Skip Navigation

REL Central Ask A REL Response

Early Childhood, Early Warning Systems, Literacy, Math

November 2019


What research is there on early identification and interventions for students with disabilities?


Following an established research protocol, REL Central conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles to help answer the question. The resources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic databases, and general Internet search engines. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. We have not evaluated the quality of the references provided in this response, and we offer them only for your information. We compiled the references from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant sources may exist.

Research References

Beach, K. D., & O’Connor, R. E. (2013). Early response-to-intervention measures and criteria as predictors of reading disability in the beginning of third grade. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 48(2), 196–223. Retrieved From

From the abstract:

“We explored the usefulness of 1st and 2nd grade reading measures and responsiveness criteria collected within a Response-to-Intervention (RtI) framework for predicting Reading Disability (RD) in 3rd grade. We used existing data from 387 linguistically diverse students who had participated in a longitudinal RtI study. Model-based predictors of RD were analyzed using logistic regression; isolated measure/criteria combinations for predicting RD were analyzed using classification analysis. Models yielded superior classification rates compared to single measure approaches, and did not systematically misclassify English Learners. However, particular 1st and 2nd grade measure/criteria combinations also showed promise as isolated predictors of RD in word reading/text fluency. Model based approaches were required for acceptable classification of students with RD in comprehension. While the former finding is promising for early identification of students in need of more intensive instruction in lexical or fluency-based skills, the latter finding reaffirms literature attesting to the complexity of RD in comprehension and difficulty of predicting deficits using early measures of reading, which primarily assess word reading skill. Results replicated well with an independent sample, thus enhancing confidence in study conclusions. Implications regarding the use of RtI for predicting RD are discussed.”

Brock, M. E., & Carter, E. W. (2016). A meta-analysis of educator training to improve implementation of interventions for students with disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 38(3), 131–144. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Teachers and paraprofessionals need effective training to improve their implementation of interventions for students with disabilities. Reviews of the single-case design literature have identified some features associated with effective training for these educators, but the group-design literature has received little attention. This meta-analysis systematically reviews group-design studies testing the efficacy of training to improve implementation of interventions for students with disabilities. The mean effect size of educator training on implementation fidelity was g = 1.08, and results from meta-regression analysis suggest training that involves a combination of two specific training strategies (i.e., modeling and performance feedback) was associated with improved implementation fidelity. Increased duration of training was not associated with larger effects. Considered alongside findings from the single-case design literature, these results suggest that how educators are trained is a more important consideration than the number of hours they spend in training.”

Deluca, T., Bailet, L., Zettler-Greely, C., & Murphy, S. (2015, March). An examination of the effectiveness of emergent literacy intervention for pre-kindergarteners at risk for reading delays. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness spring conference, Washington, DC. Abstract retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“Preschool reading readiness is an issue with growing interest. The preschool years provide an opportune time when reading difficulties are more easily altered through exposure to early literacy skills. This paper extends the authors’ previous research by examining the kindergarten performance of a cohort of children from a multi-year research study in which preschoolers-at-risk for early literacy failure received targeted supplemental instruction. The goal of the present study is to examine the maintenance of the positive effects found for children from a cohort of the study. Of particular interest is whether children who completed the prekindergarten early literacy intervention go on to complete kindergarten with developmentally appropriate levels of reading readiness and whether children’s response to the intervention is predictive of their kindergarten reading achievement. Results report children who received prekindergarten Tier 2 early literacy intervention were performing in the developmentally appropriate range in kindergarten. A systematic increase in performance over time was evident for each measure. The findings also indicate that children who received prekindergarten early literacy intervention were performing in the developmentally appropriate range in kindergarten with scores indicative of low-risk for future reading delays. In addition, examination of children’s third grade reading achievement indicates comparable performance to both district and state norms.”

Hill, D. R. (2016). Phonics based reading interventions for students with intellectual disability: A systematic literature review. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 4(5). Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Teachers require interventions for students with intellectual disability (ID) that are simple, efficient, and can be implemented in the classroom versus interventions requiring isolation. The purpose of this review was to update the prior review by Joseph & Seery (2004) and to serve as a resource for parents, practitioners and researchers interested in the reading education of students with ID. Studies that focused on implementation of phonics based reading interventions to students with ID occurring over the subsequent 12-year period since the last review by Joseph & Seery (2004) were examined to determine which types of settings are typically used, what type of interventions are being implemented, outcomes for each intervention, Results indicate students with ID continue to respond to phonics based reading interventions and indicate an increase in published studies involving phonics based reading interventions for students with ID. Implications for future research and practice are also discussed.”

Kruse, L. G., Spencer, T. D., Olszewski, A., & Goldstein, H. (2015). Small groups, big gains: Efficacy of a Tier 2 phonological awareness intervention with preschoolers with early literacy deficits. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 24(2), 189–205. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

Purpose: The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the efficacy of a phonological awareness (PA) intervention, designed for Tier 2 instruction in a Response to Intervention (RTI) model, delivered to small groups of preschoolers.
Method: A multiple-baseline design across participants was used to evaluate the efficacy of the intervention on low-income preschool children’s PA skills. A trained interventionist delivered small group sessions 3 to 4 days a week and ensured children received frequent opportunities to respond and contingent feedback. Participants received 28 to 36 lessons that lasted about 10 min each and focused on PA and alphabet knowledge. Initiation of intervention was staggered across 3 triads, and 7 children completed the study.
Results: The intervention produced consistent gains on weekly progress monitoring assessments of the primary outcome measure for first sound identification (First Sound Fluency). Most children also demonstrated gains on other measures of PA and alphabet knowledge.
Conclusions: Results provide support for the application of a small group intervention consistent with an RTI framework and document the potential benefits of the intervention to learners who need early literacy instruction beyond the core curriculum.”

O’Connor, R. E., Bocian, K. M., Beach, K. D., Sanchez, V., & Flynn, L. J. (2013). Special education in a four-year response to intervention (RtI) environment: Characteristics of students with learning disability and grade of identification. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 28(3), 98–112. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“This four-year longitudinal research was designed to study special education determinations of students who participated in Tier 2 intervention in a Response to Intervention (RtI) model focused on reading across Grades 1 through 4. We compared identification rates for learning disabilities and student characteristics of 381 students the year prior to implementation with 377 students in the RtI environment. Across schools 38 to 60% of students were English Language Learners (ELL). Key outcomes by Grade 4 for students with learning disabilities who had participated in a model of RtI were relatively greater reading impairment with effect sizes ranging from 0.64 to 0.82, and more equitable representation across ELL and native English speakers than in the cohort prior to RtI implementation. Notably, one-third of the students identified for special services as LD in these schools were not identified until 4th grade.”

Oslund, E. L., Simmons, D. C., Hagan-Burke, S., Kwok, O.-M., Simmons, L. E., Taylor, A. B., & Coyne, M. D. (2014). Can curriculum-embedded measures predict the later reading achievement of kindergarteners at risk of reading disability? Learning Disability Quarterly, 38(1), 3–14. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“This study examined the changing role and longitudinal predictive validity of curriculum-embedded progress-monitoring measures (CEMs) for kindergarten students receiving Tier 2 intervention and identified as at risk of developing reading difficulties. Multiple measures were examined to determine whether they could predict comprehensive latent first- and second-grade reading outcomes and whether their predictive validity changed concurrent with reading development. CEMs of phonemic, alphabetic, and integrated tasks were given 3 times during the kindergarten year to 299 students. Structural equation modeling indicates that CEMs explained a significant amount of variance on first- (54%–63%) and second-grade (34%–41%) outcomes. The predictive validity of specific measures varied over the kindergarten year with sound and letter identification measures being predictive early and segmenting and word reading becoming important as reading abilities progressed. Findings suggest that CEMs may be viable and helpful tools for making data-driven instructional decisions in a response to intervention framework.”

Özmen, R. E., & Atbaşi, Z. (2019). Identifying interventions for improving letter formation: A brief experimental analysis of students with intellectual disabilities. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 9(1), 197–209. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“As a group, students with intellectual disabilities display difficulties in a wide range of academic skills, including the acquisition of basic academic skills such as literacy. Early writing and reading skills must be supported to prepare students with intellectual disabilities to learn to read and write. The goal of this study was to replicate and extend the current research on Brief Experimental Analysis with letter formation. Three students with intellectual disabilities participated in the study. A brief multi-element design was used to test effectiveness of four interventions on letter formation. These interventions included goal setting plus contingent reinforcement, graphical feedback, error correction and modeling. For one student, modeling was effective; for the two remaining students, goal setting plus contingent reinforcement was effective. The results of this study extend the BEA literature by investigating the effects of interventions for improving letter formation in students with intellectual disabilities. The study findings suggest that using BEA to assess the relative contribution of each intervention can identify the most effective interventions for improving letter formation in students with intellectual disabilities.”

Pears, K. C., Kim, H. K., Fisher, P. A., & Yoerger, K. (2016). Increasing pre-kindergarten early literacy skills in children with developmental disabilities and delays. Journal of School Psychology, 57, 15–27. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Two hundred and nine children receiving early childhood special education services for developmental disabilities or delays who also had behavioral, social, or attentional difficulties were included in a study of an intervention to increase school readiness, including early literacy skills. Results showed that the intervention had a significant positive effect on children’s literacy skills from baseline to the end of summer before the start of kindergarten (d = 0.14). The intervention also had significant indirect effects on teacher ratings of children’s literacy skills during the fall of their kindergarten year (ß = 0.09). Additionally, when scores were compared to standard benchmarks, a greater percentage of the children who received the intervention moved from being at risk for reading difficulties to having low risk. Overall, this study demonstrates that a school readiness intervention delivered prior to the start of kindergarten may help increase children’s early literacy skills.”

Willoughby, M. T., Magnus, B., Vernon-Feagans, L., & Blair, C. B. (2016). Developmental delays in executive function from 3 to 5 years of age predict kindergarten academic readiness. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 50(4), 359–372. Retrieved From

From the abstract:

“Substantial evidence has established that individual differences in executive function (EF) in early childhood are uniquely predictive of children’s academic readiness at school entry. The current study tested whether growth trajectories of EF across the early childhood period could be used to identify a subset of children who were at pronounced risk for academic impairment in kindergarten. Using data that were collected at the age 3, 4, and 5 home assessments in the Family Life Project (N = 1,120), growth mixture models were used to identify 9% of children who exhibited impaired EF performance (i.e., persistently low levels of EF that did not show expected improvements across time). Compared to children who exhibited typical trajectories of EF, the delayed group exhibited substantial impairments in multiple indicators of academic readiness in kindergarten (Cohen’s ds = 0.9–2.7; odds ratios = 9.8–23.8). Although reduced in magnitude following control for a range of socioeconomic and cognitive (general intelligence screener, receptive vocabulary) covariates, moderate-sized group differences remained (Cohen’s ds = 0.2–2.4; odds ratios = 3.9–5.4). Results are discussed with respect to the use of repeated measures of EF as a method of early identification, as well as the resulting translational implications of doing so.”


Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Early AND (intervention OR identification) AND (disability OR remedial OR delay)
  • Identification AND disability
  • Intervention AND disability

Databases and Resources

REL Central searched ERIC for relevant references. ERIC is a free online library, sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences, of over 1.6 million citations of education research.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the Publication: The search and review included references published between 2009 and 2019.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority was given to ERIC.
  • Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were used in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types, such as randomized controlled trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive analyses, literature reviews; and (b) target population and sample.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Central Region (Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Central at Marzano Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Central under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0005, administered by Marzano Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.