Summary of Learning and Emotional-Behavioral Difficulties
This article outlined an integrated system of early identification and prevention/intervention for children who are vulnerable to school failure. The essential features include (a) a schoolwide system of early screening and ongoing identification of at-risk students and (b) a schoolwide system of progressive intervention for students with, or at risk for, learning and emotional/behavioral difficulties.
Several major conclusions can be drawn from current knowledge about these major problems of childhood. First, children at risk for developing learning and emotional/behavioral difficulties need to be identified early, before their problems become too deeply entrenched and secondary problems arise. Research strongly indicates that the optimal time for preventing most learning and behavioral difficulties is from preschool to about third grade.
Second, the assessment information gathered during the identification process needs to be relevant and useful. By using assessment tools that diagnose a child's strengths and weaknesses, assessment information can be used to plan intervention. Assessment tools also need to be sensitive enough to measure a child's growth during intervention. These data can be used to monitor student progress and determine whether an intervention needs to be modified (e.g., intensity, duration, comprehensiveness).
Third, each child needs to be viewed from a developmental perspective. Each child will vary in the scope and severity of his or her difficulties across many variables (e.g., academic, social, emotional, motivation, family). An effective intervention system accommodates the unique needs of individual children, matching intervention to each child's current developmental level. This can be accomplished by establishing an integrated system of progressively more intensive intervention levels (i.e., primary, secondary, and tertiary interventions). The purpose of primary intervention is to ensure that all students possess the fundamental skills to be successful in school. The goal of secondary intervention is to give at-risk students the more intensive instruction and support they need to catch up to their peers.
Finally, the aim of tertiary intervention is to assist children with severe learning and behavioral difficulties by providing them with highly intensive and individualized intervention. In addition, although early intervention is critically important, it may not always be enough to address the many needs of some children (Lane, 1999; O'Shaughnessy & Gresham, in press; Walker et al., 1995). For these children, continued and comprehensive support over several years may be needed to help them overcome or minimize their problems.
Research clearly indicates that the process of developing adaptive behaviors and the precursors of academic skills begins very early in a child's life. While most children arrive at school with the motivation to learn and the necessary academic, linguistic, cognitive, and behavioral skills to succeed, many other children do not. This immediately places them at risk for school failure (e.g., Bullis & Walker, 1994; Hart & Risley, 1995). Although schools cannot be expected to solve all of the problems facing these children, schools can provide an important context for intervention (Walker et al., 1995).
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