Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Effectiveness of Decoding and Phonological Awareness Interventions for Children with Down Syndrome

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Effectiveness of Decoding and Phonological Awareness Interventions for Children with Down Syndrome

Article excerpt

In October 2010, President Obama signed into law Pub. L. 111-256, known as "Rosa's Law." With this piece of legislation, he effectively instituted person-first language throughout federal health, education, and labor policy by changing the terms "mental retardation" and "mentally retarded individual" to "intellectual disability" and "individual with an intellectual disability" (Rosa's Law, 2010). The law is named for Rosa Marcellino, a young girl with Down syndrome (DS) whose family fought for the change in Maryland prior to Senator Barbara Mikulski introducing the legislation to the U.S. Senate. The words of Rosa's brother, Nick, echoed the sentiment of many who supported the legislation:

What you call people is how you treat them. What you call my sister is how you will treat her. If you believe she's 'retarded' it invites taunting, stigma. It invites bullying and it also invites the slammed doors ofbeing treated with respect and dignity. (Mikulski, November 17, 2009)

The changing attitude toward individuals with intellectual disability (ID) was reflected in the accountability components of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act of 1997 that required states to develop an alternate assessment for students who could not participate in the general assessment even with allowable accommodations (IDEA, 1997). The focus on full participation made it clear that schools were to be held accountable for the education of all students--including those with ID. No Child Left Behind furthered this notion by prohibiting schools from excluding children with disabilities from the accountability system (NCLB, 2001). IDEA 2004 established the requirement that individualized education program (IEP) teams document the reason why a child could not participate in the general assessment and outline how the child would participate in the accountability system (i.e., an alternate assessment; IDEA, 2004). The U.S. Department of Education raised the level of expectation further by requiring that the content of alternate assessments be clearly linked to grade-level content standards (Towles-Reeves, Kleinert, & Muhomba, 2009). In sum, schools are now expected to teach--and children with ID are expected to learn--academic content, including reading, mathematics, and science. This stands in stark contrast to what society had previously expected for this population (see Katims, 2000).

As an example of what is now expected, the alternate assessment in the state of Pennsylvania (the Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment [PASA]) requires 11th graders taking the most difficult level of the test (Level C) to (a) read 50-word paragraphs and answer who, what, when, why, and how questions; (b) read and demonstrate understanding of a 30- to 50-word two-step command; and (c) read a brief narrative and describe four events from the text. This level of skill represents a significant challenge for many individuals with ID--only 55.8% of students with ID who took the 11th grade Level C test in 2010 obtained proficiency (N. Zigmond, personal communication, March 28, 2011). To improve reading performance, classroom teachers have been directed to provide evidence-based reading instruction.

It is unclear, however, what type of reading instruction qualifies as evidence-based practice for children with ID. Two decades of research have provided guidance for the most effective methods to teach a majority of children--namely, through a phonics-based approach that teaches students to identify and manipulate the sounds heard in spoken English and to connect these with the letters used to represent sounds in print. Unfortunately, the evidence base for this approach most often excluded students with ID (National Reading Panel, 2000). In recent reviews evaluating the effectiveness of phonics instruction for children with ID, authors found a limited number of studies, of which few met indicators for research quality (D. M. Browder, Wakeman, Spooner, Ahlgrim-Delzell, & Algozzine, 2006; Joseph & Seery, 2004). …

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