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. As many as one-half to three-quarters of ninth-graders in low-performing high schools embark on their freshmen year with significant reading difficulties, lacking the skills needed to comprehend complex texts assigned in their content courses. Students who face marked literacy deficits are unlikely to do well in high school, and poor reading ability is a key predictor of academic disengagement and, ultimately, dropping out. In addition, interventions intended to support high school students in reading are often supplemental courses or confined to English/language arts classes. At the high school level, content literacy is even more important — that is, the ability of students to navigate different kinds of texts and other sources of information specific to content areas, like science or social studies.
While much has been learned about literacy in the elementary grades, less is known about programmatic approaches that help struggling adolescent readers acquire the skills they need to succeed in high school. An early step in learning more is represented by MDRC’s Enhanced Reading Opportunities Study, an evaluation of supplemental reading classes for ninth-grade students. In a complementary effort to build further knowledge about what works to strengthen adolescents’ literacy skills and ultimately to help them be more successful in high school, MDRC has partnered with the Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest (REL Midwest) to evaluate the impact of the Content Literacy Continuum (CLC) on teacher instructional practice and student academic outcomes.