The Success for All Reading and Whole-School Reform Model: An Evaluation of the Investing in Innovation Replication


Improving the reading performance of at-risk elementary students is one of the greatest challenges confronting American education. Success for All, a program aimed at ensuring that every child learns to read throughout the elementary grades, was one of the most carefully evaluated approaches to improving reading among high-poverty elementary school students at the time this study was conducted. Success for All incorporates professional development, a specialized K-6 reading program, frequent assessments of students’ progress, tutoring, a team to solve problems that go beyond academics, a facilitator for teachers, and leadership development. It was a grantee of the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) initiative, which awarded grants to expand to a larger scale education interventions that had already shown success in large, rigorous experiments. MDRC evaluated Success for All’s reading intervention as it expanded to schools across the country, to determine whether it was as effective in a scaled-up version as it had been in earlier tests.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

At the time of this project Success for All was one of the most carefully evaluated approaches to improving the reading success of students in high-poverty elementary schools. A whole-school turnaround program that focuses primarily on ensuring that every child succeeds in learning to read during the elementary grades, its main elements are:

  • Extensive professional development for all school staff members to help them understand and use proven approaches to reading instruction, cooperative learning, classroom management, motivation, teaching of metacognitive skills, and assessment. Schools receive, on average, 26 days of coaching during the first year, with telephone and e-mail support between coaching visits; the number of coaching days diminishes to about 16 in the second year, 12 in the third, and then 5 to 10 in subsequent years.

  • A K-6 reading program that uses extensive cooperative learning in pairs and small groups to build.

  • Frequent instruction-based assessments to make sure that all students are on track toward success, as well as quarterly assessments to track their progress in meeting (and exceeding) grade-level expectations.

  • One-on-one or small-group tutoring, closely coordinated with classroom teaching, for students who are falling behind grade-level expectations.

  • Solutions Teams, which work to prevent or solve problems that go beyond academics. They focus on issues such as attendance, behavior problems, and parent involvement; forge links with community agencies; help teachers implement a school-wide approach designed to improve students’ social-emotional outcomes; and develop conflict resolution strategies to create a positive, achievement-oriented school culture.

  • A facilitator in each school, who helps all teachers with program implementation, professional development, and school-wide assessments. He or she also works with the principal to ensure a coordinated school-wide approach that progressively improves students’ outcomes and helps solve their individual problems.

  • Leadership development that engages the principal and school leadership team in a continuous improvement process based on data analysis, goal setting, and achievement monitoring.

  • Implementation benchmarks, completed by coaches, that provide data for monitoring the quality of program implementation.

The Success for All Foundation, which developed and operates the program, used i3 funding to enable more districts and schools to adopt the intervention. The Success for All Foundation made implementation grants to qualifying schools — those receiving school-wide Title I grants because they served high percentages of students in poverty — to reduce first-year professional development costs. Another approach involved training district personnel as Success for All coaches, so that they could provide locally based support.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

MDRC employed a cluster random assignment research design to determine whether Success for All was as effective in its larger-scale version as it had been in earlier tests of the program. In this design, 37 schools located in five districts were assigned at random: 19 to receive the program and the remaining 18 to constitute a “business-as-usual” control group.

The evaluation compared the reading outcomes of kindergartners in both sets of schools in the first year of the study, and of first-graders and second-graders in the next two years, using age-appropriate assessments that were administered individually to each child. During the second and third years of the study, students in third through fifth grades were also assessed, this time in a group setting. Student scores on state standardized tests served as additional measures of reading skills. The impact analysis also measured the program’s effects on student attendance and grade promotion.

Impacts were unlikely to occur unless schools were able to implement the program with reasonable fidelity. MDRC collected and analyzed data from a variety of sources — teacher logs, principal and teacher surveys, and rating sheets completed by the coaches — to examine the implementation experiences of the schools participating in the study. The analysis also compared the characteristics and implementation levels of the study schools with those of other schools that put Success for All in place as part of the i3 replication.