Reading, Writing, and Math Difficulties
Reading and writing failure begins in kindergarten and is difficult to remediate beyond the primary grades. When children fail at early reading and writing, they begin to dislike reading, read less than their classmates who are stronger readers, and as a consequence, lose a means for gaining vocabulary, background knowledge, and information about how reading material is structured. In short, the word-rich get richer, while the word-poor get poorer. Some have dubbed this "The Matthew Effect." For children with disabilities in the primary grades, reading and writing failure is pervasive, with reading and writing difficulties affecting nearly all children who are identified as having a disability.
In a similar way, math difficulties are widespread for students with disabilities. Moreover, math failure also begins in kindergarten, and learning difficulties become increasingly complex, serious, and difficult to remediate throughout the primary grades. After third grade, math failure is highly resistant to intervention.
Why Early Intervention Frequently Fails
All of this argues for intervening in the early grades--before children suffer loss of self-esteem, develop negative views about reading, writing, and math, and begin a school career of sustained failure--or drop out of school. Unfortunately, most "state-of-the-art" early intervention programs are not successful for a large number of children with disabilities.
At least four reasons explain why established intervention programs do not work for many children with disabilities:
- Some validated practices are difficult to use in classrooms. This leads to inadequate implementation of recommended practices.
- Most interventions lack the comprehensiveness needed to meet the multifaceted problems of students with disabilities who perform poorly in reading, writing, or math. Although an instructional program may address one difficulty a student experiences, it often fails to address other problems.
- Early reading, writing, and math instruction for students with disabilities focuses almost exclusively on basic skills. Insufficient attention is given to comprehension and knowledge application.
- Interventions have largely ignored the development of fluency (i.e., speed and ease of reading, writing, or doing math) and the need to plan instruction in ways that facilitate students' transfer of learning from a specific situation to other situations and their maintenance of skills over time. For students with disabilities, attention to fluency, transfer, and maintenance is essential.