Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Curriculum Development/Reading Intervention

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What is the importance of early intervention in reading performance?

The Reading Crisis[edit]

The reading crisis will impact our nation for decades to come.

—Mathes, 2005

For some children, learning to read can be difficult. Research indicates that when a pattern of academic failure starts early, it will persist throughout a child’s education. Long-term studies have shown that there is almost a 90% chance that a child who reads poorly at the end of the first grade will be a poor reader in the fourth grade (Stickland, 2002). “The National Center for Educational Statistics reported in 2002 that 36% of fourth graders couldn’t read and understand even a short paragraph like those in children’s books." (Mathes, 2005)

Over the past 20 years, there has been remarkable growth in understanding how to predict reading problems. The following literacy skills are predictors of children who are at risk for reading failure:

  • Phonemic awareness (the ability to search the individual sounds within words)
  • Knowledge of letter names and sounds
  • Speed of lexical retrieval (meaning of the words) (Mathes, 2005)

Scientists estimate that 95% of children can be taught to read. However, the reality is that a high percentage of students are below their grade level (Scola, 2002). Attempting to solve this crisis, early intervention reading programs have proven to be effective as evidenced by improved test scores.

What is Early Intervention?[edit]

The latest research points to a critical truth: Early intervention in the primary grades can prevent reading problems for most children and significantly reduce reading disabilities. Early intervention allows students to get help before reading problems become entrenched and complicated by self-concept issues. It can impact how children think, how they learn, and who they are, changing the lives of tens of millions.

—Mathes, 2005

Early intervention is designed to positively influence language and literacy development in children age zero through eight. Special emphasis is placed on reading comprehension, word recognition (including phonics), fluency, and writing. Intervention services must be in addition to and cannot replace instruction that the child is receiving. Options for early intervention program delivery may include the use of reading teachers, trained aides, volunteer tutors under the supervision of a trained teacher, or extended instructional time during the school day or year for the targeted students.

The importance of early intervention in Reading Performance is extremely crucial in children becoming successful readers. We wonder why others are more successful than others is because reading was introduced to them at an early age. Children need to be taught these skills early. For example, letter recognition-letter sound correspondences, phonemic segmentation, and aquistion of sight words. These skills correlate with becoming a successful reader. Other basic components of early literacy will be their language-talking about ideas or events in distant time or place. Another fundamental component would be to teach children that words are powerful and important, that books are sources of pleasure and information. So, the motivation to teach children early is crucial. Children must be taught these skills through hard work to master letters and sounds, developing a spoken language, and should be exposed to print early in life and their settings should be positive, and affectionate.

Children should be read to everyday for at least 15 minutes. This will help children to develop their vocabulary, become confident early readers, and encourage them to ask questions about what they heard. Many parents may not know the importance of reading to their child everyday. According to The Developing Person through the Lifespan, "In early childhood, vocabulary increases exponentially, from about 500 words at age 2 to more than 100,000 at age 6. One scholar says that 2- to 6-year-olds learn an average of 10 words a day...but all agree that the most rapid vocabulary expansion usually occurs before age 7" (p.226). In addition to this, children should participate in reading programs such as "Read to Rover", book clubs, and group readings. Another interesting and speedy way that children develop vocabulary is through fast mapping. This is when a child “acquires new words by mentally ‘charting’ new words into interconnected categories; parents should have frequent and elaborate conversations with their children” (p.227). The development of literacy is very vital to the child's success to become a early reader.

Examples of Early Intervention Programs[edit]

There are many different early intervention reading programs used today. Here are just a few examples:

Prekindergarten and Kindergarten Programs:

  • Head Start is the most widely known early intervention program for economically disadvantaged children.
  • High Scope is a preschool program that focuses on language development.
  • Whitehurst’s Emergent Literacy Intervention is an early intervention program for preschool and kindergarten, consisting of dialogic and phonemic awareness.

Primary Grade Programs (Grades 1-3):

  • Early Reading Intervention (ERI) is a tutoring program for first and second graders who are at risk for failure to read. The program allows a small group of students to work with their teacher 15 to 20 minutes a day, three times a week. This program also has the children read individually for five minutes a day.
  • First Steps is a one-on-one 30-minute tutoring program consisting of a series of leveled books.
  • Reading Recovery is the most researched intervention program. This program is designed for first graders, who receive one-on-one tutoring by well-trained teachers. This reading intervention is commonly used for the lowest achieving 20% of students in the first grade. (Strickland, 2002)

Criteria for Early Intervention Programs[edit]

With the large number of programs available, The American Federation of Teachers developed a list of criteria for early intervention programs. The program should show evidence of:

  • High Standards – helps students acquire the skills and/or knowledge to meet high academic standards
  • Effectiveness – proven to be effective in raising academic achievements
  • Replicability – implement the program at other schools
  • Support Structures – including professional development (Scola, 2002)

Program Success[edit]

Several characteristics make early intervention programs successful. One-on-one and small group tutoring, instruction that is congruent with the regular classroom instruction, and highly skilled personnel are all characteristics of successful programs.

Much research has also been completed to determine the best instructional practices. Successful interventions should include the following:

  1. Letter-sound relationships and word identification strategies, including phonological awareness, letters, words, and word patterns
  2. Repeated exposures to words
  3. Strategies for understanding text and monitoring comprehension
  4. Fluency through repeated reading of connected texts (Quatroche, 1999)

According to the Virginia Department of Education, the anticipated benefits from early intervention programs include: improved primary reading programs, improved reading skills, a higher percentage of students passing the third grade Virginia Standards of Learning Reading Test, a reduction in the number of special education referrals, and a higher percentage of children being promoted in the primary grades. (Virginia Department of Education, 1998)

Success Stories[edit]

Murray Elementary School, in Kentucky, uses early intervention programs to identify students with reading and language difficulties and supplement their learning through computerized exercises. Reading Recovery is used to accelerate learning so that children can catch up with others at their grade level. “I can read a little bit faster, and I like telling my friends about what I can read”, said Beau Maness, eight years old (Saunders, 2007).

In Tallahassee, Florida, a two-year study was conducted, involving five schools in Leon County. The study included students who were most at risk for reading failure, based on their performance on screening tests. On a measure of reading accuracy, the groups improved from the 9th percentile in the fall to the 64th percentile in May, as a result of early intervention (Mathes, 2005).

A Case Study was conducted to find the effects of a supplemental reading intervention program on a student at risk. Ryan, a kindergarten student who was non-responsive to a school-wide literacy program, was tutored in small groups during the course of a traditional school day. Results indicated that improvements in phonemic awareness were also associated with better behavior in the classroom. Ryan said that he liked “practicing the sounds” and he wished the program could have lasted “a little longer” (Lane, Menzies, Munton, 2005).

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Several first grade students meet with their teacher for 15 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of each week. This is an example of what type of intervention program?
A. Reading Recovery
B. Early Reading Intervention (ERI)
C. First Steps
D. Head Start

B. Early Reading Intervention (ERI)

A third grade student meets one-on-one with a reading specialist for 30 minutes in order to advance to the next level of books. This student is involved in which intervention program?
A. Reading Recovery
B. Early Reading Intervention (ERI)
C. High Scope
D. First Steps

D. First Steps

Sam, a first grade student, who is at the lowest 20% of his class for reading, receives one-on-one tutoring from his teacher. Sam is involved in which intervention program?
A. Early Reading Intervention (ERI)
B. Head Start
C. Reading Recovery
D. First Steps

C. Reading Recovery

Barron Elementary School implements an early intervention reading program. A few months later, several other Elementary schools implement the same program. This is an example of which criteria for early intervention programs?
A. High standards
B. Effectiveness
C. Replicability
D. Support structures

C. Replicability

Barron Elementary School offers professional development courses for its reading specialists. This is an example of which criteria for early intervention programs?
A. High standards
B. Effectiveness
C. Replicability
D. Support structures

D. Support structures

Barron Elementary School implements an early intervention reading program. After students take the SOL Reading test, they find that the scores increased 25% from last year. This is an example of which criteria for early intervention programs?
A. High standards
B. Effectiveness
C. Replicability
D. Support structures

B. Effectiveness

Barron Elementary School implements a new reading program, which focuses on children in Kindergarten through the third grade. This program is designed to influence language and literacy development. What type of program did Barron Elementary implement?
A. Early Intervention Program
B. Reading Specialist Program
C. Primary Reading Program
D. High Standards Program

A. Early Intervention Program

What is the best way for parents to encourage their children to read at an early age?
A. Buy them books.
B. Let them watch educational television.
C. Use flash cards with vocabulary words.
D. Read to them everyday for 15 minutes.

D. Read to them everyday for 15 minutes.

What is fast mapping?
A. Acquiring vocabulary by mentally "charting" new words into interconnected categories.
B. Using the Internet to search for directions.
C. Putting pieces of a puzzle together.
D. A computer game played by children ages 4-5.

A. Acquiring vocabulary by mentally "charting" new words into interconnected categories.

Between the ages of 2 to 6, between how many words should a child's vocabulary increase?
A. 200-1000
B. 300-50,000
C. 500-10,000
D. 200-10,000

C. 500-10,000

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal a sample response.

What is an early intervention program and how is the success of the intervention measured?

Early intervention programs are designed to positively influence literacy development in children up to the third grade. Instruction includes special emphasis on reading comprehension, word recognition (including phonics), fluency, and writing. Intervention should be used in conjunction with the standard literacy instruction students are receiving in the classroom. Instruction may be delivered by reading teachers, trained aides, or volunteer tutors under the supervision of a trained teacher. An early intervention reading program should have high standards, effectiveness, replicability, and support structures. It is imperative to have highly skilled and trained professionals conduct early intervention programs.

The best measure of success for early intervention programs are through test scores. One of the most common tests is the Standard of Learning (SOL) Reading test. Scores can be measured and monitored from year to year to see if targeted students have had an increase in their scores. Overall success can be determined from the number of children being promoted to a higher grade. The program is also successful when there is a reduction in the number of special education referrals. Another way to determine the success of the intervention is to ask the students, themselves. When students say that they can read faster, understand the material better, and actually enjoy reading, you know that the program is successful!


  • Lane, Kathleen Lynne; Menzies, Holly M.; Munton, Sarah M. (2005). The Effects of a Supplemental Early Literacy Program for a Student at Risk: A Case Study. Preventing School Failure, Volume 50, Number 1, Pages 21-28.
  • Mathes, Patricia. (2005). The case for Early Intervention in Reading. SRA/McGraw-Hill Online. Downloaded from
  • Quatroche, Diana. (1999). Helping the Underachiever in Reading. (Eric Document Reproduction Services No. ED 434331).
  • Saunders, Matt. (2007). Programs at Concord, Murray make reading fun for youngsters. The Paducah Sun.
  • Scola, Barbara. (2002). An Effective Intervention Program as Part of a Balanced Literacy Program. (Eric Document Reproduction Services No. ED 469151).
  • Strickland, D.S. (2002). The Importance of Effective Early Intervention. In A.E. Farstrup, & S. Samuels (Eds.), What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction (pp. 69-86). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
  • Virginia Department of Education. (1998). A Teacher Supplement to the Virginia Early Intervention Reading Initiative. Downloaded from:
  • Berger, Kathleen Stassen (2005). The Developing Person through the Life Span 6th ed. pages 226-227