Public Release: 

Researchers support early intervention for all children with reading difficulties

American Educational Research Association

WASHINGTON, July 24, 2002--National experts in the field of reading and literacy have found research evidence that challenges federal policy for making children eligible to receive some special education services. Currently, a child must score substantially higher on intelligence tests than on achievement tests, without exhibiting other traits that might cause academic difficulties, to qualify for special education resources in reading. A meta-analysis published in the summer 2002 issue of the American Educational Research Journal questions the use of this criterion in addressing reading difficulties of children.

With reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) legislation pending before the U.S. Congress, researchers Karla K. Stuebing, FSD Data Services, Inc.; Jack M. Fletcher and Josett M. DeLoux, Department of Pediatrics, University of Texas Health Science Center; G. Reid Lyon, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; and Sally E. and Bennett A. Shaywitz, Yale University School of Medicine, present research that supports early intervention for all children who experience difficulties learning to read, regardless of cause.

Their meta-analysis centers on the question of whether the needs of learning disabled children, who have been identified because of discrepancy between their intellectual potential and their levels of achievement, differ from the needs of children who do not demonstrate such a discrepancy but experience, nevertheless, difficulties in reading.

The authors reviewed 320 potential studies and, through a carefully constructed process, eventually selected 46 studies that compare IQ-discrepant and IQ-consistent groups. According to the researchers, "The overlap between poor readers identified as learning disabled and those not so identified is substantial, and little external validity exists for the differentiation of reading disability on the basis of IQ- discrepancy."

When discrepancy is used in federal regulations as a criterion for establishing learning disability, ". . .the provision of services favors children with higher IQ scores." This practice might be justified if such a distinction resulted in increased facility in reading skills or identified children with different learning haracteristics. The authors contend, however, that there is little evidence to support that assertion.

Instead, they report, "The solution is to carefully assess reading and reading-related skills in students for whom there is concern about reading." These assessments should address the instructional needs of each child. Along with early intervention, continuous monitoring of progress ". . .would facilitate the ultimate goal of helping as many children as possible learn to read adequately and return to general education."


This study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a component of the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation.

Editor's Note: Jack M. Fletcher can be contacted at the Department of Pediatrics, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, 7000 Fannin--UCT 2478, Houston, TX 77030 or by e-mail at To receive a full text of the journal article, contact AERA communications, (202) 223-9485 or

The American Educational Research Association (AERA), which publishes the American Educational Research Journal, represents approximately 20,000 educators who conduct research and evaluation in education. Founded in 1916 and based in Washington, D.C., AERA offers a comprehensive program of scholarly publications, training, fellowships and meetings to advance educational research, to disseminate knowledge, and to improve the capacity of the profession for the public's good.

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