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May 2010

From the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER)

The Center for Response to Intervention in Early Childhood: Using Early Detection and Prevention Strategies to Identify Struggling Students Before They Fall Behind

IES research scientist Kristen Lauer interviewed principal investigators Judith Carta and Charles Greenwood on their thoughts about the Center for Response to Intervention in Early Childhood (CRTIEC) that began in July 2008. This 5-year project is conducting focused research to develop and rigorously evaluate and replicate intensive interventions for preschool language and early literacy skills and develop and validate an assessment system linked to these interventions. In addition, the research team is providing national leadership on development and implementation of Response to Intervention (RtI) models for young children and conduct supplementary studies related to RtI and assessment issues. The Center's long-term goal is to prevent disabilities in reading by increasing the number of young children who enter school with knowledge and skill in early literacy and language.

(Response to Intervention [RtI] is a comprehensive early detection and prevention strategy that identifies struggling students and assists them before they fall behind. RtI systems combine universal screening and high quality instruction for all students with interventions targeted at struggling students. In RtI, the levels of interventions are conventionally referred to as "tiers." RtI is typically thought of as having three tiers, with the first tier encompassing general classroom instruction. Tier 2 interventions are provided only to students who demonstrate problems based on screening measures or weak progress from regular classroom instruction. In addition to general classroom instruction, Tier 2 students receive supplemental, small group reading instruction aimed at building foundational reading skills. Tier 3 interventions are provided to students who do not progress after a reasonable amount of time with the Tier 2 intervention and require more intensive assistance.)

Judith CartaJudith Carta
Charles GreenwoodCharles Greenwood

What are the challenges facing early childhood education?

One of the biggest challenges facing early childhood education is the lack of high quality programs equipped with evidence-based curricula and interventions needed to educate and care for the growing diversity of children who enter early education programs. Programs are challenged to provide instruction that's matched to skill levels of this increasingly diverse group of young children. Another challenge is the low quality workforce whose knowledge, skills, and preparation are often quite limited compared to teachers in K–12. Developing approaches for professional development that will improve teacher quality in programs serving young children is a major challenge in the early education field. A third challenge is the lack of an integrated system of programs serving preschool children. Instead, programs vary widely within localities and across states. Early childhood programs range from federally funded programs for low-income children, state-funded preschool, services for children with delays and disabilities, family and community-based programs, and private tuition programs each with their separate policies, goals, and approaches. The majority of these are not well aligned with K–12 schooling.

What are potential benefits for Response to Intervention in early childhood education?

Conversations are occurring in early education at the local, state and federal levels regarding the potential benefits of a Response to Intervention (RtI) approach for meeting the diverse needs of young children in the variety of programs serving children prior to kindergarten. These benefits include a greater number of children in programs on track with their language, early literacy, and socio-emotional skills, and fewer children experiencing delays needing special education services. Another advantage is a greater proportion of children entering kindergarten ready to learn.

What are the challenges for RtI in early childhood?

Current challenges to RtI in early childhood include lack of trained personnel, lack of resources, lack of RtI knowledge, lack of Tier 2 and 3 interventions, lack of progress monitoring measures, lack of evidence-based Tier 1 curricula, and lack of administrative support. Effective RtI models in the elementary grades depend on a range of personnel who work in teams to carry out the assessment and intervention functions required to implement a tiered model of services grounded by a data-based decision-making model that guides instruction. Many early education programs lack the infrastructure and the integration with special education to support the complex set of activities required within an RtI approach.

What are the goals of CRTIEC?

The major goal of CRTIEC is the prevention of reading disabilities by reducing the number of young children who enter kindergarten below benchmark in language and early literacy skills. Our mission is to respond to the challenges faced in early childhood education by producing evidence-based tools and resources needed to support the application of RtI in early childhood education. The Center is developing and validating progress monitoring measures in early literacy and developing and validating the efficacy of Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions in language and early literacy. We are also providing national leadership on RtI for young children through our national early childhood network and annual RtI Summit meeting and disseminating findings to practitioners, policymakers, and researchers through publication and our website (

What has CRTIEC completed so far?

CRTIEC is just ending its second year of funding. The research team at the University of Minnesota led by Scott McConnell has developed and is validating a new set of Individual Growth and Development Indicators for progress monitoring in early literacy and language across a sample of 650 children in four national sites.

The research teams at Ohio State University led by Howard Goldstein and Dynamic Measurement Group from Eugene, Oregon led by Ruth Kaminski are developing coordinated and complementary approaches for providing Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction. These interventions use an evidence-based scope and sequence of language and early literacy skills combined with the principles of effective instruction.

Judith Carta, Charles Greenwood, and Maura Wechsler Linas at the University of Kansas are leading a year-long, multi-site study of 650 preschoolers served in 65 pre-kindergarten classrooms throughout the country. The research team is examining the proportions of children who might need Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions and how the quality of Tier 1 instruction influences children's growth in early literacy and language. Finally, CRTIEC has established a network supported by a website and Facebook page to disseminate information about RtI in early education.

What are your future plans?

We will continue work validating the progress monitoring measures, including development of a platform for national scalability; testing and refining the interventions, and conducting a large-scale evaluation and replication of the interventions.

For more information about CRTIEC, browse their website:

NCSER Grantees Contribute to Special Edition in Applied Measurement in Education

NCSER grantees Cara Cahalan Laitusis, Martha Thurlow, Elizabeth Stone, Linda Cook, and Jamal Abedi contributed to a special edition on testing students with disabilities in the April 2010 issue of Applied Measurement in Education. The research highlighted in this special edition emerged from NCSER-funded National Accessible Reading Assessment Projects and includes:

Read the articles at