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The Early Identification Program in Reading, Ohio.

Mr. Stark describes a program that systematically identifies the preliteracy learning needs of kindergartners and first-graders and develops instructional strategies to meet specific deficits.

WHEN President Clinton announced the America Reads Challenge, he cited several school-based programs as examples of successful child literacy and tutoring programs. One of these was the Early Identification and Intervention (Early ID) program operated by the Reading Community Schools, a suburban system located approximately 12 miles from Cincinnati and serving some 1,400 students in two elementary schools and one junior/senior high school. More than 20 years old, Early ID is a locally developed project that meets the needs of its kindergarten and first-grade participants through the services of unpaid trained volunteers, including parents, grandparents, community members, and older students.

These volunteers are not asked to teach reading skills; instead, the program focuses on "preliteracy skills," and volunteers work with kindergarten children on activities associated with prereading and prewriting. Along with the program's documented benefits to the children, its parent and community involvement engenders broad-based support for the district's educational efforts. Though pleased with the national recognition, the district has experienced many unanticipated outcomes, including invitations for presentations, requests for replication, and even a little scholarly criticism.1

Early ID was originally developed to address the weaknesses of children who lack certain experiences and skills that serve as precursors to learning to read and write. Such children have poor fine-motor and perceptual skills, limited speaking and/or listening skills, and little knowledge of the basic language concepts needed to follow directions or to develop comprehension skills. Historically, kindergarten and first- grade teachers have worked diligently to remediate deficits in motor skills and basic language concepts. Yet many of these at-risk children have continued to lag behind their peers throughout their school years, which suggests that they have failed to overcome their deficiencies.

The design of Early ID provides a systematic process to identify student learning needs and to develop instructional strategies to meet specific deficits. Prior to the inception of the program, responsibility for identifying the learning needs of kindergartners rested solely with their teachers. The current identification process evaluates each student's fine-motor skills, visual-perception capabilities, and knowledge of basic language concepts. These results are shared at a districtwide meeting of the various professionals involved in early primary education, including kindergarten and first- grade teachers, speech and language pathologists, the school psychologist, the program and building administrators, the school nurse, the elementary librarian, and the superintendent. Pretest results may suggest changes in emphasis in the kindergarten curriculum. When the program was implemented, kindergarten staff members were quick to see the advantages for students if the needs uncovered in the screening process were addressed and emphasized throughout the year.

A schedule for daily intervention is implemented by Early ID volunteers, an approach consistent with the volunteer aspects of the America Reads Challenge. The Early ID process is a highly structured one, which allows the volunteers to follow a sequential set of skill activities through primary, intermediate, and advanced levels, using color-coded activity cards. Instruction begins at a concrete level and moves to abstract levels of understanding only when the student has demonstrated success. Student success is monitored after each session, and records of student performance are maintained by the volunteers and reviewed by Early ID aides, who may consult with the school psychologist. Students remain in the program throughout the school year to refine and expand their skills.

The program has achieved remarkable results over a 25-year period, particularly during the last decade of well-documented annual reports of student progress. Each year, pre- and post-intervention screening is administered to all kindergarten children, again with the use of trained volunteers. The tests screen in the areas of visual-perception skills, fine-motor skills, and basic concepts.

A recent accumulation of eight years of data suggested startling results. On average, children who participated in Early ID achieved scores in posttesting that reflected tremendous growth in essential skills compared to those children who did not participate. Though the presented statistics are only descriptive in nature, we believe that the results are clear enough to demonstrate the effectiveness of the program. During the eight-year period for which data were collected, the Early ID participants achieved an average gain of 57 percentile points from pre- to posttesting in the area of visual-perception functioning. This gain compared quite favorably to the average gain of 16 percentile points achieved by the children who did not participate in Early ID. Similarly, in the area of fine-motor functioning, Early ID children achieved an average gain of 30 percentile points, compared to a gain of 4 percentile points for non-Early ID children. Basic concept scores rose 34 percentile points for Early ID and only 15 percentile points for non-Early ID children.

While it is true that our comparison group of children who do not participate in Early ID does not serve as an adequate control group for research purposes, it must be recognized that the Early ID program was developed not as a research project but as a means of providing documentably effective services to children who need help with preliteracy skills. As a public school district, we have chosen not to withhold services from some children for the purposes of educational research.

In addition to the annual pre- and posttesting results, the district has accumulated other useful information. Internally conducted longitudinal research has shown that this early emphasis on preliteracy skills positively affects the future academic success of children. The data have suggested that

the at-risk children who participate in Early ID attend school at about the same rate as non-Early ID children when they are in grades 4 and 6. Also, the scores of Early ID children on state proficiency and national standardized tests appear to be roughly commensurate with those of non-Early ID children in later grades.

There seems to be little question that offering targeted services based on the pretest outcomes substantially benefits the students. But the program's results must be viewed in the broader context of the district's focus on academics and its coordination of professional services, such as speech and language therapy, library services, and school psychological services - all of which work in concert with the kindergarten program to magnify the impact of the educational process.

Though it can be claimed that the current design of the program does not allow us to determine the relative impact of Early ID and the regular kindergarten curriculum, we question the pertinence of the issue. The difficulty in separating effects is a phenomenon in which we take no small amount of pride. Early ID is intended to be part of the fabric of our kindergarten classes and curriculum, and it is encouraging that it has become so. Still, the data reveal that the targeted children achieve much greater improvement from pre- to posttesting on the screening devices.

Since the time of the Presidential citation, representatives of Early ID have been invited to an information-gathering session for the Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children, conducted by the National Academy of Sciences,2 and to a meeting of the Reading Research Initiative Committee of the American Educational Research Association. In addition, Early ID was named one of Ohio's BEST Practices award winners in 1998. The program was also featured in a presentation at the annual meeting of the National School Boards Association in April 1999. Of greater practical importance, the Early ID program has recently been replicated with positive results.

Early ID was introduced to an elementary school in the Daytona Beach, Florida, area during the 1997-98 school year. All the procedures and intervention activities were modeled after those of the Reading, Ohio, program. Remarkably, the pre- and post-intervention results were strikingly similar to those achieved by Reading students over the past decade, thereby demonstrating the replicability of the program. Three other districts received training to replicate the program for the 1998-99 school year, and the Reading school district is planning to develop a training center to meet the many other requests for training that we are receiving.

The Reading Community Schools will continue to support and refine the system's Early ID program as a model for preliteracy learning, based on the impressive student results and the involvement of parent and community volunteers. Family and community involvement have been shown to be very important for better education, regardless of parents' income, race, or years of schooling. Replication of the Early ID program may be the answer for those districts interested in identifying learning needs and remediating them in kindergarten and first grade.

1. Barbara A. Wasik, "Volunteer Tutoring Programs: Do We Know What Works?," Phi Delta Kappan, December 1997, pp. 282-87.

2. Catherine Snow, M. Susan Burns, and Peg Griffin, eds., Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1998).

ROBERT L. STARK is a school psychologist and coordinator of special services, Reading (Ohio) Community Schools.
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Author:Stark, Robert L.
Publication:Phi Delta Kappan
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2001
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