Reading Programs Show Little Lasting Effect

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The Enhanced Reading Opportunities Final Report: The Impact of Supplemental Literacy Courses for Struggling Ninth-Grade Readers

MDRC and American Institutes for Research

Two federal programs designed to increase the reading proficiency of struggling ninth-grade students may not have a lasting impact on test scores, GPAs or school behavior, according to a report released by The National Center for Education Evaluation. The Reading Apprenticeship Academic Literacy (RAAL) and Xtreme Reading programs, part of the Department of Education’s Enhanced Reading Opportunities (ERO) study, did positively affect participating freshmen, yet made little difference in student scores or aptitudes in the next grade level.

Maintaining at-grade literacy levels is a key to promoting success in other school subject areas, as well as a factor in high school dropout rates. The study, citing data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, notes that nationally more than 70 percent of students begin high school with reading skills deemed to be less than proficient, defined as “demonstrating competency over challenging subject matter.”

As part of the ERO study, 34 high schools from 10 different districts implemented year-long supplemental literacy classes, based on either RAAL or Xtreme Reading programming (determined by random assignment), as part of the ninth-grade curriculum. Students were selected randomly to participate in the classes in lieu of an elective course, so that the collected data could be compared with test scores and behaviors of students who were not in the program.

Reading comprehension and vocabulary testing were used to measure proficiency levels throughout the year, and students were surveyed about preferred reading strategies and frequency of reading habits. Additional data were collected from state assessment test scores, GPAs and school records, which were used to determine attendance levels and disciplinary action.

Two previous NCEE reports found that ninth-grade reading comprehension scores, state test scores, GPAs, and number of credits earned were positively affected by program participation. Students who had been assigned to the ERO group, for example, entered the literacy classes with an average comprehension score equivalent to a fifth-grade reading level. By the end of the year, scores had risen to the 25th national percentile, an average increase of 4.9 points and a 23 percent greater improvement than the scores of the students in non-ERO classes. Similar differences between ERO and non-ERO students persisted in the measurement of GPA and total course credits.

Student reading skills still fell below grade level at the end of the program, however, and what positive changes had been made did not seem to continue into sophomore year. There were no significant differences between the scores or GPAs of former ERO and non-ERO students in 10th grade. Furthermore, reading frequency and school attendance and suspension levels were unaffected by the program, either in the initial or subsequent years of study.

After the completion of the ERO study, participating schools were given the option to continue to operate one of the literacy programs. Fourteen high schools are still running an ERO program, though all of them have modified the program design – something that, the authors of the study note, will affect any future analysis of the programs.


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