Reading Instruction

How a District Might Find a Program That Meets Local Needs

January, 2017

For school districts striving to meet both ESSA requirements and specific educational needs, this infographic shows how evidence can guide decisions. The evaluation of Reading Partners, a one-on-one volunteer tutoring program, serves as an example.

April, 2016

The Every Student Succeeds Act gives states greater responsibility for choosing strategies to improve underperforming schools. For over a decade, MDRC has rigorously evaluated school improvement strategies, collecting evidence that can help states determine which strategies are likely to work. This Issue Focus describes four of MDRC’s most recent studies.

November, 2015

This report describes the adoption of RtI practices in a large, multistate sample of schools, examines the implementation of tiered intervention services for students at risk of reading difficulty, and finds that assignment to receive intervention did not improve reading outcomes among students scoring just below the eligibility point.

Final Report from the Investing in Innovation (i3) Evaluation

September, 2015

This final report on the scale-up of Success for All, funded by a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant, examines the implementation, impact, costs, and expansion of this whole-school reading reform. It finds that second-graders in schools using the program outperformed their control-group counterparts on a measure of phonics skills.

March, 2015

This report examines the implementation and effects of an academic summer program for middle school students offered by Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL). The findings suggest that BELL students did not outperform non-BELL students in reading, but that the program may have had a positive effect on students’ math achievement.

Implementation, Impacts, and Costs of the Reading Partners Program

March, 2015

One-on-one tutoring by volunteers improves the reading proficiency of struggling second- to fifth-graders, according to MDRC’s random assignment study. As a program staffed mostly by volunteers, Reading Partners is substantially less costly than other supplemental reading services typically offered to struggling readers.

Lessons from the Implementation of the Young Adult Literacy Program

February, 2015

MDRC conducted a study of the Young Adult Literacy program, created in New York City to prepare young adults for a high school equivalency certificate. Findings indicate that the program fills an important gap in services for disadvantaged and disconnected youth who lack critical academic and employment skills.

The Success for All Model of School Reform

July, 2014

Success for All, a whole-school reading reform, received a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) scale-up grant in 2010 to expand to additional elementary schools. This report examines the program’s implementation and the impacts in 2012-2013, the second year of operation, on early reading skills.

The Importance of Evidence

July, 2014

In this essay, adapted from remarks made to the Growth Philanthropy Network/Social Impact Exchange 2014 Conference on Scaling Impact, MDRC President Gordon Berlin explains why developing reliable evidence of effectiveness is critical when expanding programs to a large scale.

The Implementation and Effectiveness of a One-on-One Tutoring Program Delivered by Community Volunteers

June, 2014

After one year, Reading Partners, a one-on-one tutoring program delivered by volunteers, improved three different measures of reading proficiency for second- to fifth-graders — impacts equaling 1.5 to 2 months of growth in literacy achievement over a control group (who also received supplemental reading services).

Early Findings from the Investing in Innovation (i3) Scale-Up

October, 2013

Success for All, a whole-school reading reform, received a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) scale-up grant in 2010 to expand to additional elementary schools. This report examines the program’s implementation and its impact in 2011-2012, the first year of operation, on kindergartners’ early reading.

Report on Program Impacts, Program Fidelity, and Contrast

December, 2012

The Content Literacy Continuum combines whole-school and targeted approaches to supporting student literacy and content learning, using instructional routines and learning strategies. This report describes implementation and impact findings from a random assignment study involving 33 high schools in nine school districts.

What Two Rigorous Studies Tell Us

July, 2011

This synthesis reviews findings from two rigorous, large-scale evaluations — the Professional Development in Reading Study and the Middle School Mathematics Professional Development Impact Study. Both interventions had only limited effects on teachers’ knowledge and instruction and no impacts on students’ test scores. The report ends with suggestions about how professional development might be improved to achieve better results.

The Impact of Supplemental Literacy Courses for Struggling Ninth-Grade Readers

July, 2010

Over the course of ninth grade, two supplemental literacy courses modestly improved students’ reading comprehension skills and helped them perform better academically in their course work. However, these benefits did not persist in the following school year, when students were no longer receiving the supplemental support.

September, 2009

This report presents two-year implementation and impact findings on two supplemental academic instruction approaches developed for after-school settings – one for math and one for reading. It addresses whether one-year impacts are different in the second year of program operations and whether students benefit from being offered two years of enhanced after-school academic instruction.

What We Know, What We Don’t, and What’s Next

June, 2009

Studies of Reading First released in 2008 found no overall effect on student reading comprehension, and the program was eliminated in 2009. However, the research findings were more nuanced than was widely reported, and they offer lessons for policymakers making critical choices today about how the federal government can best support the teaching of reading to young children.

Findings from an Evaluation of the Formative Assessments of Student Thinking in Reading (FAST-R) Program in Boston Elementary Schools

December, 2008

This report contains findings from an evaluation of a program in the Boston Public Schools that seeks to improve reading instruction and student learning through one type of data-driven instruction. The program provides teachers with formative assessments that they can use to measure what students do and do not know, along with professional development on how to understand and use the data generated by those assessments. The study looks at FAST-R’s effects on reading scores among third- and fourth-graders.

November, 2008

This report presents findings from the second year of the Enhanced Reading Opportunities (ERO) study, a demonstration and random assignment evaluation of two supplemental literacy programs — Reading Apprenticeship Academic Literacy and Xtreme Reading — that aim to improve the reading comprehension skills and school performance of struggling ninth-grade readers.

September, 2008

This report presents findings on the effectiveness of two specific professional development strategies on improving the knowledge and practice of second-grade teachers in high-poverty schools and on the reading achievement of their students.

Findings After the First Year of Implementation

June, 2008

This report presents one-year implementation and impact findings on two supplemental academic instruction approaches developed for after-school settings — one for math and one for reading. Compared with regular after-school programming, the supplemental math program had impacts on student SAT 10 test scores and the supplemental reading program did not — although the reading program had some effect on reading fluency.

Interim Report

May, 2008

This report, written by Abt Associates and MDRC and published by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, finds that Reading First increased the amount of time that teachers spent on the five essential components of reading instruction, as defined by the National Reading Panel. While Reading First did not improve students' reading comprehension on average, there are some indications that some sites had impacts on both instruction and reading comprehension. An overview puts these interim findings in context.

January, 2008

This report presents early findings from a demonstration and random assignment evaluation of two supplemental literacy programs that aim to improve the reading comprehension skills and school performance of struggling ninth-grade readers. On average, the programs produced a positive, statistically significant impact on reading comprehension among students.

The Effect of Project GRAD on High School Student Outcomes in Three Urban School Districts

July, 2006

This report describes the effects of Project GRAD, an ambitious education reform that targets high schools and the elementary and middle schools that feed into them, on a variety of student outcomes in high schools in Houston, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; and Columbus, Ohio.

The Effect of Project GRAD on Elementary School
Student Outcomes in Four Urban Districts

July, 2006

This report describes the effects of Project GRAD, an ambitious education reform that targets high schools and the elementary and middle schools that feed into them, on student test scores in elementary schools in Houston, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; Columbus, Ohio; and Newark, New Jersey.

Evidence from the Talent Development High School Model

May, 2005

Talent Development, a high school reform initiative, produced substantial positive effects on attendance, academic course credits earned, tenth-grade promotion, and algebra pass rates for students in very low-performing schools in Philadelphia.

A Study of Adult Student Persistence in Library Literacy Programs

January, 2005

Library-based literacy programs face serious challenges to improving adult students’ participation. This study suggests programs should be prepared to accommodate intermittent participation by adult students and to connect students to social services and other supports.

Context, Components, and Initial Impacts on Students’ Performance and Attendance

December, 2004

During the first three years of implementation in six urban schools, The Talent Development Middle School model—an ongoing, whole-school reform initiative—had a positive impact on math achievement for eighth-graders but appeared to produce no systematic improvement in outcomes for seventh-graders.

Context, Components, and Initial Impacts on Ninth-Grade Students’ Engagement and Performance

June, 2004

An examination of the implementation and early impacts of Talent Development, a whole-school reform initiative, found that the model produced substantial gains in ninth-grade students’ course completion and promotion rates.

Responding to the Challenges of Adult Student Persistence in Library Literacy Programs

April, 2003

Based on a study of nine adult literacy programs in public libraries, this report examines student characteristics, participation patterns, and new strategies to raise student persistence.

March, 2003

This paper illustrates how to design an experimental sample for measuring the effects of educational programs when whole schools are randomized to a program and control group. It addresses such issues as what number of schools should be randomized, how many students per school are needed, and what is the best mix of program and control schools.

Studying Efforts to Increase Adult Learner Persistence in Library Literacy Programs

September, 2001

Introducing a Study of Adult Learner Persistence in Library Literacy Programs

August, 2000
Project Overview

While English language learners and disadvantaged native English speakers may have sufficient skills to engage in everyday conversation, many struggle with academic language, the more formal language typically used in school.

Project Overview

Improving the reading performance of at-risk elementary students is one of the greatest challenges confronting American education.

Project Overview

The available research suggests that regular use of formative assessments can be a powerful driver of student learning. However, little rigorous research has been conducted on the impacts of formative assessment and data-driven instruction on student achievement, particularly in reform-rich urban school districts.

Project Overview

Low-performing high schools, particularly those serving low-income communities and students of color, are often characterized by high absentee and course failure rates, substantial dropout rates, and — even for graduates — inadequate preparation for postsecondary education and the labor market.

Project Overview

Students with learning difficulties are more likely to demonstrate low academic achievement despite recent advances in curriculum design, assessments to inform instructional decisions, and research-based intervention strategies.

Project Overview

The Social Innovation Fund (SIF), an initiative enacted under the Edward Kennedy Serve America Act, targets millions of dollars in public-private funds to expand effective solutions across three issue areas: economic opportunity, healthy futures, and youth development and school support.

Project Overview

It is important that children who are learning to read be exposed to high-quality, research-based curricula, but it is also essential that teachers be well versed in the instructional practices that promote early literacy (see the description of Reading First for more on this topic)

Project Overview

Many low-income children in the early grades need after-school care. And many of these children score well below their more advantaged peers on standardized tests of reading and math.

Project Overview

Low-performing high schools, particularly those serving low-income communities and students of color, are often characterized by high absentee and course failure rates, substantial dropout rates, and — even for graduates — inadequate preparation for postsecondary education and the labor market.

Project Overview

Launched in Houston in 1993 by James Ketelsen, retired CEO of Tenneco, and since expanded to 12 additional school districts, Project Graduation Really Achieves Dreams (GRAD) combines a variety of promising reforms to improve instruction and raise student achievement in schools that serve p

Project Overview

The problems of urban middle and high schools are rooted in the inadequate preparation that too many students receive in elementary schools, and these problems become most visible in the ninth grade, when students encounter more demanding coursework and tougher requirements for grade-level promotion.

Project Overview

Today’s labor market puts a high premium on literacy skills, even in jobs that once required little education or training. Not being able to read or write can stand in the way of finding and keeping a job or earning a living wage.

Project Overview

The Reading First Program, established under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, represents one of the most direct and intensive efforts by the federal government to influence instructional practice and student achievement in low-performing schools.