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IES Grant

Title: Professional Development of an MTSS Model for Early Childhood Educators to Prevent Reading Disabilities
Center: NCSER Year: 2017
Principal Investigator: Goldstein, Howard Awardee: University of South Florida
Program: Early Intervention and Early Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (07/01/2017 – 06/30/2020) Award Amount: $1,400,000
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R324A170073

Purpose: This project will develop a professional development (PD) model to support teachers in implementing an early literacy Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) in early childhood classrooms to improve reading outcomes for children who are at risk for reading disabilities. MTSS provides varying levels (tiers) of instruction to students based on assessments that are used in data-based decision making by educators. Early childhood educators are rarely provided instruction in the philosophy and fundamentals of explicit instruction, curriculum-based assessment, data-based decision making, and individualized instruction. Thus, there is a critical need for feasible, effective, and sustainable PD that prepares early childhood educators to implement an MTSS model to support students in learning to read as they enter kindergarten and beyond. This project aims to reduce preventable reading disabilities by improving the ability of educators to implement an early literacy MTSS model.

Project Activities: An iterative process will be used to develop an efficient, promising, and sustainable PD model to prepare early childhood teachers to implement an early literacy MTSS model. Data from focus groups, interviews, surveys, and observational measures will be used to inform the development and revision of the PD model and assess its feasibility. A small cluster randomized controlled trial will investigate the promise of efficacy of the PD model for improving educators' implementation of an early literacy MTSS model and, ultimately, children's literacy outcomes.

Products: The products of this project include a fully-developed PD model (including the tools and materials associated with the model) aimed at improving educators' implementation of MTSS and children's literacy outcomes as well as presentations and peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The research will take place in pre-kindergarten classrooms and child care centers in Florida. Classrooms will be recruited from predominantly high-poverty communities.

Sample: Classrooms of teachers, paraeducators, and children with delayed early literacy skills will participate in the development and evaluation of the PD model. This includes 6 pre-kindergarten classrooms in Year 1, 12 in Year 2, and 24 in Year 3, leading to the expected participation of 84 teachers and paraeducators. Approximately 630 preschoolers will be screened and an estimated 168 will demonstrate persistent early literacy delays that qualify them for standard treatment protocol interventions to participate in the study.

Intervention: The PD model will include a decision-making framework to assist teachers in moving children through tiers of instructional protocols in early literacy and standard treatment protocols that have been shown to be effective in improving phonological awareness and alphabet knowledge skills. The primary components of the intervention include the following: (a) problem-based learning and video modeling in online learning modules, (b) an Electronic Data Management and Expert Decision Making (EDM2) system, (c) in-class coaching support, and (d) standard treatment protocols to provide Tier 2 and Tier 3 support for teaching early literacy skills. Coaches will instruct, observe, and provide feedback to teachers as they learn to (a) use curriculum-based measures that align with learning objectives, (b) use data to identify students who require more intensive instruction and to shape instruction, (c) implement evidence-based standard treatment protocols with high fidelity for students requiring Tier 2 or Tier 3 instruction, (d) use progress monitoring tools to measure children's responses to intervention, and (e) use data from assessments to move children fluidly among appropriate tiers of instruction. Brief online problem-based learning modules that present authentic classroom challenges associated with MTSS and model their solutions will be used to prepare educators to strengthen problem-solving skills and apply components of the framework. To improve the ease and accuracy of identifying struggling children, the research team will develop a computerized data management system (EDM2) wherein teachers can input assessment results and the output will direct them towards instructional needs and future assessments.

Research Design and Methods: In Years 1 and 2, an iterative model will be used to develop the PD intervention. Focus groups will provide initial input on early literacy MTSS PD content deemed most beneficial to address, identify examples of problems teachers face to be incorporated into problem-based learning case studies, and select the student assessments to input into the development of EDM2 system. Four cycles of development (of PD modules, coaching components, and EDM2), educator feedback, and field testing and evaluation will be used to prepare for the pilot study. In Year 3, a small cluster randomized controlled trial with 24 classrooms (12 treatment and 12 control) will be used to evaluate the promise of the PD program. Group differences in intervention and control teachers' implementation of MTSS, perceptions of acceptability and value of treatment, and fidelity of implementation of early literacy instruction will be examined. In addition, children in the intervention and control group with persistent delays in early literacy skills will be compared on curriculum-based measures and standardized tests of phonological awareness and alphabet knowledge skills. Moderating effects of teacher and student characteristics will also be explored.

Control Condition: For the Year 3 pilot study, educators in the control condition will receive general training on MTSS without a focus on early literacy standard treatment protocols and the associated decision-making framework.

Key Measures: Measures will include assessments of educators' implementation of key MTSS features (i.e., EDM2 system data on use of assessments and student receipt of treatment protocols, fidelity self-assessment rubric, observation checklist), social validity (semi-structured interviews and surveys), coaching fidelity (observation checklist), as well as data on the use of the EDM2 system and PD engagement (tracking of activities, surveys). Students will be screened using the Preschool Early Literacy Indicator. Three Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills subtests (First Sound Fluency, Word Part Fluency, and Letter Naming Fluency) and the Letter Sound Short Form will be used to monitor students' progress. During intervention, weekly researcher-developed curriculum-based measures will assess mastery of blending, segmenting, first word part identification, first sound identification, and alphabet knowledge. Pre-post early literacy assessments will include the Alphabet Knowledge subtest of the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening-PreK; the Phonological Awareness subtest of the Test of Preschool Early Literacy; and Florida's Voluntary Pre-K Assessment.

Data Analytic Strategy: In Years 1 and 2, content analysis and descriptive statistics will be used to summarize focus group and interview data during the iterative development process. For the pilot study, Generalized Linear Modeling will be used to compare growth in teacher MTSS implementation and perceptions and satisfaction between groups. Due to the nesting of students within classrooms, Generalized Linear Mixed Effects Modeling will be used to assess associated student outcomes. Analyses will also be conducted to determine whether teaching variables (e.g., dosage), implementation fidelity, or child characteristics (e.g., oral language) moderate the impact of the PD model on student outcomes.

Related Projects: Center for Response to Intervention in Early Childhood (R324C080011)