According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a majority of ninth-graders in low-performing high schools begin their freshman year with significant reading difficulties. Poor reading ability is a key predictor of academic disengagement and, ultimately, dropping out.
This report presents early findings from 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.
The supplemental literacy programs are full-year courses targeted to students whose reading skills are two to five years below grade level as they enter high school. The ERO class, designed to serve 12-15 students, replaces a ninth-grade elective, and it is offered in addition to students’ regular English language arts classes. The programs seek to help ninth-grade students learn and employ the strategies used by proficient readers, improve their comprehension skills, and increase their motivation to read more and to enjoy what they read. For this demonstration, one teacher at each school was trained to teach the literacy program, and she or he exclusively taught the course to four sections of students.
This report focuses on the first of two cohorts of ninth-grade students who are participating in the study and discusses the impact that the two interventions have had on their reading comprehension skills. The key findings include:
- On average, across the 34 participating high schools, the supplemental literacy programs had a statistically significant impact on improving student reading comprehension test scores. The average student in the study sample started the year reading at a grade-level equivalent of 5.1. Those students assigned to the ERO classes were reading at a 6.1 grade equivalent by the end of the year, compared to a 5.9 grade equivalent for students in the control group. Despite the improvement in reading comprehension, however, 76 percent of the students who enrolled in the ERO classes were still reading at two or more years below grade level at the end of ninth grade.
- First-year implementation was not without its challenges. The ERO classes did not begin until six weeks into the school year on average, and implementation fidelity was classified as poorly aligned with the program model in 10 of the schools.
- Impacts on reading comprehension are larger for the 15 schools where (1) the ERO programs began within six weeks of the start of the school year and (2) implementation was classified as moderately or well aligned with the program model, compared with impacts for the 19 schools where at least one of these conditions was not met.
The next report from the study — scheduled for late 2008 — will provide findings for a second year of program implementation and a second cohort of ninth-grade students. The final report — scheduled for 2009 — will examine the impact of the ERO programs for both cohorts of students on their performance in core academic classes, their grade-to-grade promotion rates, and their performance on high-stakes state assessments.