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Regional Educational Laboratory Program


The Effects of the Content Literacy Continuum on Adolescent Students' Reading Comprehension and Academic AchievementThe Effects of the Content Literacy Continuum on Adolescent Students' Reading Comprehension and Academic Achievement

Regional need and study purpose. Some 70 percent of grade 8 students scored below proficient on the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress in reading, and grade 8 students in the Midwest states fared no better. High schools face the challenge of providing struggling readers with instruction in reading when they arrive in grade 9 while also providing instruction in core subjects. Many schools place struggling readers in standalone reading classes. An alternative approach is the Content Literacy Continuum (CLC), which addresses student deficits in literacy skills across all core subject areas. The entire CLC framework has never been tested using a rigorous evaluation methodology. This research study attempts to do so and to answer the question, "Does CLC create achievement growth, and, if so, how much?"

Intervention description. CLC is a set of interventions to provide students with gradually more intensive, systematic, and explicit instruction in literacy content, strategies, and skills. It addresses literacy across the entire curriculum by incorporating literacy activities in all core content classes, not just standalone reading classes. CLC takes a coaching approach to professional development, assigning site coordinators to work with the schools' literacy leadership teams to develop priorities, plan the phased roll-out of routines and strategies, establish reading classes, and devise a professional development schedule.

Study design and period. The study recruited high schools from eight Midwest Region districts with characteristics associated with greater need for support: high schools with 33 percent or more students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and with fewer than 75 percent of grade 10 or 11 students performing at proficient levels on standardized reading tests. The two-year (2008–10) cluster randomized trial randomly assigned high schools to either implement the CLC framework or to continue with their current literacy approach. The intervention is being phased in beginning with grade 9 in year 1 (2008/09) and adding grade 9 and 10 in year 2 (2009/10). With 33 high schools agreeing to participate, the study has sufficient power to detect effects equivalent to three to nine months of reading growth.

Key outcomes and measures. The primary outcomes are student reading skills and achievement across core subject areas. Program impact will be assessed using student performance on the Group Reading Assessment Diagnostic Evaluation (GRADE) and on achievement tests, course grades, and course-taking patterns. A secondary outcome is increased literacy-focused instruction in the classroom. A classroom observation tool will be used to record reading-related activities to determine whether teachers in intervention schools provide more literacy-focused instruction.

Data collection approach. Data will be collected from intervention and control schools on student reading performance on the GRADE and in achievement tests in core subjects. Data will also be collected on course-taking patterns and grades. Other data collection activities include observations of classroom instruction and interviews with school and district leaders, to provide information on changes in teacher instruction, school and classroom context, the contrast between schools in each experimental condition, and fidelity of implementation.

Analysis plan. By testing the impact of CLC using a cluster randomized trial, the study will be able to determine whether the program causes improvements in student outcomes. Student data will be analyzed using two-level (students and schools) hierarchical linear models. Students' grade 8 standardized test scores and demographic information will serve as covariates in student-level models, and average grade 8 test scores, school demographic data, and eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch will serve as covariates in school-level analyses. The analyses will focus on the second year of implementation to maximize the potential to observe program impacts.

Principal investigators. William Corrin, MDRC, and James Lindsay, Learning Point Associates.

Additional Information. Region, contact information, and references.

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