The Texas Center for Learning Disabilities has published a new report that summarizes the research base for popular methods for the identification of specific learning disabilities and makes recommendations for practice.
The Identification of Specific Learning Disabilities: A Summary of Research on Best Practices—authored by Principal Investigators Jack Fletcher and Jeremy Miciak, both of the University of Houston—begins with a summary of the legal requirements for specific learning disability identification and the necessary components and features of a comprehensive evaluation for special education. It then discusses the attributes of specific learning disabilities according to different conceptual frameworks and reviews research on the reliability and validity of different methods for identification. The report concludes with recommendations for best practice.
The Texas Center for Learning Disabilities is a partnership between the University of Houston, The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk, and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Center research leads to a more comprehensive classification of learning disabilities, a more integrated understanding of intervention for children with reading problems, and important cross-discipline insights into the nature of learning disabilities. Currently, this research takes the form of four projects to be conducted over the next five years.
For more information and to download the report, visit the Texas Center for Learning Disabilities website.
MCPER has been awarded a $4 million federal grant to launch a national network to investigate how to better merge behavior support within reading and mathematics interventions.
The new initiative, Behavior and Academic Supports: Integration and Cohesion (Project BASIC), is led by Principal Investigator Nathan Clemens. The award is through the Institute of Education Sciences Research Networks competition, which brings together research teams to "advance the field's understanding beyond what an individual team could do on its own. Combined, these research teams are charged with creating a body of knowledge and assisting policymakers and practitioners who need to use such information to strengthen education policies and programs to improve student education outcomes," according to the Institute of Education Sciences website.
Studies have shown that academic and behavioral difficulties are linked. This problem is no secret to educators, but merging intervention for academic and behavior skills has proven to be challenging. To investigate this issue, Project BASIC—already up and running in 10 elementary schools in Austin Independent School District—will examine how to more cohesively integrate behavior support strategies within reading and mathematics interventions for struggling learners in second and third grades. Across the first 2 years, Project BASIC will target the integration of behavior support within reading interventions. During years 3 and 4 of the project, the focus will shift to the integration of behavior support within mathematics interventions. A particular focus of the behavior support will be on academic engagement, which stands at the intersection of learning and behavior. The research team will use a sequential, multiple assignment, randomized trial (SMART) to evaluate whether an adaptive intervention that embeds behavioral self-regulation strategies within increasingly intensive reading and math interventions leads to positive effects on academic and behavioral skills for students.
For more information about Project BASIC, contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A new MCPER publication is featured in the March 2018 newsletter of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).
"Partner Reading: An Evidence-Based Practice – Teacher's Guide" was developed by MCPER's PACT Plus project. The guide provides teachers with a feasible procedure for partner reading—a research-based instructional routine incorporating peer modeling into reading—that can be used in middle school classrooms. The guide features an explanation of the research on partner reading; an overview of the routine, including setting up the classroom, modeling the procedure, and selecting and preparing a text; and two lesson plans and materials.
The monthly OSEP newsletter "provides stakeholder resources and timely news related to OSEP and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [and] highlights information that affects ... state and discretionary grantees, families, educators, practitioners, administrators, researchers, and more," according to OSEP. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit the OSEP website.
Reading experts have effective strategies to help many of the youngest children who struggle to read, but that work has been less effective with older students. Those whose first language isn’t English are especially difficult to teach.
The Texas Center for Learning Disabilities, a multidisciplinary research center led by the University of Houston (UH) that includes The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk (MCPER), will tackle the issue with an $8.4 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
The competitively awarded federal grant is the third for the center since it was established in 2006 to address learning disabilities from a variety of disciplines. Jack Fletcher, chair of the UH Psychology Department and principal investigator for the grant, and some of his collaborators have spent the past 25 years addressing learning disabilities involving reading and math.
The center, which includes researchers from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and MCPER at The University of Texas at Austin, is overseen by the UH Department of Psychology and the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics, led by UH psychology professor David Francis.
Francis has long worked on issues involving minority-language speakers, known as English learners. He will work on this project along with professors Elena Grigorenko and Arturo Hernandez, associate professor Paul Cirino, and research assistant professors Jeremy Miciak and Pat Taylor, all with the UH Department of Psychology; associate professor Jenifer Juranek of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston; and Executive Director Sharon Vaughn, Assistant Director Greg Roberts, and assistant professor of psychology Jessica Church-Lang, all with MCPER.
The center has led some of the key breakthroughs in understanding learning disabilities, including the following:
The work is the result of “team science,” Fletcher said, an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the classification, early intervention, and remediation of learning disabilities. It includes the use of brain imaging, in addition to work in public school classrooms in Houston and Austin.
Grigorenko’s work spans both developmental psychology and molecular genetics. Her arrival at UH in 2015 added a genetic component to the center’s work, allowing it to delve more deeply into the epigenetic response to intervention and to address the central question the center seeks to answer: Why do some children pick up reading easily and others struggle? And when children struggle, what can help them succeed?
Working with older students is a natural evolution, Fletcher said, because researchers have established effective interventions for the early grades, although not all schools use them. Middle schoolers who are English learners often have trouble reading even when their spoken command of English is good, he said.
But it’s unclear how a variety of factors—economic disadvantage, language proficiency, and learning disabilities—interact to cause the problem.
Students in the project—English learners who meet school benchmarks for English proficiency—will receive intervention to improve reading skills, and researchers will collect information through brain imaging and genetic and cognitive testing.
“This is real team science,” Fletcher said. “Lots of people from different disciplines are working together to bring science to education.”
Researchers at Utah State University (Ron Gillam and Sandra Gillam) and The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk (Sharon Vaughn and Greg Roberts) have been awarded a $3.3 million, 4-year federal grant to test a program for improving the narrative comprehension and composition of first- through fourth-grade students at risk for language and learning difficulties.
The funding from the Institute of Education Sciences will allow the researchers to evaluate the effects of the Supporting Knowledge in Language and Literacy (SKILL) curriculum in a large randomized clinical trial in Utah and Texas over the next 4 years.
This work will build on previous research on the impact of early instruction in narrative language skills, such as story structure, character development, and causation. This research demonstrated the importance of narrative language proficiency to academic success. Students with language and learning difficulties will be the focus of the efficacy studies at the Utah and Texas sites.
Students randomized to receive the language and literacy intervention will participate in approximately 40 half-hour sessions. Instruction will focus on story structure, strategies for constructing situation models, and the integration of new information into long-term memory. The literature-based texts and activities will closely align with the kinds of texts students read and write in general education classrooms. The project team will evaluate the effects of the curriculum by examining student performance on measures of narrative language during oral and written storytelling, reading comprehension, and early written language.
For more information about this project, visit the project webpage.
The National Institutes of Health has awarded researchers at The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk and Boston University a $2.9 million, 5-year grant to investigate practices for improving reading comprehension and reducing reading anxiety of fourth- and fifth-grade students with reading difficulties.
The grant will allow MCPER Executive Director Sharon Vaughn and Amie Grills of Boston University to build on their previous research investigating the relation between reading difficulties and reading anxiety and approaches to improving reading performance and reducing anxiety. Their previous research demonstrates a high prevalence of anxiety among children experiencing reading difficulties. To address this problem, Grills and Vaughn conducted a pilot study examining the effects of a reading intervention program that featured strategies for reducing anxiety. Their research findings provide preliminary evidence that significant reductions in anxiety occur when students receive anxiety-management instruction within a reading intervention.
Over the next 5 years, the researchers will further develop and test an integrated approach in a randomized clinical trial with students in Texas and Massachusetts. Students randomized to receive the intervention will participate for 2 consecutive years beginning in fourth grade. Instructional practices for reducing anxiety will focus on three core areas: (1) recognizing feelings and understanding how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are related; (2) practicing various relaxation and stress-management skills; and (3) recognizing anxious and unhelpful thoughts and changing them. These practices will be embedded within reading intervention lessons found in previous studies to improve student decoding and reading comprehension outcomes. The project team will evaluate the effects of the reading and anxiety practices by examining student performance on reading and socioemotional measures.
“This is a very exciting opportunity to conduct a relatively unique approach to better understanding whether we can both reduce anxiety and improve reading outcomes for students with significant reading problems," Grills said.
For more information about this project, visit the project webpage.
Project STRIVE making an impact on Texas teachers and students
November 2, 2016
MCPER’s Strategies for Reading Information and Vocabulary Effectively (STRIVE) project is collaborating with school districts in Central and South Texas to provide professional development and research-based instructional materials to fourth-grade teachers.
Over the course of the large-scale, 3-year research study, more than 200 fourth-grade teachers from more than 80 schools will receive training on practices to improve reading and social studies knowledge, reaching more than 5,000 students.
To date, fourth-grade teachers from 25 elementary schools have attended interactive training on the STRIVE lessons in preparation for implementing the practices in their classrooms this year. Anchored to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the STRIVE lessons incorporate evidence-based reading practices targeting reading comprehension, vocabulary, and social studies content knowledge. In addition to the initial training, STRIVE teachers participate in several follow-up study team meetings to reflect on and discuss instructional practices.
Teachers are beginning to see the fruits of their labor. "I am already seeing positive changes in my students," said Emi Anderson, a fourth-grade teacher at Hirsch Elementary School in San Antonio. “The program has improved their ability to share and constructively question their classmates' ideas. My students are using the STRIVE reading and collaborative learning skills in other subjects, too."
Building on a prior Institute of Education Sciences Goal 2 intervention development grant, MCPER researchers will measure and compare the effects of STRIVE relative to a control condition to examine the efficacy of the professional development. The large number of students participating provides strong statistical power and reliability.
In the meantime, those involved with the program suggest that STRIVE is having a positive impact. "There is really a positive buzz about STRIVE in San Antonio ISD,” said District Administrator Ramses Escobedo. “The teachers participating in the project have said it is going well, and additional schools have asked to participate in STRIVE next year."
For more information, visit the STRIVE project page.
The Targeting the 2 Percent project has developed two series of resources to develop educators’ instructional effectiveness with students with learning disabilities and difficulties.
The project created a set of mini-lessons structured around the five essential components of reading instruction that can be used with students in kindergarten to grade 5 whose data show a need in a specific component.
Also, professors and researchers in the field wrote 11 research briefs to support evidence-based instructional practices. Topics include the five essential components of reading, grouping practices, peer supports, instructional considerations for dyslexia, English language learners, and literacy instruction for students with autism.
For more information and to download the mini-lessons and research briefs, which were developed with the support of the Texas Education Agency, visit the Targeting the 2 Percent project page.
Eunsoo Cho, a postdoctoral fellow in MCPER's Reading Institute, has been honored as the lead author of a prestigious journal's best research article of 2015.
"Cognitive Attributes, Attention, and Self-Efficacy of Adequate and Inadequate Responders in a Fourth-Grade Reading Intervention" won the Samuel A. Kirk Award for 2015, which recognizes the best research article in the journal Learning Disabilities Research & Practice. Cho's co-authors included MCPER researchers Garrett Roberts and Philip Capin, Associate Director Greg Roberts, Executive Director Sharon Vaughn, and Jeremy Miciak of the University of Houston.
MCPER's Sarah Powell won the Kirk Award in the practice category.
The Texas Education Agency and The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk are conducting a survey to learn more about teachers’ perspectives on the literacy development of all learners and preferences for professional development. The information gathered will guide the development of training modules and classroom resources designed to assist teachers in the transition from state assessments based on modified standards to the general state assessment, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR®). More information on this initiative is available on the Targeting the 2 Percent project webpage.
Educators who work with students in grades kindergarten to grade 5 are encouraged to complete the short survey.
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