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IES Grant

Title: Development of a Three-tiered Model in Early Intervention to Address Language and Literacy Needs of Children at Risk
Center: NCSER Year: 2009
Principal Investigator: Sheridan, Susan Awardee: University of Nebraska, Lincoln
Program: Early Intervention and Early Learning in Special Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 6/1/2009 - 5/31/2012 Award Amount: $1,499,511
Goal: Development and Innovation Award Number: R324A090075

Purpose: Language proficiency and early literacy competence are strong predictors of school success. Children who begin school without essential, prerequisite skills are significantly more likely to require remedial and special education services than are their peers who begin school with a solid grasp of essential language skills. Effective, responsive early intervention is critical to minimize the gap between struggling and achieving children upon school entry. Three-tiered models featuring universal, targeted, and individualized instruction (e.g., Response to Intervention or RtI) are increasingly common in elementary school programs due to evidence of their positive impact on students' literacy skills. However, little published research has investigated the use of three-tiered models in early education settings. The purpose of this project is to develop and assess the feasibility and utility of a three-tier prevention model to support language and early literacy skills of preschool children at risk for developing learning disabilities or reading difficulties.

Project Activities: Key components of existing 3-tiered models designed for early elementary grades will be translated for preschool settings. These components include: (1) universal delivery of evidence-based intervention to all students; (2) progress monitoring; (3) data-based decision-making; (4) differentiated grouping and instruction; and (5) family involvement. Based on input about feasibility from experts and consumers, these components will be revised and pilot tested in 6 preschool settings.

Products: The anticipated result of this study is a practical, functional, and educationally-relevant 3-tier model for preschool settings for preventing language and literacy delays in children who are at-risk for disabilities, and evidence demonstrating the feasibility of its implementation in preschools. Other products include prototypes of materials for implementing all components of the model, professional development procedures, and fidelity measures.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The setting will include public preschool or Head Start programs in Nebraska and Kansas.

Population: Children between the ages of three and five who are determined to be at risk for reading difficulties, and their teachers and parents, will participate. All classrooms included in the study will serve children from low-income families.

Intervention: In three-tier models, services are provided early, monitored systematically, and adjusted intentionally to support individual children's needs. The Preschool 3 Tier (Pre-3T) approach to be developed in this study targets oral language, phonological awareness, letter/sound knowledge, and print awareness, which have been identified as the most critical pre-literacy skills. The five individual components that comprise the Pre-3T model have been researched independently and are well-established. It is the integration of components as a comprehensive approach for preventing language and literacy delays in preschool that will be developed in this study. The five components of Pre-3T are: (1) an evidence-based curriculum and intervention strategies delivered universally to all students; (2) progress monitoring for frequent and regular assessments of performance; (3) decision-making that is driven by progress monitoring data and supported by decision rules and guidelines that help determine for each student the appropriate intervention tier and timing of changes; (4) progress monitoring and data-based decision-making resulting in differentiated grouping and instruction to meet the needs of all children; and (5) meaningful, effective family involvement integrated into each level. Teachers will participate in structured, in-service training sessions, as well as summer training workshops over the course of the study to train the Pre-3T components. Project consultants will provide support for teachers, including individualized feedback following observation sessions, prompts, and modeling.

Research Design and Methods: In the first two years, key components of existing three-tiered models designed for early elementary grades will be translated for preschool settings through focus group meetings with three advisory boards that include experts in early literacy and language, preschool teachers and administrators, and parents. Individual model components will be pilot tested with relevant and formative process data collected and analyzed to refine the model. A multiple baseline design will be used to evaluate the effects of the differentiated features of the model (i.e., Tier 2 and 3 interventions) on individual students. In the third and final year of the project, the entire model will be implemented with a new set of 6 preschool classes in Nebraska and Kansas.

Control Condition: There is no control group. However, in assessing the effects of the more targeted Tier 2 and 3 interventions, the introduction of the interventions will be staggered to impose a type of experimental control that allows for comparison of performance patterns between students.

Key Measures: The fidelity with which global aspects of Pre-3T model components are implemented will be measured with a comprehensive, multi-source, multi-method tool that will be modeled after a measure used to assess fidelity of three-tier reading models in elementary programs. Teachers will complete social validity measures to assess acceptability and satisfaction with the Pre-3T intervention. Measures used to monitor child progress and gauge child responsiveness to interventions in the Pre-3T model will include Individualized Growth Developmental Indicators (IGDIs) for oral language and phonological awareness, as well as other early language and literacy measures. Additional measures will assess the language and early literacy qualities of classroom, the classroom emotional and instructional climate, and the degree to which family members engage in activities to support their child's learning.

Data Analytic Strategy: The first stage of data analysis will follow traditional qualitative case-study procedures for analyzing input received from experts and consumers on the intervention. These will include analyzing emergent themes, and making assertions and interpretations that will result in a refined model to be field tested in year three. Fidelity data will be analyzed to determine features of the intervention that are systematically implemented or fail to be implemented across the sample, providing useful information for full model specification and future efficacy tests.

Data from the multiple baseline design will be used to evaluate the effects of the differentiated features of the model (i.e., Tier 2 and 3 interventions) on individual students. Graphical displays and descriptive statistics will be used to portray individual child outcomes. Visual analyses of level, trend, and variation will be used to detect baseline versus treatment change effects.



Pianta, R. C., Justice, L. M., Barnett, W. S., & Sheridan, S. M. (2012). The Handbook of Early Education. New York: Guilford.

Book chapter

Abbott, M., Greenwood, C.R., Buzhardt, J., Wills, H.P., and Terry, B. (2011). Peer-Assisted Strategies. In R. O'Connor, and P. Vadasy (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Intervention (pp. 279–299). New York: Guilford Press.

Carta, J., and Driscoll, C. (2013). Early Literacy Interventions for Young Children With Special Needs. In T. Shanahan, and C. Lonigan (Eds.), Literacy in Preschool and Kindergarten Children: The National Early Literacy Panel and Beyond (pp. 233–245). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

Carta, J.J., and Greenwood, C.R. (2013). Future Challenges and New Directions in RTI. In V. Buysse, and E. Peisner-Feinberg (Eds.), Handbook of Response to Intervention in Early Childhood (pp. 421–432). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

Knoche, L.L., Cline, K.D., and Marvin, C.M. (2012). Fostering Collaborative Partnerships Between Early Childhood Professionals and the Parents of Young Children. In R.C. Pianta, L. Justice, S. Barnett, and S.M. Sheridan (Eds.), Handbook of Early Education (pp. 370–392). New York: Guilford Press.

Neuman, S., and Carta, J. (2011). Advancing the Measurement of Quality for Early Childhood Programs That Support Early Language and Literacy Outcomes. In M. Zaslow, T. Halle, and I. Martinez-Beck (Eds.), Quality Measurement in Early Childhood Settings (pp. 51–77). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

Sheridan, S.M., Clarke, B.L., and Ihlo, T.B. (2012). Promoting Young Children's Mental Health Through Early Childhood Consultation: Ecological Advances and Research Needs. In R.C. Pianta, L.M. Justice, W.S. Barnett, and S.M. Sheridan (Eds.), The Handbook of Early Education (pp. 435–454). New York: Guilford Press.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Abbott, M. (2011). A Research-to-Practice View of an Early Literacy PD Model. NHSA Dialog: A Research-to-Practice Journal for the Early Childhood Field, 14: 327–331. doi:10.1080/15240754.2011.613127

Abbott, M., and Wills, H.P. (2011). Using Reading Teams to Effectively Manage Urban Core Intervention Implementation. Preventing School Failure, 56: 36–46.

Abbott, M., Atwater, J., Lee, Y., and Edwards, L. (2011). A Data-Driven Preschool PD Model for Literacy and Oral Language Instruction. NHSA Dialog: A Research-to-Practice Journal for the Early Childhood Field, 14(4): 327–331. doi:10.1080/15240754.2011.613126

Abbott, M., Wills, H. P., Kamps, Miller, A. D., & Kauffman, J. (2012). The effects of error rate on comprehension in second and third grade oral text, Reading Psychology, 95, (4), 719–729.

Abbott, M., Wills, H. P., Kamps, Miller, A. D., and Kauffman, J. (2012). The Relationship of Error Rate and Comprehension in Second and Third Grade Oral Reading Fluency. Reading Psychology, 33(1): 104–132. doi:10.1080/02702711.2012.630613

Buhs, E.S., Welch, G., Burt, J., and Knoche, L. (2011). Family Engagement in Literacy Activities: Revised Factor Structure for the Familia An Instrument Examining Family Support for Early Literacy Development. Early Child Development and Care, 181(7): 989–1006. doi:10.1080/03004430.2011.564758

Clarke, B.L., Sheridan, S.M., and Woods, K.E. (2014). Conjoint Behavioral Consultation: Implementing a Tiered Home-School Partnership Model to Promote School Readiness. Journal of Prevention and Intervention in the Community, 42(4).

Greenwood, C., Carta, J., and McConnell, S. (2011). Advances in Measurement for Universal Screening and Individual Progress Monitoring of Young Children. Journal of Early Intervention, 33: 254–267. doi:10.1177/1053815111428467

Greenwood, C.R., Bradfield, T., Kaminski, R., Linas, M., Carta, J., and Nylander, D. (2011). The Response to Intervention (RTI) Approach in Early Childhood. Focus on Exceptional Children, 43(9): 1–22. Full text

Greenwood, C.R., Carta, J.J., Atwater, J., Goldstein, H., Kaminski, R., and McConnell, S.R. (2013). Is a Response-to-Intervention (RTI) Approach to Preschool Language and Early Literacy Instruction Needed?. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 33(1): 48–64. doi:10.1177/0271121412455438

Jeon, H.J., Langill, C.C., Peterson, C.A., Luze, G.J., Carta, J.J., and Atwater, J.B. (2010). Children's Individual Experiences in Early Care and Education: Relations With Overall Classroom Quality and Children's School Readiness. Early Education and Development, 21(6): 912–939. doi:10.1080/10409280903292500

Semke, C.A., and Sheridan, S.M. (2012). Family-School Connections in Rural Educational Settings: A Systematic Review of the Empirical Literature. School Community Journal, 22(1): 21–48. Full text