Many high-need students do not learn to read well because they do not receive effective personalized literacy instruction during the early elementary grades. To address this, the data-driven A2i Professional Support System was designed by and for teachers, and it has shown strong evidence of effectiveness. A2i technology includes online adaptive assessments of reading ability that drive algorithms that compute recommended amounts and types of literacy instruction for each student. To support teachers in implementing this recommended instruction, A2i also features embedded lesson planning linked to a district’s reading program, data visualization tools, and online professional development tools.  

Because A2i’s effectiveness in improving literacy achievement has already been rigorously tested, the driving question for the United2Read evaluation is how to bring A2i and its evidence-based literacy instructional practices to elementary school classrooms across the nation.  

As the independent evaluator of this expansion, MDRC is studying the comparative effectiveness of two different support models of A2i:

  1. An in-person model that provides schools with access to the A2i assessments and materials and offers initial and ongoing in-person training and professional development. This model has been proven effective in the past.
  2. hybrid model that provides schools with access to the A2i assessments and materials and offers initial in-person training, then ongoing online professional development. This is a new model that can be implemented at a relatively low cost.  

The evaluation will compare implementation and student reading performance outcomes across three school years in schools assigned by lottery to one of these two support models. The goal is to assess whether the less costly hybrid model can be as effective as the in-person model in producing strong implementation of A2i reading support and improvements in student literacy achievement.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

Results from this evaluation will provide valuable information on the viability of bringing A2i to classrooms across the nation with a lower-cost technology-based professional development model. The primary research question is: Can the technology-based professional development support model be as effective as the more costly in-person professional development support model for A2i implementation?  

During the 2018-2019 school year, A2i will be implemented in kindergarten and first-grade classrooms. The study will add second-grade classrooms in 2019-2020 and third-grade classrooms in 2020-2021, in order to follow the original cohort through their schooling.  

In addition to the implementation and impact studies, there will be a cost study, to understand the resources necessary to implement A2i, and a scale-up study, to understand how best to bring A2i to classrooms across the country.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The study has recruited 60 elementary schools from 20 school districts in four states around the country to participate in this evaluation, with half receiving the in-person model of support and half receiving the hybrid model of support.

The confirmatory research question will be addressed by a randomized controlled trial:

  • What is the cumulative impact of A2i with a hybrid model of professional development support compared with A2i with in-person professional development support on students’ reading achievement after three years of program implementation and exposure?

While the randomized controlled trial compares two support models of A2i, a supplementary study will compare the A2i hybrid support models with reading instruction as usual. That study will use a comparative interrupted time series design — a quasi-experimental method that evaluates the impact of a program by looking at whether the program group outcome deviates from its baseline trend by a greater amount than that of a carefully selected comparison group. The supplementary study addresses the question:  

  • What is the impact of A2i with tech-based professional development support compared with business as usual (no use of A2i) on students’ reading achievement, as measured by their third-grade state reading test scores after three years of program implementation and exposure? 

The impact evaluation will be supplemented with implementation research to answer the following questions:

  • In each of the two support models, what resources and types of professional development did the program provide?

  • How well were the two models of professional development for A2i implemented, and did their implementation differ in fidelity to the respective models as designed?

  • In each of the two support models, were teacher instructional practices changed, and if so, how?