According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, just over 70 percent of students nationally arrive in high school with reading skills that are below "proficient" — defined as demonstrating competency over challenging subject matter. Of these students, nearly half do not exhibit even partial mastery of the knowledge and skills that are fundamental to proficient work at grade level. These limitations in literacy skills are a major source of course failure, high school dropout, and poor performance in postsecondary education. While research is beginning to emerge about the special needs of striving adolescent readers, very little is known about effective interventions aimed at addressing these needs.
To help fill this gap and to provide evidence-based guidance to practitioners, the U.S. Department of Education initiated the Enhanced Reading Opportunities (ERO) study — a demonstration and rigorous evaluation of supplemental literacy programs targeted to ninth-grade students whose reading skills are at least two years below grade level. As part of this demonstration, 34 high schools from 10 school districts implemented one of two reading interventions: Reading Apprenticeship Academic Literacy (RAAL), designed by WestEd, and Xtreme Reading, designed by the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. These programs were implemented in the study schools for two school years. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education funded the implementation of these programs, and its Institute of Education Sciences was responsible for oversight of the evaluation. MDRC — a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research organization — conducted the evaluation in partnership with the American Institutes for Research and Survey Research Management.
The goal of the reading interventions — which consist of a year-long course that replaces a ninth-grade elective class — is to help striving adolescent readers develop the strategies and routines used by proficient readers, thereby improving their reading skills and ultimately, their academic performance in high school. The first two reports for the study evaluated the programs’ impact on the two most proximal outcomes targeted by the interventions — students’ reading skills and their reading behaviors at the end of ninth grade. This report — which is the final of three reports for this evaluation — examines the impact of the ERO programs on the more general outcomes that the programs hope to affect: students’ academic performance in high school (grade point average [GPA], credit accumulation, and state test scores) as well as students’ behavioral outcomes (attendance and disciplinary infractions). These academic and behavioral outcomes are examined during the year in which they were enrolled in the ERO programs (ninth grade), as well as the following school year (tenth grade for most students).
Overall, the findings from these reports show that over the course of ninth grade, the ERO programs improved students’ reading comprehension skills and helped them perform better academically in their high school course work. However, these benefits did not persist in the following school year, when students were no longer receiving the supports provided by the ERO programs. The key findings from the study follow (the statistical significance of all impact estimates in this report is evaluated at the 5 percent level):
- The ERO programs improved students’ reading comprehension skills over the course of ninth grade. Across both cohorts of participating ninth-grade students, the ERO programs improved students’ reading comprehension scores by an effect size of 0.09, corresponding to an improvement from the twenty-third percentile to the twenty-fifth percentile nationally. However, 77 percent of students assigned to the ERO classes were still reading at two or more years below grade level at the end of ninth grade.
- During the ninth grade, the ERO programs also had a positive impact on students’ academic performance in core subject areas. Students’ GPA in core subject areas (English language arts, social studies, science, and mathematics) was 0.06 point higher (out of a maximum of 4 points) as a result of being assigned to the ERO program (effect size = 0.07). The programs also helped students earn 0.6 percentage point more of the core credits that they need to graduate (effect size = 0.06). In the subset of high schools located in states where standardized tests are administered in ninth grade, students also scored higher on their English language arts and mathematics tests as a result of having been assigned to the ERO program; the estimated effect size of these impacts are 0.11 and 0.07, respectively.
- However, in the school year following students’ participation in the ERO programs, the programs no longer had an impact on academic performance. Estimated impacts on students’ GPA in core subject areas, credit accumulation, and standardized state test scores are not statistically significant in the school year following program participation (tenth grade for most students).
- The ERO programs did not increase students’ vocabulary scores, nor did the programs affect students’ reading behaviors or their school behaviors. The programs did not have a statistically significant impact on students’ vocabulary scores at the end of ninth grade. Nor did the programs have a statistically significant effect on how often students read school-related or non-school-related texts, or on how often students use the reading strategies taught by the two programs. Similarly, impacts on student attendance and suspensions were not statistically significant, in either the program year or the following school year.
The first two study reports also examined how well the ERO programs were implemented in the study schools, as well as the extent to which the experience of students in the ERO programs compared with the literacy support received by students not selected for the programs. A key finding from these reports is that, by the end of the second year of program operation, implementation of the reading interventions, as rated through classroom observation, was well aligned with the respective program models. In both implementation years, students in the ERO class received a greater amount of literacy support than they would have received had they not been assigned to the program.