Preventing Reading Difficulties: Developing a Seamless Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) From Pre-kindergarten Through Second Grade

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Posted on September 21, 2021 by childrenslearninginstitute

Timeline: 2014-2017

Principal Investigators:

Carolyn Denton, Ph. D., The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)

Tricia Zucker, Ph. D., The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)

Maria Carlo, Ph. D.

Susan Landry, Ph. D., The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)

Funding Agencies:

The Brown Foundation, Inc.

Dan L Duncan Family Foundation

Description of the Project:

This project will iteratively develop and test an innovative set of curricular materials and teacher professional development technology designed to prevent literacy difficulties in young children before they become struggling readers. The program, Preventing Reading Difficulties: Developing a Seamless Multi-Tiered System of Supports from Pre-Kindergarten through Second Grade, is a systematic approach to the prevention of reading difficulties in young children who are at-risk for reading failure. This is synonymous with a Response to Intervention (RTI) framework.

Multi-tiered instructional frameworks start by ensuring evidence-based literacy instruction is provided to all students in their regular classrooms – known as Tier 1 instruction. Additional tiers or levels of intervention are delivered to students who have learning difficulties, as needed. All students are assessed at regular intervals, allowing teachers to identify students who are in need of additional tiers of more targeted and intensive instruction. Tier 1 instruction is delivered by the classroom teacher to the whole class to ensure universal access to high-quality, research-based instruction. The next level of more intensive Tier 2 intervention may also be provided by the classroom teacher, but includes more targeted, explicit small-group instruction for students at-risk for reading difficulties. For students who still struggle with early reading skills after receiving Tier 2 instruction, a more intensive level of instruction is provided. This more frequent, intensive, and individualized Tier 3 intervention is delivered in very small groups, outside of the classroom, by a specially-trained tutor. Data-based decision-making allows teachers to prioritize every precious minute of instructional time according to the needs of their students. Thus, child assessment data is central to the Multi-Tiered System of Supports framework.

This project will refine existing pre-kindergarten and first grade instructional and professional development materials and will develop and pilot new kindergarten materials. The curricula being developed for this study include Developing Talkers and Hablemos Juntos, which are supplemental programs designed to promote oral language skills in pre-k and kindergarten. The first grade curriculum being refined is Reading RULES, which is a supplemental curriculum designed to promote decoding and comprehension skills in first grade students. Through the MTSS project, a Kindergarten Reading RULES program is being developed to support alphabetic knowledge, word reading, and beginning text reading. A second grade level of Reading RULES is planned.

This project includes an implementation study to determine the effectiveness and feasibility of implementing the pre-kindergarten through first grade materials in several schools. We work within the existing infrastructure of a school district with a large population of students at-risk for reading difficulties to implement the suite of programs in an authentic setting. Results will inform further refinement of the programs.


Eighteen teachers will pilot the materials in Year 1.

Sixty teachers will use the materials in Years 2-3.


Houston, TX

Rio Grande Valley area

Information for postdoctoral fellows:

Postdoctoral fellows interested in curriculum development and implementation of RTI models should contact Tricia Zucker, Ph.D., for more information.