Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Early Reading Intervention: Responding to the Learning Needs of Young At-Risk English Language Learners

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Early Reading Intervention: Responding to the Learning Needs of Young At-Risk English Language Learners

Article excerpt

Abstract. This study examined the effects of a supplemental early reading intervention on the beginning literacy skills of 12 kindergarten/first-grade urban English language learners (ELLs). The Early Reading Intervention (ERI; Simmons & Kame'enui, 2003) was the instructional intervention used with all students. A multiple-baseline design across students was used to investigate the effects of the instruction on phoneme segmentation fluency (PSF) and nonsense word fluency (NWF), as measured by the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS; Good & Kaminski, 2002). Data analyses showed that all students increased in the number of phonemes segmented and the number of letter sounds produced correctly. Gains were commensurate with the amount of instruction received.

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For the past two decades, students in our schools who are English language learners (ELLs) have increased dramatically and their numbers continue to rise at an accelerated pace (Gunn, Smolkowski, Biglan, Black, & Blair, 2005; Klingner, Artiles, & Barletta, 2006; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). Thus, in 2002 as many as 45% of teachers reported having at least one ELL in their classroom (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [NICHD], 2003). ELLs account for approximately 6% of the school-age population, with Spanish-speaking students comprising approximately 70% to 80% of that group (Fitzgerald, 1995; Gunn et al.; Haager & Windmueller, 2001; Klingner et al.).

This is not a homogeneous population, and, like native English speakers, they are affected by differences in socioeconomics, cultural background, and schooling conditions. Schools need to become more responsive to these changing demographics (Wilkinson, Ortiz, Robertson, & Kushner, 2006). Students who are learning English as a second language or report another language as the primary language in the home present special academic risks, including underachievement, grade retention, attrition from school (Abedi, 2002; August & Hakuta, 1997), and poor reading acquisition (Haager & Windmueller, 2001). A special report from Zehler, Fleischman, Hopstock, Pendzick, and Stephenson (2003) on the achievement status of limited-English proficient students suggests that nearly three quarters of ELLs read below grade level in English in the third grade, and more than half perform below grade level in math.

Typically, these students' underachievement or lack of response to classroom instruction results in a referral to special education. In fact, approximately 56% of ELLs being served in special education are referred for reading problems and 24% are served for a speech or language impairment (NICHD, 2003). Furthermore, the rate of placement in special education appears to be negatively correlated with the level of English proficiency. That is, as English proficiency increases, the rate of placement in special education decreases.

This is an important finding, as we know from research on non-ELL populations that not all children with reading difficulties have learning disabilities in reading or any other area (McCardle, Mele-McCarthy, Cutting, Leos, & D'Emilio, 2005). If a disability is determined, ELLs with disabilities, compared to their non-ELL peers, are likely to be instructed in more restrictive settings, receive fewer language supports, and have more long-term placements and less movement out of special education (Artiles, Rueda, Salazar, & Higareda, 2005; Klingner et al., 2006).

Given the growing number of ELLs, interventions that are effective in improving the reading abilities of these students are essential (Linan-Thompson & Hickman-Davis, 2002). However, recent research indicates that schools continue to have difficulty with assessment, professional development, and service delivery for ELLs (Haager, 2007; Rinaldi & Samson, 2008).

Effective Early Intervention

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