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RTI for Tots

Response to intervention for young elementary students is starting to take off, and now preschool educators are getting in on the act, thanks to an initiative from the New York City-based National Center for Learning Disabilities and the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

NCLD made a recent trip to Capitol Hill to introduce congressional staff to a response-to-intervention type process for preschoolers called "recognition and response." At the same time, they explained that NCLD has been promoting a key element of recognition and response, early screening, through a center-backed initiative called Get Ready to Read!

Recognition and response uses some of the same techniques as RTI, but geared toward the younger child. In RTI, teachers use a series of assessments to monitor the academic performance of students. If students need help in certain areas based on their response to those assessments, they receive targeted, scientifically based interventions.

In the Get Ready to Read! program, parents or teachers use a 10-minute screening tool intended to gauge the literacy readiness of 4-year-olds. If the results show that the children need some help mastering the basics, the program offers a variety of skill-building exercises that can be done by parents and teachers.

None of the questions on the screening tool require that a child be able to read. However, to score well, children do have to know the difference between letters and numbers, and they have to be able to identify letters and the sounds that they make. The screening tool is offered in English and Spanish and is available online for free, or in a paper version, published by Pearson Early Learning. The skill-building activities are also free online.

I took the test, which gives detailed instructions on how the test should be administered, including what to say if children ask for help or point to more than one answer. My 13-out-of-20 score (with some intentional wrong answers) shows that I've mastered preliteracy basics!

Optimally, the tool would be administered at the beginning and end of a 4-year-old's preschool year, so that parents and teachers can see a child's progress over time, said Karen Golembeski, the project director for 6-year-old program.

There have not been large-scale studies done of the program, but an evaluation of demonstration sites in the Atlanta area showed that sites that used the screening tool and skill-building activities resulted in 69 percent of the children having the skills they needed to enter kindergarten, compared with 35 percent of the children whose preschools did not use the screening tool or the activities.

In addition, there is some research that shows a correlation between a child's performance on the screening tool and his or her performance on a Georgia reading test administered in 1st grade.

Get Ready to Read! is not intended to diagnose learning disabilities, Golembeski cautioned. Parents with those concerns should seek additional guidance and evaluations. But the center is hearing from preschool teachers that the program helps them know more about each child, and the skill-building exercises fit easily into a preschool day and offer ideas for parents to use at home.

"We're thrilled with the response," she said.

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