Academic journal article School Psychology Review

From Research to Practice: Promoting Academic Competence for Underserved Students

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

From Research to Practice: Promoting Academic Competence for Underserved Students

Article excerpt

Over many decades, the efforts of researchers to understand key issues in the reading performance of those children most at risk for developing later reading problems has been relentless (e.g., Gersten & Dimino, 2006; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). During the past several years, since the National Reading Panel released its findings and recommendations (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [NICHD], 2000) and the No Child Left Behind legislation established lofty goals for student achievement, federally funded programs to improve reading performance through Reading First and Early Reading First have been initiated. As a result, many efforts in the research literature have focused on understanding assessment processes that can identify at the earliest ages those children whose paths to academic success in reading and language development must be altered to avoid long-term failure in learning to read. The three studies related to the special topic of this issue are consistent with these themes and move the literature significantly forward toward a fuller understanding of how we can best identify children at young ages whose difficulties in reading and language development may be leading to problematic outcomes. Consistent with my own views, these studies attack the "big problems" in education and school psychology (Shapiro, 2000).

Although these studies indeed move the field forward, two use statistical methodologies that can be somewhat complex for practitioners to fully understand. Developments in data analysis procedures within the past decade have provided new tools for researchers that help in analyzing the real-life data that can be collected in school settings. Any of us who conduct research in schools know how "messy" the data collection process can get. In particular, when we conduct longitudinal research, we face the dilemma of dealing with the natural attrition that invariably arises with this type of design. At the same time, our statistical methodologies have advanced to the level that, at least statistically, we can overcome some of these hurdles that in the past may have made our data uninterruptible (and probably unacceptable to reviewers). Unfortunately, when we use these more sophisticated statistical methodologies, the interpretation of outcomes can become difficult for the typical practitioner to fully understand. I hope in this commentary to take the somewhat sophisticated findings of these studies, in particular the Baker et al. (2008) study, and provide a broad, meaningful framework for the readers.

Both Vanderwood, Linklater, and Healy (2008) and Edl, Jones, and Estell (2008) examine issues in an underserved population for which much more research is needed. As pointed out by these authors, the population of English language learners (ELLs) in United States schools rose from 5.1% in 1993-1994 to 6.7% in 1999-2000, growth that translates to more than 920,000 students in a 6-year period. Over 80% of these students are of Hispanic backgrounds in which Spanish is their native and first language (McCardle, Mele-McCarty, Cutting, Leos, & D'Emilio, 2005). Donovan and Cross (2002) note that in the past decade the number of ELLs has increased nearly 70% to 5.5 million. Clearly, it is critical to understand factors that can help identify as early as possible ELL students whose reading performance may be at risk for developing later problems in reading. Likewise, attaining a full and deep understanding of how ELL students are perceived by the teaching staff in schools is also crucial to working effectively with these children.

Vanderwood et al. (2008) examined the longitudinal predictive validity and diagnostic accuracy of the nonsense word fluency (NWF) measure for a population of ELL students from California. In particular, they looked at the predictability of end of first-grade performance on NWF to outcomes at the end of third grade on two forms of curriculum-based assessment measures (oral reading fluency [ORF] and maze) as well as on the statewide achievement test (California Achievement Test--6th Edition). …

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