Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

How Enhanced Core Reading Instruction Has Improved Reading Outcomes for Students with Reading Difficulties Through Tiered Supports

A teacher and students work with flashcards

Enhanced Core Reading Instruction (ECRI) is a systemic intervention that researchers at the University of Oregon developed with practitioners to assist educators in providing instruction within multi-tiered systems of supports. ECRI provides teachers with guidance and support for implementing Tier 1 core reading instruction and Tier 2 interventions that align with core reading instruction. Teachers have access to specific instruction methods that enhance their district-adopted core reading program, guided lesson plans, intervention templates, and explicit protocols for data collection and review to inform instructional decisions. Since 2009, IES has funded research projects that examine ECRI’s impact on academic and behavioral outcomes for students with or at risk for reading difficulties.

At the University of Oregon, Hank Fien conducted a study that provided 2 years of professional development (PD) and coaching to first grade teachers to implement the core reading program and use ECRI materials. The results of this randomized controlled trial demonstrated that students who received ECRI Tier 2 intervention made more progress towards reading achievement and reading proficiency than students who received the typical, “business-as-usual” Tier 2 instruction. Findings from the study indicated that schools should consider three factors when choosing an instruction model for struggling readers: 1) increasing specificity of instruction procedures through lesson plans and teaching routines, 2) increasing the intensity of instruction that students receive, and 3) closely aligning instruction between Tier 1 and Tier 2 interventions.

At the University of Alabama, Gregory Benner developed a program, Integrated Literacy Study Group, that provides web-based PD to special education teachers to assist in delivering high-quality reading instruction based on ECRI to students with an emotional/behavioral disorder (EBD). Results from the pilot study showed the program demonstrated promise for teacher and student outcomes. Teachers who participated in online learning modules to learn ECRI strategies demonstrated increases in teaching self-efficacy in the areas of classroom management, instructional strategies, student engagement, and self-efficacy in teaching reading and using behavior management strategies with students with or at risk for EBD. They also demonstrated increased knowledge of the evidence-based behavioral and reading strategies for students with EBD learned through the PD program. Students with or at risk for EBD served by these participating teachers made significant improvements in academic engagement and notable gains on reading scores.

In a collaborative effort led by Nancy Nelson, the University of Oregon and the Michigan Department of Education’s Office of Special Education worked in partnership to conduct an evaluation of a state’s multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) framework that implements ECRI for Tier 1 and Tier 2 reading instruction. The MTSS framework included specific protocols for integrating teaching academic and behavioral content across tiers of support. The reading intervention incorporated ECRI instructional strategies while the behavior intervention used positive behavior supports, including a “check-in/check-out” behavior monitoring and reinforcement system. We hope to share the results and their implications in an additional blog in the near future.

More recently, Dr. Nelson, now at Boston University, is developing a Tier 3 extension of the ECRI reading intervention that is intensified for students identified as needing more intensive support in kindergarten through second grade. This study will develop protocols and training for teachers, collect data on the feasibility of teacher implementation, and study the promise of the Tier 3 intervention for improving student outcomes. Researchers will study how student outcomes are related to reading content, executive function supports, instructional design elements, and instructional delivery features.

In another recently funded study, Elaine Wang at RAND Corporation is conducting an ECRI replication study to measure its effectiveness on foundational reading skills with first-grade students. In addition to examining whether ECRI will improve reading outcomes for students, researchers are also investigating whether features of the intervention can be feasibly implemented within a typical classroom context by classroom teachers under routine conditions, with less support for implementation than was included in prior studies.

The NCSER-funded studies of ECRI to date have demonstrated improved reading outcomes for students at risk of reading difficulties by targeting critical reading content areas (phonemic awareness, blending sounds, fluency, vocabulary) and increasing the explicitness of instruction. An important aspect of these studies is they were implemented in an authentic school environment by school staff, demonstrating that ECRI procedures can fit within the daily routines of a typical school day. NCSER looks forward to learning the results of the current, ongoing ECRI studies that will add to the evidence focused on the impact and implementation of this intervention. We thank all the researchers for their hard work and dedication to supporting students, educators, and our schools.

This blog was written by Shanna Bodenhamer, virtual student federal service intern at IES and graduate student at Texas A&M University. Sarah Brasiel ( is the program officer for the Reading, Writing, and Language program and oversees most of the research projects that focus on studying ECRI across NCSER programs.

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