: Questions and Some Answers

Article excerpt

Abstract. Using an extant database, we examined three grade 1 criteria for identifying response to intervention (RTI) in English language learners (ELLs): (a) set benchmark criteria with a standard score above 95 (37th %ile) on both decoding and comprehension measures and a raw score of 40 or more correct words per minute (CWPM) on oral reading fluency; (b) discrepancy benchmark criteria, with performance on these measures at or above the mean of not-at-risk peers; and (c) discrepancy slope criteria, with growth during grade 1 on these measures at or above the mean of not-at-risk peers. The sample consisted of 81 students (41 intervention, 40 comparison) who were bilingual (Spanish/English) and were part of a supplemental reading instruction study during first grade. The three grade 1 criteria were evaluated in relation to a set benchmark criteria in grade 2. Results indicated that approximately 80% of the students did not meet any criteria in either year, but that the discrepancy slope criteria in grade 1 were most predictive of set benchmark criteria in grade 2. Recognizing that we applied highly stringent criteria, implications and issues are presented related to using RTI with ELLs to facilitate decision making about further intervention and referral for special education.


A longstanding concern in special education has been the over- and under-representation of students from linguistically diverse groups in special education due to inappropriate assessment and instruction (Donovan & Cross, 2002). These concerns have not been unfounded. Disenchantment with the use of IQ-achievement discrepancy to identify children with learning disabilities (LD) has been growing, as increasing evidence has emerged that it does not discriminate between IQ-discrepant and nondiscrepant low achievers and other subgroups of low-performing students (Fletcher et al., 1994; Stanovich & Siegel, 1994; Vellutino, Scanlon, & Lyon, 2000). Furthermore, consensus reports (Donovaan & Cross, 2002; Fletcher et al., 2002; President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002) agree that learning problems are common in schools, and that lack of appropriate instruction can lead to identification for disability in students. Minority students and English language learners (ELLs) are at greater risk since many also live below the poverty level--another factor that increases risk for academic failure. Combined these factors have contributed to the disproportionate representation of minority students in special education.

In the case of ELLs, additional factors that must be considered in making instructional and eligibility decisions are language of instruction and opportunity to learn English as well as opportunity to learn in general. Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), there is now an emphasis on doing what is effective based on scientific research and on the academic progress of every child, including those learning English. To ensure that ELLs are making progress, students are assessed in reading and mathematics and are assessed annually to measure how well they are learning English (NCLB, 2002).

After several years of increased funding for research focusing on ELLs, the knowledge base on their instructional needs has grown exponentially. In particular, the field has made strides in identifying effective instructional and assessment practices (see Francis, Rivera, Lesaux, Kiefer, & Rivera, 2006). Therefore, we are now better poised to provide ELLs receiving English reading instruction in the early grades instruction that is research-based.

Research-Based Reading Instruction and ELLs

Various intervention studies with ELLs have provided findings showing that these students benefit from instruction that includes (a) the essential components of reading, (b) features of effective instruction, and (c) development of English language skills (Denton, Anthony, Parker, & Hasbrouck, 2004; Gunn, Biglan, Smolkowski, & Ary, 2000; Gunn, Smolkowski, Biglan, & Black, 2002; Vaughn, Mathes et al. …

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