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IES Grant

Title: Scaling Up Peer Assisted Learning Strategies to Strengthen Reading Achievement
Center: NCER Year: 2004
Principal Investigator: Fuchs, Douglas Awardee: Vanderbilt University
Program: Literacy      [Program Details]
Award Period: 5 years Award Amount: $5,618,237
Type: Scale-Up Evaluations Award Number: R305G040104

Co-Principal Investigator(s): McMaster, Kristen; Sáenz, Laura

Purpose: At the time of this study, conventional early childhood reading instruction targeted the skills of the students near the middle of the class performance level. However, students' actual reading performance varied greatly within classrooms. In randomized controlled field trials, Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies, or PALS, showed an increase in instructional differentiation and reading achievement. In this project, the researchers aimed to study how PALS could be scaled up and what variables were associated with successful scaling.

The researchers' plan for this project was to —

  1. determine whether and with what levels of support PALS can be implemented and sustained
  2.  examine whether, when implemented with support levels that schools can realistically deliver, PALS improves reading outcomes
  3. explore how fidelity mediates achievement and identify the minimum set of PALS features associated with positive student outcomes
  4. investigate how teacher characteristics, perceptions of school climate, and Title 1 status mediate PALS implementation and sustainability
  5. conduct representative case studies to describe implementation and sustainability factors in ways that reach multiple audiences
  6.  identify the costs associated with scaling.

Structured Abstract


Population: The study is conducted at two grade levels (kindergarten, fourth grade) at three sites (Nashville, Minneapolis, South Texas). Nashville's schools comprise 37 percent Caucasian, 42 percent African American, 18 percent Hispanic, and 3 percent other students with mixed socioeconomic status (SES). Minneapolis serves a mixed SES population with 26 percent Caucasian, 15 percent Asian American, 45 percent African American, 11 percent Hispanic, and 4 percent 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 percent Title 1 and 50 percent non-Title 1 schools.

Intervention: The researchers identified four levels of support to promote scaling:

  1. No-PALS
  2. Expert trains PALS teachers in 1-day workshop
  3. Expert trains PALS teachers and trains mentors to provide teacher support
  4. Expert trains PALS teachers, trains mentors, and meets regularly with mentors. Some teachers will also get "booster" training.

Research Design and Methods: Within schools, the researchers will randomly assign 624 teachers across 4 years to 4 levels of support for phase 1 implementation. They will then stratify by phase 1 condition and randomly assign phase 2 teachers to two sustainability conditions. We examine effects on phase 1 fidelity and student achievement and on subsequent fidelity of implementation for up to 4 years. This is done using hierarchical linear modeling to assess the contribution of teacher variables to implementation fidelity and student achievement and to assess the contribution of fidelity on achievement. In phase 5, the researchers will continue to collect data on sustainability while conducting case studies.

Related IES Projects: Modifying an Evidence-Based Peer-Mediated Reading Program to Differentiate Instruction and Accelerate Learning Among Underrepresented Groups: Implementing PALS in the Rio Grande Valley (R305N220010)


ERIC Citations: Find available citations in ERIC for this award here.

WWC Review:

Stein, M. L., Berends, M., Fuchs, D., McMaster, K., Sáenz, L., Yen, L., ... & 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(4), 368–388. [WWC Review]

McMaster, K. L., Kung, S. H., Han, I., & Cao, M. (2008). Peer-assisted learning strategies: A "Tier 1" approach to promoting English learners' response to intervention. Exceptional Children, 74(2), 194–214. [WWC Review]

Select Publications:

Journal articles

Kearns, D.M., Fuchs, D., McMaster, K.L., Sáenz, L., Fuchs, L.S., Yen, L., ... and Smith, T.M. (2010). Factors Contributing to Teachers' Sustained Use of Kindergarten Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 3 (4), 315–342.

Lemons, C.J., Fuchs, D., Gilbert, J.K., and Fuchs, L.S. (2014). Evidence-Based Practices in a Changing World Reconsidering the Counterfactual in Education Research. Educational Researcher, 43 (5): 242–252.

McMaster, K.L., Han, I., Coolong-Chaffin, M., and Fuchs, D. (2013). Promoting Teachers' Use of Scientifically Based Instruction: A Comparison of University Versus District Support. The Elementary School Journal, 113(3): 303–330.

McMaster, K.L., Kung, H., Han, I., and Cao, M. (2008). Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies: A 'Tier 1' Approach to Promoting English Learners' Response to Intervention. Exceptional Children, 74(2): 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.

Rafdal, B.H., McMaster, K.L., McConnell, S.R., Fuchs, D., and Fuchs, L.S. (2011). The Effectiveness of Kindergarten Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies for Students with Disabilities. Exceptional Children, 77 (3), 299–316.

Saenz, L., McMaster, K., Fuchs, D., and 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.

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(4): 368–388.