Scaling Up Peer Assisted Learning Strategies to Strengthen Reading Achievement
Co-Principal Investigators: Kristen McMaster, University of Minnesota
Laura Saenz, University of Texas, Pan-American
Purpose: Students' reading performance varies greatly within classrooms, straining the capacity of conventional instruction, which targets the skills of a few students near the middle of the class. What's required is instructional differentiation. In randomized controlled field trials, Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies, or PALS, has been shown to increase instructional differentiation and reading achievement. The purpose of this project is to study how a feasible and demonstrably effective reading practice can be scaled up and to identify the variables associated with successful scaling.
We (a) determine whether and, if so with what levels of support, PALS can be implemented and sustained, (b) examine whether, when implemented with support levels that schools can realistically deliver, PALS improves reading outcomes, (c) explore how fidelity mediates achievement and identify the minimum set of PALS features associated with positive student outcomes; (d) investigate how teacher characteristics, perceptions of school climate, and Title 1 status mediate PALS implementation and sustainability, (e) conduct representative case studies to describe implementation and sustainability factors in ways that reach multiple audiences, and (g) identify the costs associated with scaling.
Population: The study is conducted at 2 grade levels (kindergarten, 4th grade) at 3 sites (Nashville, Minneapolis, South Texas). Nashville's schools comprise 37% Caucasian, 42% African American, 18% Hispanic and 3% other students, with mixed SES. Minneapolis serves a mixed SES population with 26% Caucasian, 15% Asian American, 45% African American, 11% Hispanic, and 4% Native American. In several small districts in South Texas, the school population is overwhelmingly Hispanic, Spanish speaking, and poor. At each of our 3 sites, the sample is constituted in 50% Title 1 and 50% non-Title 1 schools.
Intervention: Following are our 4 levels of support to promote scaling: (a) no-PALS; (b) expert trains PALS teachers in 1-day workshop; (c) expert trains PALS teachers and trains mentors to provide teacher support; and (d) expert trains PALS teachers, trains mentors, and meets regularly with mentors. Some teachers will also get "booster" training.
Research Design and Methods: Within schools, we randomly assign 624 teachers across 4 years to 4 levels of support for 1st-year implementation; then stratifying by 1st-year condition, we randomly assign 2nd-year teachers to 2 sustainability conditions. We examine effects on 1st-year fidelity and student achievement and on subsequent fidelity of implementation for up to 4 years, using hierarchical linear modeling to assess the contribution of teacher variables to implementation fidelity and students achievement, and to assess the contribution of fidelity on achievement. In Year 5, we continue to collect data on sustainability while conducting case studies.
Project Website: http://kc.vanderbilt.edu/pals/.
Publications from this project:
Stein, M.L., Berends, M., Fuchs, D., McMaster, K., Sáenz, L., Loulee Y., Fuchs, L.S., and Compton, D.L. (2008). Scaling up an Early Reading Program: Relationships Among Teacher Support, Fidelity of Implementation, and Student Performance Across Different Sites and Years. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 30: 368–388.
McMaster, K.L., Kung, H., Han, I., and Cao, M. (2008). Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies: A Tier 1 Approach to Promoting Responsiveness to Beginning Reading Instruction for English Learners. Exceptional Children, 74 (3): 194–214.
Petursdottir, A.-L., McMaster, K., McComas, J.J., Bradfield, T., Braganza, V., Koch-McDonald, J., Rodriguez, R., and Scharf, H. (2009). Brief Experimental Analysis of Early Reading Interventions. Journal of School Psychology, 47(4): 215–243.
Saenz, L., McMaster, K., Fuchs, D., Fuchs, L.S. (2007). Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies in Reading for Students With Different Learning Needs. Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology, 6(3): 395–410.