Integrating Dynamic Assessment and Response-to-Intervention in Reading Instruction Five-year-old Cody is having difficulties learning the alphabet. The other children in his preschool classroom, all younger than he, are ostracizing him because they don’t understand his speech. His teacher reports that Cody’s attendance has been fairly regular but he arrives late most days and looking disheveled. She has referred ... Features
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Features  |   April 01, 2012
Integrating Dynamic Assessment and Response-to-Intervention in Reading Instruction
Author Notes
  • Edgarita Long, PhD, CCC-SLP, is an associate professor at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, where she teaches courses in language development and language disorders. Her research has focused on language assessment of English-speaking Native American preschool children. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 14, Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations, and the Leadership Council of ASHA’s Native American Caucus. Contact her at longee@nsuok.edu.
    Edgarita Long, PhD, CCC-SLP, is an associate professor at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, where she teaches courses in language development and language disorders. Her research has focused on language assessment of English-speaking Native American preschool children. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 14, Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations, and the Leadership Council of ASHA’s Native American Caucus. Contact her at longee@nsuok.edu.×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Language Disorders / Features
Features   |   April 01, 2012
Integrating Dynamic Assessment and Response-to-Intervention in Reading Instruction
The ASHA Leader, April 2012, Vol. 17, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR5.17042012.np
The ASHA Leader, April 2012, Vol. 17, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR5.17042012.np
Five-year-old Cody is having difficulties learning the alphabet. The other children in his preschool classroom, all younger than he, are ostracizing him because they don’t understand his speech. His teacher reports that Cody’s attendance has been fairly regular but he arrives late most days and looking disheveled. She has referred him to the speech-language pathologist but is more concerned about his future reading abilities. She wants to know if there is a connection between his speech problems and lack of reading readiness.
Severe phonological impairments put a child at risk for later reading difficulties (Williams, 2007). If a child does not speak all the sounds of the language, the child will not be able to learn the symbols of the alphabet that correspond to those sounds. Spoken and written language are inextricably intertwined. Other factors also influence a child’s ability to read, including family income, phonological impairments, and native language background (Koutsoftas, Harmon, & Gray, 2009). Preschool children from low-income households, like Cody, are particularly at risk for later reading difficulties in the areas of phonological/phonemic awareness and print awareness (Anthony et al., 2011; Lonigan et al., 1999).
Because the root of any reading or language difficulties can be difficult to tease out, methods such as dynamic assessment (DA) and response to intervention (RTI) are increasingly used to promote progress and determine the child’s needs. DA assesses learning potential; RTI assesses progress.
The two approaches are similar in several ways. Lidz and Peña (2009) and Grigorenko (2009) state that both methods are based on similar theoretical premises. They both combine assessment and intervention and attempt to address dissatisfaction with norm-referenced assessment approaches, a critical issue in speech-language pathology (Muma, 1978). Both focus on school curricula, scientifically based teaching, and students’ responses to teaching (Lidz & Peña, 2009). Both attempt to address the needs of children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
Despite the rise of these two new methods, many schools have not adopted RTI but continue to use cognitive (IQ) testing with normative-standardized tests to determine eligibility for special education placement. There are several major problems with this outmoded model, including bias toward mainstream culture resulting in a disproportionate number of culturally and linguistically diverse students qualifying for special education (Banks & Neisworth, 1995); children with reading and learning difficulties performing within the normal range (Camilleri & Law, 2007; Ukrainetz, 2006;\); and assessing children’s knowledge at a given point in time, not their intelligence or abilities (Olswang & Bain, 1991). Low test scores, therefore, may be due to social and educational differences rather than to a disability (Lidz & Peña, 2009). For example, a first-grade child in a small, rural, low-income school had attended eight schools and learned only seven letters by the end of the school year. Such a child might not need special education placement even though standardized testing indicates otherwise.
Dynamic Assessment
The purpose of DA is to determine a child’s learning potential (Lidz, 1991). DA is an unbiased assessment and intervention method developed in response to concerns about using normative-standardized tests to assess cognitive development of children who are culturally and linguistically diverse (Grigorenko, 2009) and of students who are low-achieving (Feuerstein, 1979). It consists of a pretest-mediate-posttest format to determine children’s learning potential by examining their level of modifiability through a method called mediated learning experiences (MLE; Feuerstein, 1979; Lidz, 1991). During MLE, students are guided through a problem-solving task by a mediator who adjusts his or her degree of assistance to solve the task. Learning potential is determined by pre- and post-test differences and modifications given (Peña, 2000). DA can be administered in one session or it can be administered over a period of sessions.
DA is based on Vygotsky’s notions of the zone of proximal development, defined as the difference between a student’s independent performance and the level of performance when assisted by a more knowledgeable partner. Vygotsky’s 1934 text (translated by Hanfmann and Vakar in 1962) presented a concept formation assessment task later described by Hanfmann and Kasanin (1937) to investigate thinking in adolescents and adults. The task examined classification problem-solving, with nonsense words used as cues to solve the task (Long, 1980). The mediated task examined frequency of cues, frequency and quality of responses, and subjects’ explanation of the solution, indicating their level of reasoning abilities. DA is appropriate for a student who continually does not respond to regular/normal/typical teaching of subject matter, not when “...the solution is merely to simplify the task or to provide more practice” (Lidz, 1991, pg. 123).
Response-to-Intervention
RTI emerged in the educational system conceptually in 1982 and operationally in the early 2000s (Grigorenko, 2009) as a means to prevent inappropriate special education placement and reading failure (Justice, 2006; Montgomery & Moore-Brown, 2006). RTI is an assessment and intervention approach that provides children with high-quality, intense, scientifically valid instruction through a three-level (tier) process that becomes progressively more intense and individualized. Periodic testing of a child’s responses (progress monitoring data) determines the student’s appropriate placement level.
In Oklahoma, the Department of Education has adopted the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS; Good & Kaminski, 2002) reading program and is piloting it in a small rural school with approximately 450 kindergarten and first-grade children, mostly from low-income families and diverse cultures. Progress monitoring (a weekly, one-minute screening of an aspect of reading) is performed. Children not meeting the cut-off scores over several weeks of testing are considered for placement in the next tier.
Success with the DIBELS program has been reported (R. Miller, personal communication, May 6, 2011); however, success has been variable. In the 2009–2010 school year, 76% of the first-grade class met benchmark skills in oral reading fluency; only 59% of the 2010–2011 first-grade class did so. Possible causes might have been changes in the economy and loss of jobs for parents who are low-income earners, lack of previous preschool experience, and other factors relating to low-income and diverse cultures that might have resulted in a different set of educational and cultural experiences that affect reading performance.
Matching Teaching and Learning
RTI may not be the only solution in all cases. RTI programs provide teachers with training using evidence-based reading programs standardized on mainstream cultures that may not be suited to children from low-income families or diverse cultures. Klingner and Edwards (2006) stated that an instructional reading program “...should be validated with students like those with whom it will be applied” (p. 109), and questioned the fidelity of implementation and generalizability of laboratory-controlled settings to the classroom. They found that in a classroom many variables enter the picture.
For example, Swisher and Deyhle (1989) maintained that Native American children learn and demonstrate learning in different ways that are influenced by the “values, norms, and socialization practices of the culture in which the individual has been enculturated.” These differences have resulted in the notion that American Indians do not talk very much and that their style needs remediation. Instead, the issue may be a mismatch of teaching and learning styles. Several studies of American Indian tribes (Cherokee, Navajo, Oglala Sioux, Blackfoot, Odawa, Yaqui, Kwakuitl) across the nation showed students’ learning styles differed from mainstream teaching styles, which are highly verbal and expect children to answer questions or perform activities in class even if they do not know the answer or have the skill. American Indian children preferred to observe an activity repeatedly until they could answer the questions or perform the activity correctly.
Also, the children did not want to compete with classmates and spoke more often in small-group discussions than when asked questions individually in large groups. Finally, they understood concepts better when they got the “big picture” than when they were taught piecemeal, an analytical method most often used to teach subject matter in public schools. In younger children, Long (2000) found that 4-year-old Native American preschoolers from low-income households differed from their Caucasian peers in terms of understanding instructional discourse. The children performed better with teacher directions that required them to observe characteristics of objects and categorize these features rather than to reason verbally about what might happen to them.
These findings suggest that the type of instructional reading program and staff development are not the only factors that need to be considered to prevent inappropriate placement of culturally and linguistically diverse students in special education programs. Testing too early before the child synthesizes the information or using a type of teaching discourse that the child does not understand may affect the child’s performance. In this case, a DA may help determine whether the problem lies with the instructional program, the learner, or the instructional discourse.
How to Integrate RTI and DA
Using DA as a tool to assist the RTI screening process for at-risk preschool children is the best way to harness the strengths of both methods. DA assesses learning potential; RTI assesses progress. A DA of at-risk children’s learning potential would provide essential information for teachers before instruction begins, allowing the most optimal selection of methods and tier placement. For example, children who do not perform well in the screening process may not be poor learners but merely inexperienced with reading materials. In the case of Cody, his delay in learning the alphabet may be a result of lack of exposure. But if he was identified as a struggling learner, as determined by DA, he may need more concentrated intervention and need to be initially placed in tier 3 rather than suffering weeks of failure in tier 1. However, if he was determined to be a typical learner but inexperienced with reading concepts, he may do well in tier 1.
Timing of intervention is also essential. Phonemic awareness, language, and phonology develop during the preschool years, so children will benefit most when intervention is applied early (Nancollis, Lawrie, & Dodd, 2005). Ukrainetz, Harpell, Walsh, and Coyle (2000) found that a modifiability task could differentiate between stronger and weaker language learners in Native American preschoolers. Caffrey, Fuchs, and Fuchs (2008) stated, “If DA—alone or in conjunction with other measures—is administered early in the school year and predicts academic performance at a later point, practitioners may choose to use it as a means of helping them identify students in need of more intensive instruction. Moreover, it may be a quicker, more efficient method of RTI than conventional methods for selecting an appropriate tier, or level, of intensity of instruction” (p. 267).
SLPs’ roles have been compounded with the advent of RTI and DA. Although their major focus is with children with speech and language impairments, they also may be required to receive training to serve some role in the RTI process. To integrate the two, the SLP may choose a model of DA that would fit into the school’s type of RTI reading program. Lidz & Peña (2009) state that “the nature of the intervention should be informed by DA, and the SLP should work to help the child develop strategies to benefit maximally from the tiered RTI” (p. 130).
Finally, as DA is an unbiased assessment, it could serve to differentiate between linguistic/cultural differences and learning disabilities for culturally and linguistically diverse children who are considered at risk for reading problems. By integrating DA into the larger RTI process, all children potentially can benefit.
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April 2012
Volume 17, Issue 4