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Remedial Reading Intervention Placement: What Does Not and What Does Make Sense

Placing students in remedial reading intervention classes is certainly a challenge. By understanding what does and does not make sense in the selection process, educators will be able to avoid many of the usual pitfalls of these types of programs and have a greater chance at success.

What Does Not Make Sense

1. Placing students in remedial reading classes from the results of standards-based assessments and herding them into a reading intervention class is crazy. Students score poorly on standards-based tests for all kinds of reasons. Using achievement classifications such as Far Below Basic and Below Basic to place students is especially crazy because the test question pool is inadequate, in terms of sample quality and quantity. Standards-based assessments measure student achievement relative to grade-level standards; they are not designed to measure reading-vocabulary abilities, as are normed tests. Additionally, placement based upon the previous annual exam ignores the reading history of the students. Finally, in my experience, this placement mixes students who really only require strategic reading intervention with students who need intensive reading intervention. Usually, more students wind up in intensive reading intervention classes than what is warranted.

2. Placing students into a remedial reading intervention class without regard to behavioral criteria is crazy. Severe ADHD students, students with anger issues, and students who bug the heck out of other students or teachers all need special intervention and may, indeed, need remedial reading instruction. In fact, many of the students who have behavioral problems have learned these behaviors to cope with reading problems. However, just a few of these students can ruin an entire class. We have to take our heads out of the sand on the behavioral issue.

3. Placing students into a class of 35 students for remedial reading intervention is crazy. Any remedial reading class has students in that class for many different reasons, even if the placement criteria make sense. Some students have vocabulary deficits; others have decoding issues; others have fluency problems, etc. It’s a given that a remedial reading teacher must differentiate instruction. In order to differentiate instruction, the teacher-student ratio has to be manageable and the class size has to be limited.

4. Placing students in intensive remedial reading classes for an hour a day, for one semester i.e., 18 weeks, is crazy. A survival skills, band-aid approach to remedial reading may even be counterproductive. True remedial reading intervention takes time.

5. Placing students in a remedial reading intervention class taught by a new teacher or an English-language Arts teacher, without significant professional development and course work in reading, is crazy. Most credential programs only require one or two reading classes. Most teachers are ill-prepared to teach intensive remedial reading classes.

What Does Make Sense
1. Standards-based assessments can be a rough, initial screening to alert educators about potential reading problems for individual students. However, a second round of diagnosis is definitely called for before placing student into an intensive reading intervention program. Selecting diagnostic assessments that are outside of the primary remedial reading program is of critical importance. There is the inherent problem of a publisher’s conflict of interest i.e., let’s keep as many students in this program as possible in order to sell more books. The multiple choice reading assessments found at http://www.penningtonpublishing.com will efficiently and appropriately narrow down the list of students who really need a remedial reading class after an initial screening has been made.

2. Establish clear selection guidelines that deal with the behavioral issues. Behavioral problem students need help, too, but not in a class size of 35 students, and not at the expense of other students and their teachers. Smaller class sizes with specially trained teachers that deal head-on with the behavioral issues, as well as the reading issues, are essential to the success of behaviorally-challenged remedial reading students.

3. Reasonable class sizes are keys to remedial reading intervention success. Explore structural considerations, such as early-late, team-teaching, and after-school options to achieve sensible teacher-student ratios. Explore using teachers, who volunteer part of their teacher prep with additional stipend or in lieu of teacher duties (trade-offs) to help out. Explore incorporating instructional aides, parents, and student tutors to help manage larger class sizes and to assist with differentiated instruction.

4. Providing enough time for students to gain the reading skills needed to be successful in school is essential. Chapter Two of the Reading/Language Arts Framework for California Public Schools (2007) provides the following guidelines for determining the appropriate amount of instructional time: “intensive intervention students (grades four through twelve), a total of two and a half to three hours per day” and for up to “two years.”

5. Remedial reading intervention cannot be the dumping ground for teachers who lack seniority. Nor can a reading intervention class be a training ground for teachers. Remedial reading students deserve the best. Teachers without reading expertise need to gain that expertise prior to teaching this unique student population. University coursework and professional development are keys to creating the expertise needed to teach remedial reading intervention classes.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight to adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, adaptable to various instructional settings, and simple to use. With multiple choice reading assessments on two CDs, formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages on eight CDs, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games (364 pages), even novice reading teachers and para-professionals will be able to use these user-friendly resources to effectively differentiate reading instruction with minimal preparation.

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