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Test Him Before He Fails


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Parents often bring children into my office when they are already failing several subjects in school. These students are dejected, frustrated and often depressed. They believe that because of their past performance, they will never succeed in school. It is not strange that constant effort and subsequent failure have taught these students to believe that failure is their only option.

Recent advances in the way educators assess learning disabilities can prevent children from feeling this pervading sense of futility. This new initiative, called “Response to Intervention” (RTI) is helping educators recognize learning disabilities before the children have a chance to struggle.

Professor Lynn Fuchs, a special education professor at Vanderbilt University, explains that the traditional way to find out which children need help is to test those who are failing. She continues, “But research shows that failure can lead to depression, and that can make improvement in school very difficult.” To combat this problem, some educators and schools are implementing RTI and helping parents and teachers identify problems much earlier.

Perhaps the most important element of RTI is universal screening, which means everyone gets tested regardless of their scores or perceived aptitude. This allows educators to catch potential struggles without forcing the child to fail first.

What is Response To Intervention?

Screen: The first step in RTI is the screening process. In other words, RTI involves administering a series of short, comprehensive tests that have no bearing on the standard curriculum. Rather, these tests are used to determine whether a child might have difficulty responding to the core curriculum as traditionally delivered in the regular classroom. These tests determine which children are academically “at risk” or might have undiagnosed learning disabilities. The downside of these tests is that they may produce many false positives for “at risk” children.

Teach: The next step is ensuring that the regular classroom teaching is research-based and field-tested. Trained and qualified teachers should administer this curriculum. Intervene: In addition to the regular curriculum, children who are determined to be “at risk” during the screening process should be provided enhanced opportunities to learn, including additional time with the core curriculum, small group lessons, and other supplementary instruction.

Probe: Given that children who are identified as at-risk are provided with extra instruction, their progress in essential skills must be monitored to ensure that this instruction is sufficient and effective. Short, frequent assessments that test specific skills help teachers understand the usefulness (or lack thereof) of the instruction provided.

Chart: Based on the probes above, a specialist should create a chart that provides a visual record of the rate of gain in specific skill areas that lead to a specified goal. Because the goal of intervention is to help the child improve his skills, this chart helps indicate whether the intervention is working.

Adjust:After several sessions and charts, the educator should evaluate in what ways the intervention is successful and in what ways the intervention is failing. Adjustments should be made in both directions, pumping up the successful methods and skills and reworking the unsuccessful ones.

Potential Learning Disabilities Aided Through RTI Visual Processing Disorder:

A visual processing (or perceptual) disorder refers to an inability to make sense of information absorbed through the eyes. This does not mean that the child has trouble with sight and needs glasses; rather it involves difficulty processing the visual information in the brain. Reading and math are two areas that can be severely affected by visual processing disorder because these subjects rely heavily on symbols (letter, numbers, signs). Some indications of visual processing disorders are:

Spatial Relation: Distinguishing the positions of objects in space. For reading, confusion of similarly shaped letters such as “b” and “d“ or “p” and “q” can be attributed to a problem with spatial relation. In addition, for many math problems, the only cues are the spacing and order between the symbols. For instance, for the problem “13 + 6,” the child must be able to recognize that 13 is one number rather than two distinct numbers (1 and 3) and recognize that the “+” is between the 13 and the 6. While this is automatic for many people, these activities presuppose an ability and understanding of spatial relationships.

About the Author: An acclaimed educator and education consultant, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation,, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@verizon.net. Visit her on the web at rifkaschonfeldsos.com.


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