In 1999, John Alexander, then head of The Chartwell School, headed an early intervention study with the Pacific Groves School District in Pacific Groves, California. The Hewlett Packard Foundation gave $100,000 to fund the early identification and intervention project.
The study trained teachers to use best practices with regard to the teaching of reading. It also focused on identifying students, who were at risk of developing a reading disability, early in their kindergarten experience. Approximately 30% of the 400+ kindergarten students in the district were identified as at risk. These students were then placed into an intervention program focusing on phonemic awareness and early phonics. The intervention groups met three times a week for 25 minutes. All the kindergarten students were assessed again in January. Those students in the intervention program who were no longer deemed at risk left the intervention program. Any students from the mainstream who were deemed at risk in January started in the intervention program.
The program continued for three years in the manner described above. At the end of the second grade year, the third year of the program, students were tested in reading for the first time with state tests. This second grade group did far better than previous second grade students in the district. Title One and Special Education referrals also dropped by more than 80%. The expected savings to the district of keeping these students out of special education was estimated to be over $1,000,000 over the next ten years of their public school experience.
Key Points Regarding the Early Intervention Project
- The important outcome of this study is that awareness of best practices for early reading instruction is extremely important for the development of all kinds of emergent readers.
- The results of the study revealed that early intervention and remediation for students who are at risk of reading failure reduces the number of students who need intensive remediation throughout the elementary years. This project strongly suggests that the earlier one can begin assisting those at very high risk for future reading failure, the less long-term effort and expense it will take to bring them to a successful reading level.
- The cost of instituting this type of program would vary from school to school based on the model that each school adopts. An emphasis on training classroom teachers to adopt best practices in reading instruction in elementary school would be the most cost efficient as compared to pull-out programs where students are taught in small groups by specialized teachers.
- The DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) was the tool that the study utilized to track progress in reading. The DIBELS is a useful tool because it assesses critical pre-reading and early literacy skills, is easy to administer, is cost effective (free materials and one dollar per year per student to track progress), and can be used multiple times in one year to track student progress.
- The Pacific Grove Unified School District was awarded the Golden Bell award for this project. The Golden Bell Awards program promotes excellent in education by recognizing schools with outstanding programs.
John Alexander, Head of School Groves Academy