What Interventions Offer the Best Chances for Success for Secondary School Student Struggling with Reading?

April 23, 2018

A Synthesis of Quantitative Research on Reading Programs for Secondary Students

This review of the research on secondary reading programs focuses on 69 studies that used random assignment (n=62) or high-quality quasi-experiments (n=7) to evaluate outcomes of 51 programs on widely accepted measures of reading. Reading performance of students in America’s middle and high schools is one of the most important problems in education. In 2015, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP; NCES, 2016) reported that only 34% of eighth graders scored at or above proficiency. At the twelfth-grade level only 37% of students scored at or above proficiency. Given the importance of mastering reading for success in school it is important that schools adopt programs to help bridge the gap between current performance and expectations.

The study found programs using one-to-one and small-group tutoring (+0.14 to +0.28 effect size), cooperative learning (+0.10 effect size), whole-school approaches including organizational reforms such as teacher teams (+0.06 effect size), and writing-focused approaches (+0.13 effect size) showed positive outcomes. Individual approaches in a few other categories also showed positive impacts. These include programs emphasizing social studies/science, structured strategies, and personalized and group/personalization rotation approaches for struggling readers.

An important finding was programs providing a daily extra period of reading and those utilizing technology were no more effective, on average, than programs that did not provide these resources. This might not be as surprising as it appears on the surface. If students are struggling in reading, just placing them in a setting to read may only produce additional frustration and failure for those currently struggling with reading.

A few commonalities among programs that achieved positive outcomes are worth noting. One of these factors was that programs with positive outcomes tended to emphasize student motivation, student-to-student and student-to-teacher relationships, and social-emotional learning. An additional factor found in many of the promising programs is individualizing the intervention.

The findings are important suggesting interventions for secondary readers to improve struggling student’s chances of experiencing greater success in high school and better opportunities after graduation. Although, these effect sizes are small, given the large number of participants, smaller effect sizes would be anticipated and still may be of interest to school administrators.

Citation: Baye, A., Lake, C., Inns, A. & Slavin, R. E. (2018, January). A Synthesis of Quantitative Research on Reading Programs for Secondary Students. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Research and Reform in Education.

Link: https://ila.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/rrq.229