Pass or Fail: Intervening Early and Often

In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.

While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?

Is it possible that early intervention could be used to conclude the practices of retention and social promotion entirely?

It is a widely-held belief that the ultimate step in putting an end to grade retention and social promotion is intervention. Early and frequent intervention is necessary for students who are identified as experiencing any developmental delay or special educational need.

As with other strategies, intervention requires a multilevel, multilayer focus. It must be developed with sound theoretical backing and implemented with adequate resources. Qualified teachers and special educators must be available to manage the implementation process and monitor progress. Moreover, this entire approach presupposes the availability and application of tools to identify and measure developmental delays and special needs in the first place.

Definition of Early Intervention

Generally speaking, early intervention offers children good quality, early experiences, usually with an emphasis on the educational side of human development.

The World Health Organization (WHO) places intervention in a global context, and offers a three-point description of the objectives of early intervention. First, it is seen as a means of preventing disability. The prevention of additional impairments is the second aim, while the third is to minimize the impact of any disability that has already occurred. Note that all of these purposes are preventative in nature.

Key Parameters of Early Intervention

Successful implementation of early intervention depends on two elements: awareness and access. These two elements are deeply intertwined. Awareness depends on communication between early-intervention units, educational professionals, health-care providers, and parents. Awareness entails a knowledge of the nature, goals, and mechanism of early intervention, as well as knowledge of who is a qualified recipient and how the process can be initiated. The access element of early intervention ensures that available resources and those who administer them are capable of meeting the needs of qualifying children and their families.


Intervention works best when it occurs as soon as a learning problem is noted. Parents and family members need to receive information about developmental phases and the services available through early-intervention programs as soon as possible. While family physicians and pediatricians are the first responders for issues of this sort, other education professionals, including those who oversee or participate in preschool programs and daycares, should be aware of and able to refer parents to early-intervention services.


Access also deals with having a wide enough range of resources. Early intervention is deeply multidisciplinary, typically making use of the services of child and youth workers, social workers, speech and language specialists, and pediatric psychologists. These specialists typically focus their attention on needs related to speech and language, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.

By providing children access to trained individuals, developmental delays can be addressed quickly while working toward improvement in the area in which the child is experiencing difficulties. The earlier delays are pinpointed and concentrated on, the more time the child will have working to improve skills prior to beginning school.

Can you imagine a world in which all American children experiencing developmental delays were identified and began work on developmental deficiencies prior to starting school?

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