Middle school students who struggle with their reading are at a greater risk of not graduating from high school. Yet helping these students catch up is particularly challenging due to the changes in motivation and engagement that occur during this period of development.
Developed by the SERP Institute, Harvard University, and Wheelock College, the Strategic Adolescent Reading Intervention (STARI) is year-long program intentionally designed to address the motivational barriers faced by struggling middle school readers. STARI tackles gaps in students’ basic reading skills, but unlike other interventions, it seamlessly integrates those skills with complex comprehension tasks and grade-level reading instruction and gives a central role to student motivation. Students receive the STARI intervention in addition to their regular English Language Arts class, during an elective period or an intervention period. All STARI curriculum materials are freely downloadable. A small-scale randomized trial of STARI, conducted in school year 2013-14 in a Northeastern state, found statistically significant positive effects on students’ word recognition, reading fluency, and morphological awareness.
Based on the strength of this evidence, in 2017 SERP was awarded an Education and Innovation in Research mid-phase grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support scale-up and evaluation of STARI in several high-needs school districts. The intention was to implement STARI in four urban school districts for three school years (2018-19, 2019-20, and 2020-21). This timeline, however, was deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, making it challenging to implement STARI as intended and creating significant barriers for data collection. Due to these exceptional circumstances, STARI implementation was extended to include a fourth school year (2021-22) in two of the four study districts, thereby making it possible to evaluate the STARI’s effects during that school year.
The evaluation, which focuses on STARI’s effects in 2021-22, was conducted during an unprecedented time when struggling adolescent readers fell even further behind because of the instructional disruptions caused by the pandemic. In 2022, only 31 percent of U.S. eighth-graders could read at a proficient level, down from 34 percentage points prior to the pandemic. STARI’s design makes it well-positioned to address these learning gaps and to help struggling adolescent readers make up lost ground.