Your child is eligible for special education services due to difficulties with reading and spelling—but how do you know whether the interventions offered address her unique needs?
To answer that question, you must evaluate the proposed program as well as key factors that impact its implementation. By following the guidelines below, you can ensure that your child’s language challenges will be addressed in a way that is likely to result in measurable improvements.
An appropriate reading and/or spelling intervention is comprised of four critical instructional elements. It must be:
- Systematic. Concepts are taught using a pre-established scope and sequence as opposed to following a more reactive, “guided reading” approach where mistakes are corrected as they occur.
- Multisensory: Research shows that students learn best when information is presented in multiple ways—visually, auditorially and kinesthetically (e.g., via writing).
- Research-based: Research-based literacy programs typically encompass five key elements: phonemic awareness (the ability to hear/manipulate sounds within words), phonics (associating letters with these sounds), fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.The term “research-based” implies that the program’s effectiveness has been established through rigorous research that conforms to conventional standards and is verified through an impartial, peer-review process. This, however, is not always the case as publishers sometimes use the term without disclosing their financial interests in a program or revealing that the only research supporting their claims is their own.
- Individualized: Instruction progresses at a pace consistent with the student’s unique abilities and challenges and is taught in a way that matches her learning style and interests. Whether this intervention needs to be one-on-one depends upon the child’s learning needs as well as the availability of a well-matched group.
In addition to ensuring that a program is appropriate, the selected services must be written in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) in a way that ensures adequate progress will be made. This involves the following factors:
The Plan. An IEP should clearly outline a child’s unique needs (Present Level of Performance), the services used to address each need, and the expected outcome as a result of these services.
In order to determine whether these outcomes are achieved, it is critical that all goals and objectives be measurable (observable and objectively quantifiable). Objectives such as “Joey will improve his reading skills” or “Susie will increase her vocabulary” are not measurable. Better choices are “Joey will read 60 words per minute” or “Susie will define 10 new vocabulary words each week from her school text.”
Each objective should include: What the student will do (the behavior); the condition under which the behavior will occur; the criteria necessary for the performance to be considered acceptable. For example, “Min will solve double-digit addition problems (behavior) using a calculator (condition) with 95% accuracy (criteria).”
Staff Qualifications. The greatest indicator of success of any systematic, multisensory, research-based program is the training and experience of the individual implementing it. Although numerous pre-packaged programs that encompass the critical elements are readily available, it is essential that the implementer be well-trained in using that specific program and understands the overall structure of language.
Monitoring Progress. Progress should be checked and charted at regular intervals (typically bi-weekly) using a quick, reliable and repeatable monitoring tool. This information can then be used to adjust the nature and intensity of the intervention to ensure that the student continues to make adequate gains.
Based on a presentation by Sheryl Knapp, A/AOGPE and Kathy Whitbread, Ph.D. Knapp is the founder and President of Literacy Learning and Assessment Center of Connecticut. She has Associate Level certification with the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators. Whitbread is an Associate Professor of Education at St. Joseph College, and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Connecticut Health Center.