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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response


August 2018


What does the research say about the effects of leadership practices, such as classroom observations, on literacy outcomes for secondary school students?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on the effects of leadership practices on literacy outcomes for secondary school students. In addition, we searched for guidance documents and other resources to support best leadership practices in secondary literacy. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Bates, L., Breslow, N., & Hupert, N. (2009). Five states’ efforts to improve adolescent literacy (Issues & Answers. REL 2009–No. 067). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This report describes efforts by five states (Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Rhode Island) to improve adolescent literacy. Highlighting common challenges and lessons, the report examines how each state has engaged key stakeholders, set rigorous goals and standards, aligned resources to support adolescent literacy goals, built educator capacity, and used data to measure progress. Responding to questions from state education agency staff members and policymakers, the report describes what each state has done to promote effective adolescent literacy practices in schools and districts. The researchers collected information from policy documents and through interviews with key staff members at state education agencies. Following individual state case studies, a cross-state analysis examines how each state applied five types of strategies for improving adolescent literacy: (1) Engaging key stakeholders to make adolescent literacy a priority; (2) Setting rigorous state literacy goals and standards, with other state policies aligned to support them; (3) Aligning resources to support adolescent literacy goals; (4) Building educator capacity to support adolescent literacy programs at state, school, and classroom levels; and (5) Measuring progress and using data to make decisions and provide oversight. The five strategies were applied with considerable variation across the five states.”

Bean, R. M., & Dagen, A. S. (Eds.). (2011). Best practices of literacy leaders: Keys to school improvement. New York, NY: Guilford. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Bringing together leading experts, this book presents the principles of effective literacy leadership and describes proven methods for improving instruction, assessment, and schoolwide professional development. The book shows how all school staff—including reading specialists and coaches, administrators, teachers, and special educators—can play an active role in nurturing a culture of collaboration and promoting student achievement. Best practices are identified for creating strong elementary and secondary literacy programs, differentiating instruction, supporting English language learners, utilizing technology, building home-school partnerships, and much more. User-friendly features include case examples, guiding questions, and engagement activities in each chapter. This book is divided into three parts.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Brozo, W. G., & Fisher, D. (2010). Literacy starts with the teachers. Educational Leadership, 67(6), 74–77. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “‘Studies of effective secondary school reading programs demonstrate one thing clearly: We cannot significantly improve the literacy skills of adolescents without comprehensive staff development,’ write Brozo and Fisher. In this article, they draw on their work in one rural and one inner-city high school to present five principles to guide such professional development: (1) offer teachers a manageable number of new strategies; (2) move from workshop to classroom; (3) establish forums for teacher empowerment; (4) vary and formats used in staff development; and (5) start with those who are most eager, and then spread the learning to others.”

Davis, M. H., McPartland, J. M., Pryseski, C., & Kim, E. (2018). The effects of coaching on English teachers’ reading instruction practices and adolescent students’ reading comprehension. Literacy Research and Instruction, 57(3), 255–275. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Although the use of literacy coaches is becoming more common, few research studies have shown positive effects of coaching on teacher practices and student achievement. In the current study, a cluster randomized design was used to evaluate usefulness of coaches for teachers of struggling high school students. High schools were randomly assigned across three experimental conditions: professional development workshops, workshops with written lesson materials, and workshops with lesson materials and coaching. Participants in this three-year study included 130 ninth-grade teachers and 3,160 ninth grade students. Recommended literacy practices included teacher modeling, student team discussions, and self-selected reading. Findings indicated that coaching improved teachers’ use and quality of recommended literacy practices and increased student reading achievement over the period of a year.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Fancsali, C., Abe, Y., & Pyatigorsky, M. (2016). Developing content-area academic literacy: A randomized control trial of the Reading Apprenticeship Improving Secondary Education (RAISE) Project. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness Conference, Washington, DC. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Nationally, two-thirds of high school students are unable to read and comprehend complex academic materials, think critically about texts, and synthesize information from multiple sources, or communicate what they have learned. Without a substantial change in their academic literacy, U.S. high school students face continued academic problems in high school and college because they are unable to handle the quantity and complexity of assigned reading (ACT, 2012). The Reading Apprenticeship instructional framework was developed two decades ago to help teachers provide the literacy support students need to be successful readers in the content areas. It has since reached over 100,000 teachers in schools across the country, at the middle school, high school and college levels. In 2010, the program developers received a ‘Validation’ grant from the Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) competition to scale-up and conduct a randomized controlled trial of the intervention through a project called Reading Apprenticeship Improving Secondary Success (RAISE). This study explored implementation questions as well as mediating impact and longer-term impact on student achievement. Questions included: (1) To what extent is RAISE implemented in a way that is consistent with the program model and underlying theory of action?; (2) What are the effects of RAISE on teacher practices and teacher attitudes?; (3) What are the effects of implementing RAISE on student engagement, and reading attitudes and behaviors?; and (4) What are the effects of implementing RAISE on student literacy achievement? The study took place in 42 high schools in California and Pennsylvania. Professional development was provided to teachers in a central location within each state. Teachers were offered on-site support through monthly meetings led by teacher leaders. The primary sources of data collected and presented in this paper are student record data collected from the district, monthly teacher surveys collected over three years (27 total), student surveys collected at the end of each implementation year and an on-line student literacy assessment developed and collected by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) at the end of each implementation year. Findings from this study demonstrate the success of the RAISE project in providing teachers with training and support at scale to help them change their instructional practices in order to foster metacognitive inquiry and support comprehension, particularly in science. These findings are consistent with positive findings from other studies of Reading Apprenticeship. The primarily positive, yet not statistically significant results for the full sample indicate that the study’s sample size may not have been large enough to detect a modest size impact. The results from this study point to several areas in need of further investigation. Specifically, the differences in impact by subject area and state need to be better understood. 5 exhibits are appended.”

Moxley, D. E., & Taylor, R. T. (2006). Literacy coaching: A handbook for school leaders. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Fail-safe literacy is defined as listening, viewing, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, and expressing through multiple symbol systems at a developmentally appropriate level. An effective literacy coach, who can inspire extraordinary performance from ordinary people, can be a key to improving literacy schoolwide.

Grounded in research and an evidence-based approach, this handbook guides school leaders in successfully implementing literacy coaching, with a systematic process for teachers, administrators, and students. It is designed to improve reading, writing, and content learning through literacy infusion into curricular and instructional practices throughout the school.

Classroom strategies, specific teacher leadership practices, and resources used successfully in schools are showcased throughout, along with

  • Background knowledge and an introduction to ‘fail-safe’ literacy
  • Details on the roles and responsibilities of literacy coaches
  • Ideas for building the literacy team
  • Ways to study data and monitor achievement
  • Practical guidance for the literacy coach’s continuing success

Literacy coaching supports school leaders in implementing a successful literacy coaching program, and in creating a collaborative professional learning community for literacy, resulting in improved student achievement.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Muñoz, M. A., Guskey, T. R., & Aberli, J. R. (2009). Struggling readers in urban high schools: Evaluating the impact of professional development in literacy. Planning and Changing, 40(1–2), 61–85. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The objective of this study was to determine the effectiveness of a district-wide professional development effort based on a modified Ramp-Up Program, designed to help high school teachers improve the reading skills of their students. Ramp-Up is a two-year course that seeks to accelerate the learning progress of entering high school students who are two or more years behind grade level in English/Language Arts. The course assumes that students can decode text and are reading at least at a Grade 3 level. Activities focus on helping students make rapid progress toward becoming fluent readers, develop wider vocabularies, and comprehend grade level texts through a variety of instructional approaches: (a) Independent Reading (Allington, 2001; Beers, 2003); (b) Read-Aloud/Think-Aloud/ Talk-Aloud (Hahn, 2002; Richardson, 2000); (c) whole-group and small-group reading and writing instruction (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996; Pearson, 1994); and, (d) collaborative learning situations including cross-age tutoring and service learning (Labbo & Teale, 1990). Pilot testing showed that the course had a positive effect on high school students’ scores on norm-referenced reading and language arts tests (Muñoz, 2007). In this study, the effectiveness of this professional development model was evaluated using the five levels outlined by Guskey (2000; 2001a; 2001b) for evaluating professional development activities in education. The first level assessed participants’ reactions, while the second level assessed participants’ learning through pre- and post-measures of knowledge and skills specific to the program. The third level assessed participants’ perceptions of organizational support to enable change, and the fourth level focused on participants’ use of new knowledge and skills at the classroom level. The fifth and final level assessed the impact on student learning outcomes using results from statewide accountability assessments in reading.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Murray, C. S., Wexler, J., Vaughn, S., Roberts, G., Tackett, K. K., Boardman, A. G., … & Kosanovich, M. (2010). Effective instruction for adolescent struggling readers: Professional development module (Facilitator’s Guide). Portsmouth, NH: Center on Instruction. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Effective reading interventions for students struggling in the early grades have been a focus of considerable research over the past 20 years (Foorman, Francis, Fletcher, Schatschneider, & Mehta, 1998; Foorman & Torgesen, 2001; Geva & Siegel, 2000; Klingner & Vaughn, 1996). Comparable research targeting older struggling students has only recently started to develop, partly in response to recent data suggesting that one in three fourth-grade students is reading below a basic level and only 31% of eighth graders are proficient readers (Lee, Grigg, & Donahue, 2007). State, district, and school leaders are motivated to improve the literacy skills of older students, and need materials and support that link the available research to improved teacher practice. This professional development package is designed with that need in mind. A Training of Trainers (TOT) PowerPoint has also been designed to train others to facilitate presentations of this module (abbreviated here as EIASR-PD). It contains presentation guidelines and suggestions for customizing the PD for different audiences. A Useful Companion: Aligning Bringing Literacy Strategies into Content Teaching with Effective Instruction for Struggling Adolescent Readers—PD Module is appended.”

Olson, C. B., Matuchniak, T., Chung, H. Q., Stumpf, R., & Farkas, G. (2017). Reducing achievement gaps in academic writing for Latinos and English learners in grades 7–12. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(1), 1–21. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This study reports 2 years of findings from a randomized controlled trial designed to replicate and demonstrate the efficacy of an existing, successful professional development program, the Pathway Project, that uses a cognitive strategies approach to text-based analytical writing. Building on an earlier randomized field trial in a large, urban, low socioeconomic status (SES) district in which 98% of the students were Latino and 88% were mainstreamed English learners (ELs) at the intermediate level of fluency, the project aimed to help secondary school students, specifically Latinos and mainstreamed ELs, in another large, urban, low-SES district to develop the academic writing skills called for in the rigorous Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts. The Pathway Project draws on well-documented instructional frameworks that support approaches that incorporate strategy instruction to enhance students’ academic literacy. Ninety-five teachers in 16 secondary schools were stratified by school and grade and then randomly assigned to the Pathway or control group. Pathway teachers participated in 46 hr of training to help students write analytical essays. Difference-in-differences and regression analyses revealed significant effects on student writing outcomes in both years of the intervention (Year 1, d = 0.48; Year 2, d = 0.60). Additionally, Pathway students had higher odds than control students of passing the California High School Exit Exam in both years.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast. (2006). Information regarding the impact of literacy coaches on high school student achievement (Evidence Based Education Request Desk #69). Greensboro, NC: Author. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Although there is a great deal of interest in the concept of literacy coaching in the wake of the No Child Left Behind legislation, and a number of programs exist that incorporate this technique, there has been little reliable research done on the impact of literacy coaches on student achievement. Currently, the information that is available related to literacy coaching is anecdotal or descriptive, and it often focuses on elementary school programs. Few, if any, studies of literacy coaching exist, and almost no empirical evidence of literacy coaching’s impact on student achievement is available, although a few studies are underway or planned for the near future. While it can be said that available information supports the usefulness of literacy coaching, this lack of evidence precludes claiming that research validates literacy coaching as a proven technique for improving student achievement. However, there is considerable research that supports systematic professional development, of which literacy coaching is a type, as a means to improve teacher effectiveness. The annotated bibliography presented contains available research reports on literacy coaching, both from the standpoint of student achievement resulting from literacy coaching programs, and from the standpoint of program implementation. The results of this search are divided into resources specific to high schools, more general resources, and web resources. This paper is a response to a request asking for information regarding the impact of literacy coaches on high school student achievement.”

Reumann-Moore, R., & Sanders, F. (2012). Robust implementation of LDC: Teacher perceptions of tool use and outcomes (Brief Two). Philadelphia, PA: Research for Action. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested in the development and dissemination of high-quality instructional and formative assessment tools to support teachers’ incorporation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) into their classroom instruction. Lessons from the first generation of standards-based reforms suggest that intense attention to high quality instructional tasks (City, Elmore, Fiarman, & Teitel, 2010; Hiebert and Carpenter, 1992; Hiebert and Wearne, 1993; Jones et al, 1994) and use of formative assessments embedded in those tasks (Black et al, 2004; Clarke and Shinn, 2004; Fuchs, 2004; Tunstall, 1996) are essential if teachers are to meet the demands of the CCSS. Experts from the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) developed a set of templates that can be customized by English/language arts (ELA), social studies and science teachers into writing tasks designed to facilitate CCSS-based student literacy and content learning and provide teachers with feedback about student mastery. LDC also developed a module structure that teachers can use to create a plan for teaching students the content and literacy skills necessary to complete the writing task. The tools are designed to target the ‘instructional core’ by: (1) Raising the level of content; (2) Enhancing teachers’ skill and knowledge about instruction, content and formative assessment; and (3) Catalyzing student engagement in their learning so that they will achieve at high levels (City et al., 2010). These tools have been in use for two years (the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years). This brief highlights and assesses the status of elements of robust implementation of the LDC tools, which are represented by the small blue circles in the Theory of Action. These six indicators, which fall into two main categories—Teacher Beliefs and Knowledge and Classroom Changes—are instrumental in understanding teachers’ disposition towards the tools and their perceptions of how their instruction and student learning have changed as a result of their participation in the LDC initiative. Robust implementation should lead to several intermediate and long-term outcomes, among them Broad and Deep Instructional Change. The authors present their findings for this outcome as well.”

Rissman, L. M., Miller, D. H., & Torgesen, J. K. (2009). Adolescent literacy walk-through for principals: A guide for instructional leaders. Portsmouth, NH: Center on Instruction. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this ‘Adolescent Literacy Walk-Through for Principals’ (‘ALWP’) is to help principals monitor and support adolescent literacy instruction in their schools more effectively. To meet the goals of improving adolescent literacy in grades four through twelve, principals must be familiar with what literacy instruction should include and how to assess the quality of classroom literacy instruction quickly and effectively. The ‘ALWP’ can be used to build a secondary school leader’s literacy knowledge and to provide guidelines for structuring schoolwide professional development. As they work with teachers to improve instruction, school leaders could use this guide to help monitor literacy instruction in (1) late elementary school, (2) content-area classes in middle and high school, and (3) intervention groups or classes. The information gathered may be useful in planning and implementing ongoing professional development to support effective literacy instruction in individual classrooms and across grade levels and subject areas. This document assumes more than a beginning level of knowledge of reading and reading instruction. It summarizes research in adolescent literacy instruction and provides a resource to help convey the messages of state policy and research-based reading instruction through templates that principals may use. This ‘ALWP’ is offered as a scaffold to build principals’ understanding of scientifically based reading instruction, both as a means for gathering information about the quality of literacy and reading intervention instruction in a school, and as a data collection guide for planning targeted professional development and resource allocation. Policies and materials to support policies can influence classroom implementation when (1) teachers have opportunity to learn what the policy means for their practice, (2) there is coherent interpretation within the state framework of policies, but also from the classroom to the state level, and (3) support is available for innovation, even when it requires considerable effort (Cohen & Hill, 2001).”

Taylor, R. T., Moxley, D. E., Chanter, C., & Boulware, D. (2007). Three techniques for successful literacy coaching. Principal Leadership, 7(6), 22–25. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Students’ literacy achievement tends to lessen as they progress from elementary to middle level to high school as measured by state and national assessments. To ensure that secondary school students retain their literacy skills, many states and districts have created the position of literacy coach for middle and high schools. Literacy coaches are full-time teacher leaders who have been relieved of their classroom responsibilities so they can provide professional development, modeling, classroom coaching, and other services to improve students’ reading and writing. These teacher leaders are most effective when they support the implementation and monitoring of research-based literacy interventions that classroom teachers can infuse into their instruction to develop students’ vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. This article presents three techniques for successful literacy coaching. These techniques include: (1) clear definition of the coach’s role and responsibilities; (2) becoming an expert in literacy learning, teacher leadership, and professional development; and (3) development and maintenance of a positive relationship and regular communication with the principal.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “adolescent literacy” “professional development”

  • “adolescent literacy” “literacy coach”

  • literacy

  • literacy “inservice workshop”

  • literacy “program effectiveness” “secondary education”

  • literacy “teacher focus groups”

  • literacy “web seminars”

  • literacy “online professional development”

  • “literacy coach/es”

  • “literacy coaching”

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.