The study took place in 23 adult literacy programs.
The initial study sample consisted of 86 learners. There were 198 learners across all four studies. These learners could read at levels that fell between the 2nd and 6th grade levels. About 55 percent of learners were African American, 28 percent were Hispanic, 12 percent were Asian, and 6 percent were White. Sixty-seven percent were female. Fifty-six percent were English language learners, and the rest were native English speakers. Twenty-nine percent of learners repeated at least one grade of school, 15 percent attended special education classes while in school, and 49 percent reported graduating from high school.
The treatment included explicit instruction on reading and curriculum using two parts of the SRA/McGraw Hill Direct Instruction Corrective Reading program: decoding and fluency. In the Decoding component (D), learners learned skills such as phonemic relationships, new sound combinations, word endings, and letter and sound combinations. In the Fluency component (F), learners independently practiced a passage until they improved their number of correct words read per minute by 40 percent over their initial level. Teachers gave each learner a passage at his or her reading level and used a guided repeated oral reading approach. Learners practiced for 15 minutes. If they met or exceeded their target, they moved on to a new passage. During each two-hour class, time was allocated as follows: 100 minutes of decoding, 15 minutes of fluency, and 5 minutes for a break. The average number of decoding lessons was 75. Instruction was provided for two hours per class, four times a week, for 12 and a half weeks. Learners attending all classes received 100 hours of instruction.
The comparison group used a popular existing adult literacy curriculum. Teachers were advised to focus on teaching prime frequency words, W-H questions (who, what, when, where, why how), spelling, oral reading, journal writing, categorization of words, sentence structure, and mechanics of punctuation. Books were not used, but teachers could use excerpts based on learners’ interest. Instruction was provided for two hours per class, four times a week, for 12 and a half weeks. The curriculum did not allocate specific amounts of time for each topic. Learners attending all classes received 100 hours of instruction.
Support for implementation
The teachers were hired specifically for the study. They had teaching backgrounds, but none had experience with the approaches in the SRA/McGraw Hill Direct Instruction Corrective Reading program. Each teacher received one week of training in adult literacy awareness and sensitivity, along with training on each approach. Once classes were in session, coaches observed each teacher five times during the year. Teachers received additional training if necessary.