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The best intervention – the best support – is a targeted intervention. Particularly for students with significant deficits in foundational skills, worksheet completion and broad-based reviews of a subject area are simply neither effective nor efficient. We have had dramatically impactful successes closing gaps quickly when we have focused on specific skill deficits. We’ve been able to provide these focused supports because we have conducted simple diagnoses.

Diagnosing the antecedents, causes, and explanations behind a student’s difficulty is a fundamental task of collaborative systems of support. It is unproductive to over-simplistically conclude that students perform poorly because they cannot read, and unproductive to then provide them with hours of daily reading intervention that focus on all domains of literacy. Diagnosing gets to the why. Perhaps the student reads fluently, with accuracy, prosody, and expression, but derives little meaning from the text. Or perhaps the student comprehends text quite well in spite of labored, error-filled, and disfluent reading. Determining the why behind student difficulties allows us to target supports.

We often hear from colleagues that they do not feel qualified to conduct diagnoses – that only trained specialized using validated instruments can adequately. We say poppy-cock! I’m a former mathematics secondary teacher and was an elementary school principal. The most common need amongst students with significant deficits is typically related to reading. Thus, as a lead leader, I committed to assist in determining the why behind students’ reading challenges. Through interviews and conversations, using simple protocols that we often created, we not only accurately determined the primary causes to a reading challenge; we were able to match a specific support to the identified cause and start the student on the road to reading improvement (all in about 15 minutes…true story).

We have developed “interviews” with our staffs, available online, that are intended to make diagnosing student needs more efficient, and to make regular educators like us more confident and successful (Hierck and Weber; 2015a; 2015b). 

Like screening, diagnosing is much more a process than an event (e.g., a test). While we hope that these resources assist in your efforts to serve our most vulnerable students, we are conscientious of too much assessment. We lament that some schools administer assessments of this depth to all students; we do not believe that this is necessary. We conduct these in-depth diagnoses to learn about the causes of student difficulties so that we can provide specific and focused support.

We must determine the why; students are counting on it. It cannot be overly burdensome or time-consuming. We must act. My colleagues and I can help…


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