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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response


March 2020


What research is available on early elementary reading interventions and remedial reading instruction?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies and policy overviews on early elementary reading interventions and remedial reading instruction. In particular, we focused on identifying resources related to grades K–2 and Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions. 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

Al Otaiba, S., Connor, C. M., Folsom, J. S., Wanzek, J., Greulich, L., Schatschneider, C., & Wagner, R. K. (2015). To wait in Tier 1 or intervene immediately: A randomized experiment examining first-grade response to intervention in reading. Evanston, IL: Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This randomized control study compares the efficacy of two response-to-intervention (RTI) models: (1) Dynamic RTI, which immediately refers grade 1 students with the weakest skills to the most intensive intervention supports (Tier 2 or Tier 3); and (2) Typical RTI, which starts all students in Tier 1 and after 8 weeks, decides whether students who did not respond to general instruction in Tier 1 should move to Tier 2. The study asks: (1) What are the effects of Dynamic RTI and Typical RTI on student reading outcomes by the end of first grade?; and (2) Does assignment to specific tiers predict gains on standardized assessments, and does this differ when comparing Dynamic and Typical RTI groups?The setting is seven schools in a school district in a mid-size city in the southeast in their first year of RTI implementation. Approximately 500 students participated in the study; less than 3% were Limited English Proficient, and student socioeconomic status varied across schools. Matched pairs of students within classrooms were assigned to either Dynamic or Typical RTI. The only difference between conditions was ‘when’ students were provided supplemental intervention sessions. Reading assessments included letter-sound, word, passage reading, and teacher-reported severity of reading difficulties. Results of the analysis revealed that: (1) Students in the Dynamic RTI group had statistically significantly higher Spring Reading scores than did students in Typical RTI, with an effect size of 0.36; (2) Tier 2 students in the Dynamic RTI condition had significantly higher reading outcomes scores compared to students initially eligible for Tier 2 in Typical RTI; and (3) Students initially eligible for Tier 3 had the weakest scores over the school year, but students initially eligible for Tier 3 who received the Tier 3 intervention immediately because they were in Dynamic RTI achieved higher Brief Reading scores compared to Tier 3 students in Typical RTI who had to wait until the beginning of Session 3. Dynamic RTI protocols, such as the one used in this study, suggest that there is no reason to delay intervention; that any effect of false negatives is negligible; and that, broadly implemented, Dynamic RTI, including a foundation of effective Tier 1 instruction, can improve reading outcomes for all children. The study was conducted for a full school year, and was unique relative to prior RTI investigations in allowing movement across tiers every 8 weeks in tandem with report card periods and in allowing fast tracking to Tier 3 for the most needy students.”

Foorman, B., Beyler, N., Borradaile, K., Coyne, M., Denton, C. A., Dimino, J., et al. (2016). Foundational skills to support reading for understanding in kindergarten through 3rd grade. (NCEE 2016-4008). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The goal of this practice guide is to offer educators specific, evidence-based recommendations for teaching foundational reading skills to students in kindergarten through 3rd grade. This guide is a companion to the existing practice guide, ‘Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade’, and as a set, these guides offer recommendations for preparing students to be successful readers. Both guides recommend some practices that can and should be implemented beginning in kindergarten, and both guides also suggest some instructional practices that can be implemented after students have mastered early reading skills. This guide synthesizes the best available research on foundational reading skills and shares practices that are supported by evidence. It is intended to be practical and easy for teachers to use. The guide includes many examples in each recommendation to demonstrate the concepts discussed. This guide provides teachers, reading coaches, principals, and other educators with instructional recommendations that can be implemented in conjunction with existing standards or curricula and does not recommend a particular curriculum. Teachers can use the guide when planning instruction to support the development of foundational reading skills among students in grades K-3 and in diverse contexts. Professional-development providers, program developers, and researchers can also use this guide. Professional-development providers can use the guide to implement evidence-based instruction and align instruction with state standards or to prompt teacher discussion in professional learning communities. Program developers can use the guide to create more effective early-reading curricula and interventions. Finally, researchers may find opportunities to test the effectiveness of various approaches to foundational reading education and explore gaps or variations in the reading-instruction literature.”

Foorman, B., Herrera, S., Dombek, J., Schatschneider, C., & Petscher, Y. (2017). The relative effectiveness of two approaches to early literacy intervention in grades K-2 (REL 2017-251). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Understanding written language is crucial to academic success in all content areas. Ensuring a strong foundation in the components of written language—that is, the literacy skills of reading, writing, and oral language—is essential if students are to read with understanding and, thus, is a primary goal of early literacy instruction and of the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast Improving Literacy Research Alliance. When students fall behind in developing literacy skills, early literacy intervention in kindergarten through grade 2 can reduce the number of students failing to attain grade-level expectations. There is a strong research base on the skills targeted by effective early literacy intervention. Effective early literacy instruction includes explicit instruction in phonological awareness, links from letters to sounds, decoding, and word study, as well as practice reading for accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. These skills are often delivered in multiple tiers of instruction that include the classroom at tier 1, supplemental, small-group intervention at tier 2, and intensive intervention at tier 3 for students who do not progress after a reasonable amount of time with tier 2 intervention. Furthermore, research has demonstrated the efficacy of directly teaching academic vocabulary and language to students to improve their comprehension. In grades K-2 this includes the oral language skills of listening comprehension, syntax, and vocabulary that predict comprehension outcomes, along with reading skills. An important consideration for schools and this study is to determine which instructional materials to use in tier 2 early literacy intervention. One approach is to use the tier 2 materials embedded in the existing core reading program selected for classroom instruction, which is appealing because these materials are aligned with core classroom instruction and do not require the purchase of additional materials. But even though these embedded tier 2 materials may claim to be research-based, they are rarely evaluated empirically. Another approach is to select tier 2 standalone instructional materials and strategies outside the existing core reading program. If the standalone materials are backed by strong evidence that they support learning in reading and language, it is reasonable to expect that the standalone approach will lead to better outcomes for small-group tier 2 intervention than will an embedded approach that has not been empirically evaluated. Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast sought to explore whether providing at-risk students with small-group tier 2 intervention using a standalone intervention leads to better reading and language outcomes than does using an embedded intervention.”

Gersten, R., Compton, D., Connor, C. M., Dimino, J., Santoro, L., Linan-Thompson, S., et al. (2009). Assisting students struggling with reading: Response to intervention and multi-tier intervention in the primary grades. A practice guide (NCEE 2009-4045). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Response to Intervention (RtI) is a comprehensive early detection and prevention strategy that identifies struggling students and assists them before they fall behind. RtI systems combine universal screening and high-quality instruction for all students with interventions targeted at struggling students. This guide offers five specific recommendations to help educators identify struggling readers and implement evidence-based strategies to promote their reading achievement. Teachers and reading specialists can utilize these strategies to implement RtI and multi-tier intervention methods and frameworks at the classroom or school level. Recommendations cover how to screen students for reading problems, design a multi-tier intervention program, adjust instruction to help struggling readers, and monitor student progress.”

Gersten, R., Newman-Gonchar, R. A., Haymond, K. S., & Dimino, J. (2017). What is the evidence base to support reading interventions for improving student outcomes in grades 1-3? (REL 2017-271). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Response to intervention (RTI) is a comprehensive early detection and prevention strategy used to identify and support struggling students before they fall behind. An RTI model usually has three tiers or levels of support. Tier 1 is generally defined as classroom instruction provided to all students, tier 2 is typically a preventive intervention offered to students who fall behind when given only classroom instruction, and tier 3 is more intensive intervention offered to students who failed to respond to the supports in tiers 1 and 2. This review provides updated information on the evidence supporting the use of reading interventions for students who are at risk of reading difficulty in grades 1-3. The review was conducted by Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast in response to discussions with members of its Improving Literacy Research Alliance. Alliance members became even more interested in the topic after a recently completed national evaluation using intensive reading interventions in an RTI model failed to show positive impacts for students who scored at or slightly below the score that would make them eligible for RTI services in their school (Balu et al., 2015). The review team conducted a comprehensive review of the research literature from 2002 (the year that the No Child Left Behind Act went into effect and triggered large-scale national implementation of reading interventions) to June 2014, when this study started. The purpose of the review was to assess the current evidence base on the use of reading interventions for improving student outcomes in grades 1-3. The review was limited to studies of tier 2 interventions, those designed to provide preventive services to students at risk of struggling with typical classroom reading instruction.”

O’Connor, R. E., Bocian, K. M., Sanchez, V., & Beach, K. D. (2014). Access to a responsiveness to intervention model: Does beginning intervention in kindergarten matter? Journal of Learning Disabilities, 47(4), 307–328. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In this study, we tested the outcomes of access to a Response to Intervention (RtI) model in kindergarten or in first grade on end-of-Grade-2 reading achievement and placement in special education. Across five schools, 214 students who began having access to Tier 2 intervention in kindergarten or first grade were compared in Grades 1 and 2 with 208 cohort peers who were average readers, and 102 historical control condition second grade poor readers who did not receive Tier 2 intervention. Results found significant effects on reading achievement for access to RtI in kindergarten at the end of first grade (effects averaged 0.48), but not in second grade, except for students who were English Language Learners (ELL), who showed an advantage through the end of second grade. Students with access to RtI overall had significantly higher outcomes at the end of Grade 2 than students in the historical control, with no differences due to ELL status. No significant difference in the proportion of students placed in special education was noted; however, a greater proportion of the students found eligible as LD had poor reading scores if they were placed after participating in RtI.”

Shanahan, T., Callison, K., Carriere, C., Duke, N. K., Pearson, P. D., Schatschneider, C., et al. (2010). Improving reading comprehension in kindergarten through 3rd grade: IES practice guide (NCEE 2010-4038). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Strong reading comprehension skills are central not only to academic and professional success, but also to a productive social and civic life. These skills build the capacity to learn independently, to absorb information on a variety of topics, to enjoy reading, and to experience literature more deeply. Despite the growing demand for highly educated workers in today’s information- and service-related economies, the proportion of American adults classified as ‘below basic’ readers remained remarkably constant between 1992 and 2003. This guide, developed by a panel of experts, presents a set of evidence-based practices that teachers and other educators can use to successfully teach reading comprehension to young readers. The panel believes that students who read with understanding at an early age gain access to a broader range of texts, knowledge, and educational opportunities, making early reading comprehension instruction particularly critical. The guide also describes the evidence that supports the practices and gives examples of how they can be implemented in the classroom.”

Solari, E. J., Denton, C. A., & Haring, C. (2017). How to reach first-grade struggling readers: An integrated instructional approach. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 49(3), 149–159. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Struggling readers who are in need of Tier 2 supplemental reading instruction within a multitier system of support (MTSS) or a response to intervention are defined as those who are performing in the bottom 20% in reading-related skills as compared with their classroom peers. An MTSS model is a framework for instruction that provides increasing support to students based on documented student need. This model typically consists of three tiers of intervention, with each tier providing increasingly more targeted and intense instruction (Gersten et al., 2009). In this article the authors present a framework in which classroom teachers and special education teachers can collaborate to provide Tier 1 and 2 instruction. In an MTSS framework, students who do not respond to evidence-based Tier 1 instruction and more intensive Tier 2 instruction then receive Tier 3 instruction. Tier 3 instruction—which reflects the most intensive individualized level of instruction—typically takes place outside the classroom setting and is implemented by a special education teacher; the model that is presented herein focuses on Tiers 1 and 2.”

What Works Clearinghouse. (2017). Leveled Literacy Intervention report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “‘Leveled Literacy Intervention’ (‘LLI’) is a short-term, supplementary, small-group literacy intervention designed to help struggling readers achieve grade-level competency. The intervention provides explicit instruction in phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, reading comprehension, oral language skills, and writing. ‘LLI’ helps teachers match students with texts of progressing difficulty and deliver systematic lessons targeted to a student’s reading ability. The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) identified two studies of ‘LLI’ that fall within the scope of the Beginning Reading topic area and meet WWC group design standards. Two studies meet WWC group design standards without reservations, and no studies meet WWC group design standards with reservations. Together, these studies included 747 students in grades K-2 in 22 schools in three school districts across three states. ‘LLI’ had positive effects on general reading achievement, potentially positive effects on reading fluency, and no discernible effects on alphabetics for beginning readers.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

What Works Clearinghouse –

From the website: “The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) reviews the existing research on different programs, products, practices, and policies in education. Our goal is to provide educators with the information they need to make evidence-based decisions. We focus on the results from high-quality research to answer the question ‘What works in education?’”

Evidence of effectiveness for specific literacy interventions –,Literacy


Keywords and Search Strings

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

  • Literacy

  • “Reading comprehension”

  • “Reading instruction” “evidence based practice”

  • “Response to intervention” “elementary school students” “reading difficulties”

  • “Response to intervention” “reading difficulties” “Grade 1”

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 2005 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.