Academic Quarterly

Leadership Corner Fall 2020

Leveraging Strong Core Curriculum and MTSS to Support Students with Dyslexia

School leaders are often interested in what intervention programs to purchase. It is critical for school leaders to know prior to selecting interventions whether the existing core curriculum serves the majority of students well. Research and experience show that it is neither efficient nor practical to rely on interventions alone when a core curriculum is so weak that too many students need those interventions. Unfortunately, some school districts try to “intervene their way out” of an ineffective core curriculum. An intervention program that targets identified skill issues may not exactly align to a core curriculum if the core curriculum uses a contradictory method, such as the cueing system. In this case it would be preferable to replace the cueing system with the method used in the intervention. In fact, some districts have adopted as part of the core a reading foundational skills curriculum such as SIPPS and use it to replace the phonics instruction in a weak core. When addressing the needs of students with dyslexia or word reading difficulties, districts and charter management organizations (CMOs), may benefit from technical assistance. Pivot Learning and CORE’s MTSS support can help education systems select and implement valid and reliable assessment systems and build tiered instruction.

 A brief, valid, and reliable screener, administered multiple times per year to all students, starting in kindergarten, can help educators understand who is at risk for poor reading outcomes and whether the core ELA curriculum is meeting the needs of the majority of students. To select valid and reliable screeners, high-quality curriculum, and intervention materials and then implement those may require the support of external experts.

Designing and Implementing Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) Institute

High-quality core materials are standards aligned and supportive of district goals and student needs. High-quality ELA materials should, in addition to building background knowledge, support the teaching of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension in the early grades. All students need materials that support building strong foundational reading skills, but it’s essential for students with dyslexia and word reading difficulties.

High-quality core materials matter and research confirms that; however, that is just a starting place. Without expert professional development to build teachers’ knowledge of reading instruction and how to implement those materials, a strong core is insufficient.  For support for materials’ adoption, see the purple box in the right column.

When these high-quality materials are taught in an explicit, systematic, and cumulative way, research has shown that educators can minimize the impact of dyslexia and other word reading difficulties (Ozernov-Palchik and Gaab 2016). Adding high-quality intervention materials that target specific, identified student needs will support students so that they are better prepared to access their core curriculum.

For additional information:

National Center on Intensive Intervention – NCII’s Academic Screening Tools Chart and Academic Intervention Chart are rigorous, independent reviews of screening assessments and reading and math interventions.

Center on MTSS at American Institutes for Research – A collection of research and resources to support your understanding of MTSS.


Ozernov-Palchik, O., and N. Gaab. 2016. Tackling the “dyslexia paradox”: Reading brain and behavior for early markers of developmental dyslexia. Wiley Interdisciplinary Review ofCognitive Science 7(2), 156–176.


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