Universal Screening, Prevention, and Early Intervention

In considering alternatives to the current identification process, the committee considered two goals paramount: (1) assuring that the pool of children identified are those who need and can benefit from special or gifted education, and (2) assuring that the assessment procedures maximize the opportunity for effective intervention. Both concerns point us to early, universal screening.

Universal screening of young children to detect problems in the early development of academic and behavioral skills is increasingly recognized as crucial to achieving better school outcomes and preventing achievement and behavior problems. Evidence suggests that effective and reliable screening of young children by ages 4-6 can identify those most at risk for later achievement and behavioral problems (Coyne et al., 2001; Fuchs and Fuchs, 2001; Graham et al., 2001; NICHD, 2000; Kellam et al., 1998b), including those most likely to be referred and placed in special education programs. Cost-effective screening measures use structured interviews, rating scales, and checklists completed by teachers and parents as well as simple, brief measures of skills administered directly to children (Good and Kaminski, 1996; Walker and McConnell, 1995; Achenbach and Edelbrock, 1986; Werthamer-Larsson et al., 1991).

Early screening is rather futile, however, if it is not followed by effective interventions. In fact, instructional and social training programs for parents and teachers are available that can produce significant gains for many children showing at-risk characteristics at ages 4-6 (for reading interventions, see NICHD, 2000; NRC, 1998; for behavioral interventions, see McNeil et al., 1991; Reid et al., 1999; Hawkins et al., 1992; Kellam et al., 1998b; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001b). It is important to recognize that the nearly inevitable effect of universal early screening will be higher identification of disadvantaged students, a disproportionate number of whom are members of minorities. West et al. (2000) reported rates of mastery of skills that are early predictors of later reading success. Black and Hispanic students were behind Asian and white children both at the beginning and at the end of kindergarten, and the lower-scoring groups made slightly smaller gains over the course of the year (see Chapter 3). Studies of achievement at kindergarten and 4th grade through the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) (Donahue et al., 2001; West et al., 2001) and other national measures of achievement provide a basis for anticipating the probable patterns and degrees of disproportionality likely to result from early screening. According to the most recent NAEP results for 4th grade reading, 63 percent of black students had scores that are below the basic level in reading. In contrast, 27 percent of white and 22 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students scored at below the basic

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