Tier Two Literacy Interventions in Australian Schools: A Review of the Evidence

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The purpose of this review is to summarise the evidence base for a range of literacy intervention programs that are in use in schools in Australia. The review is designed to support schools and teachers in selecting appropriate interventions to support students who need supplementary support to make progress in literacy. The review focuses specifically on interventions that are appropriate for Tier 2 support, as classified under a Response to Intervention (RTI) multi-tier framework. RTI is a framework for allocating resources and supports according to student need, rather than assigning supports based on students’ disability classification and funding status. It is an evidence-based approach for supporting literacy in the primary years (Balu et al., 2015; Gersten et al., 2008) with growing evidence for its effectiveness at the secondary school level (Vaughn & Fletcher, 2012). Under RTI, Tier 1 supports are the core reading instruction provided in classrooms to all students; this is typically thought to be sufficient for approximately 80% of students. An essential element of the RTI approach is that students are routinely screened using reliable and standardised assessments to identify and monitor students who are at risk of developing reading disabilities. Students who score somewhat below benchmarks for reading should be provided with Tier 2 intervention. Tier 2 interventions are evidence-based targeted interventions that are thought to be needed to supplement Tier 1 approaches for approximately 15% of students in order to prevent widening of achievement gaps. These interventions usually run for a minimum of five weeks, and are offered to small groups of students or individuals for 20-40 minutes 2-4 times per week. Data should be collected to monitor the effectiveness of the intervention. Tier 3 supports are primarily offered to students performing far below benchmarks and for whom data demonstrates that Tier 2 supports have not enabled them to make satisfactory progress. Tier 3 interventions are highly intensive, involve more time and sessions per week, and are typically delivered in one-to-one contexts, making them more expensive to run. Tier 3 is understood as necessary for a very small number of students, approximately 5% of the school population. In reality, however, these percentages vary with higher numbers of students needing Tier 2 and Tier 3 supports in schools where there are higher numbers of disadvantaged students (Abbott & Wills, 2012). Tier 2 interventions are designed to intervene in a preventative manner for students who are at risk of developing more serious reading difficulties (Wanzek, Al Otaiba, & Gatlin, 2016). That is, to provide more intensive support for students whose literacy progress has been identified as somewhat below grade level, and ensure that appropriate early intervention prevents the development of persistent reading failure (McIntosh & Goodman, 2016). Tier 2 interventions are intended to offer sufficient support for students to return to Tier 1 after successfully improving their literacy. Those students who do not make sufficient progress through Tier 2 interventions are provided with more intensive, individualised, and sustained intervention at Tier 3, designed for students who are reading far below grade level (Balu et al., 2015). Although the scope of this review is focused on Tier 2 interventions which are typically group-based programs, a small number of one-to-one interventions have been included for evaluation as they are designed to provide short-term support for students somewhat below reading benchmarks, rather than sustained support for students assessed as far below grade-level benchmarks. It is important to note that Australia has not widely adopted the three-tier support model of RTI, with Australian students more likely to either receive whole-class instruction (comparable to Tier 1) or remedial and intensive one-to-one instruction (comparable to Tier 3) with a clear gap of Tier 2 service delivery in between (Buckingham, Beaman-Wheldall, & Wheldall, 2014). This review presents a key opportunity to fill in the gap between these by providing an overview of Tier 2 programs that support students with moderate reading disabilities and difficulties, reserving intensive interventions for those needing support that is more intensive. The review has set out to identify whether the presented Tier 2 reading interventions have sufficient evidence of resulting in improvements in students’ literacy performance, and whether they are consistent with the five pillars of high-quality and effective literacy instruction (Armbruster et al., 2001; Hempenstall, 2016; Meiers, Reid, McKenzie, & Mellor, 2013; Rowe, 2005). These elements (often referred to as “the big five”) are: - phonemic awareness instruction - phonics instruction - fluency instruction - vocabulary instruction - text comprehension instruction CEM has adopted a “big six” approach that adds oral language to the five pillars. It is acknowledged that oral language is vital to supporting early literacy (Snow et al., 2014) however this review has been conducted with a focus on the five pillars as these are the elements that are routinely reported in the research base for intervention evaluations. Identifying this as missing in the majority of interventions would be potentially misleading where early literacy was not the focus of the intervention. Where oral language is a focus of an intervention, this has been emphasised as foundational in supporting emergent literacy instruction.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationClayton Vic Australia
PublisherMonash University
Commissioning bodyCatholic Education Melbourne
Number of pages33
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


  • Literacy intervention
  • Response to Intervention
  • Multi Tiered Systems of Support

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