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Ask A REL Response

April 2017


What is the evidence base to support reading interventions in the secondary grades?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on teacher professional development. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed the effects of professional development on teacher performance and student outcomes in K-12 education. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Jeffes, B. (2016). Raising the reading skills of secondary-age students with severe and persistent reading difficulties: Evaluation of the efficacy and implementation of a phonics-based intervention programme. Educational Psychology in Practice, 32(1), 73-84.
    From the abstract: "The importance of reading skills to academic achievement, job acquisition and future success is well documented. Most of the research on reading interventions focuses on children in primary schools but many children start secondary school with very poor reading skills and schools require evidence-based interventions to support these children. The aims of this study were (i) to explore the efficacy of a phonics-based reading intervention programme, Toe By Toe, among secondary age students with severe reading difficulties and (ii) to examine perceived barriers to implementing this intervention programme. Results showed the intervention brought about a statistically significant improvement in the students' decoding and word reading skills. Interviews with staff and students indicated a wide range of positive responses to the intervention and some key barriers to implementation. This study adds to the evidence base for the use of reading interventions in secondary schools to support students with severe reading difficulties."
  2. Kim, J., Hemphill, L., Troyer, M., Jones, S., LaRusso, M., Kim, H., Donovan, S., & Snow, C. (2016). The experimental effects of the Strategic Adolescent Reading Intervention (STARI) on a scenarios-based reading comprehension assessment. Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness (SREE).
    From the abstract: "Nearly one-quarter of U.S. eighth graders score below basic on national assessments of reading (NCES, 2013) and are poorly equipped for the reading demands of secondary school. Struggling adolescent readers cannot summarize a simple passage, use context to determine word meanings, and have difficulties making text-based inferences. In addition, poor fluency limits many struggling readers' ability to process text efficiently, compromising basic and inferential comprehension (Cantrell et al., 2013; Flynn et al., 2012). This study presents intention-to-treat impacts from a randomized clinical trial of the Strategic Adolescent Reading Intervention (STARI) on a scenarios-based assessment of reading comprehension. STARI is a multicomponent reading intervention for struggling middle school readers and is implemented as a year-long supplemental reading program for middle school students who score below proficient on state literacy assessments. Building from a multiple-component view of reading development, STARI incorporates strands on decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension, and provides multiple supports for struggling adolescent readers. For example, teachers provide explicit instruction on strategies for decoding multisyllabic words, focused on identifying more complex letter combinations, syllable patterns, and morphological units such as base words and affixes. Instructional activities that target these skills have shown success in improving older struggling readers' word recognition and fluency (Edmonds et al., 2009). In previous work, positive intention-to-treat effects on multiple domains of reading, including word reading, morphological awareness, and efficiency of basic reading were found. This study extends prior work by examining effects on a Global, Integrated Scenario-Based Assessment (GISA) that is designed to assess a broader conception of reading ability (Sabatini et al., 2014). This impact analysis extends prior work by showing that a multi-component Tier-2 intervention for struggling adolescent readers can improve a range of reading outcomes as well as a global, integrated scenario-based assessment of reading."
  3. Roberts, G., Wexler, J., Vaughn, S., Fall, A., Pyle, N., & Williams, J. (2012). Efficacy of an individualized reading intervention with secondary students. Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness (SREE).
    From the abstract: "The study evaluates the efficacy of an intensive, reading intervention, a dropout prevention intervention, and an intensive, reading intervention plus dropout prevention on high school students' reading achievement and rates of dropout/school engagement. This paper focuses on the reading intervention and on reading outcomes. Data on the drop out intervention continues for the next 2 years. The research questions include: (1) What is the efficacy of an intensive reading intervention, with adolescent struggling readers compared with a well-documented, school-implemented comparison group on post-test reading performance? and (2) What is the moderating effect, if any, of primary language status and special education status? (Contains 3 tables.)"
  4. Scammacca, N., Roberts, G., Vaughn. S., Edmonds, M., Wexler, J., Reutebuch, C. K., & Torgesen, J. K. (2007). Interventions for adolescent struggling readers: A meta-analysis with implications for practice. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction.
    From the abstract: "This meta-analysis offers decision-makers research-based guidance for intervening with adolescent struggling readers. The authors outline major implications for practice: (1) Adolescence is not too late to intervene. Interventions do benefit older students; (2) Older students with reading difficulties benefit from interventions focused at both the word and the text level; (3) Older students with reading difficulties benefit from improved knowledge of word meanings and concepts; (4) Word-study interventions are appropriate for older students struggling at the word level; (5) Teachers can provide interventions that are associated with positive effects; (6) Teaching comprehension strategies to older students with reading difficulties is beneficial; (7) Older readers' average gains in reading comprehension are somewhat smaller than those in other reading and reading-related areas studied; (8) Older students with learning disabilities (LD) benefit from reading intervention when it is appropriately focused; and (9) To learn more about instructional conditions that could close the reading gap for struggling readers, individuals will need studies that provide instruction over longer periods of time and assess outcomes with measures more like those schools use to monitor reading progress of all students. This report summarizes aspects of recent research on reading instruction for adolescent struggling readers. It both synthesizes research findings to determine the relative effectiveness of interventions for struggling older readers and outlines the implications of these findings for practice. Its purpose is to advance the knowledge of technical assistance providers working with state departments of education and local education agencies concerning reading-related issues for students with reading difficulties and learning disabilities (LD). While the authors' methods and general findings are described, they are presented in terms of their impact on practice and policy. Specific suggestions for implementing these and other research findings are provided in an accompanying practice brief (ED521836). This report is intended primarily for technical assistance providers at Regional Comprehensive Centers for their use in crafting evidence-based guidance for states and local educational agencies. (Contains 5 tables and 1 footnote and lists 14 resources.) [For related reports, see "Effective Instruction for Adolescent Struggling Readers: A Practice Brief" (ED521836) and Effective Instruction for Adolescent Struggling Readers: Professional Development Module. Second Edition. Facilitator's Guide." (ED521838).]"
  5. Vaughn, S., & Fletcher, J. M. (2012) Response to intervention with secondary school students with reading disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 45(3), 244-256.
    From the abstract: "The authors summarize evidence from a multiyear study with secondary students with reading difficulties on (a) the potential efficacy of primary-level (Tier 1), secondary-level (Tier 2), and tertiary-level (Tier 3) interventions in remediating reading difficulties with middle school students, (b) the likelihood of resolving reading disabilities with older students with intractable reading disabilities, (c) the reliability, validity, and use of screening and progress monitoring measures with middle school students, and (d) the implications of implementing response to intervention (RTI) practices at the middle school level. The authors provide guidance about prevailing questions about remediating reading difficulties with secondary students and discuss future directions for research using RTI frameworks for students at the secondary level. (Contains 1 figure.)"
  6. Vaughn, S., Roberts, G., Wexler, J., Vaughn, M. G., Fall, A., & Schnakenberg, J. B. (2015). High school students with reading comprehension difficulties: Results of a randomized control trial of a two-year reading intervention. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 48(5), 546-558.
    From the abstract: "A 2-year, randomized control trial with 9th to 10th grade students with significant reading problems was provided for 50 minutes a day in small groups. Comparison students were provided an elective class and treatment students the reading intervention. Students were identified as demonstrating reading difficulties through failure on their state accountability test and were randomly assigned to one of three treatment conditions and a business as usual (BAU) condition: reading without dropout prevention, reading with dropout prevention, dropout prevention without reading, or a BAU condition. Findings from the 2-year reading intervention (reading with and without dropout prevention combined and BAU) are reported in this article. Students in reading treatment compared to students in BAU demonstrated significant gains on reading comprehension (effect size = 0.43), and improved reading was associated with better grades in social studies. Findings from this study provide a rationale for further implementation and investigation of intensive intervention for high school students with reading difficulties."
  7. Watson, S. M. R., Gable, R. A., Gear, S. B., & Hughes, K. C. (2012). Evidence-based strategies for improving the reading comprehension of secondary students: Implications for students with learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 27(2), 79-89.
    From the abstract: "Reading comprehension is a complex skill that places significant demands on students, beginning with elementary school and continuing through the secondary grades. In this article, we provide an overview of possible factors associated with problems in reading comprehension among secondary students with learning disabilities. Discussion underscores the fact that comprehension problems are evidenced by a heterogeneous group of students. We argue that it is important for teachers to align an intervention with a specific area of difficulty (e.g., teaching prefixes and suffixes to increase reading vocabulary). We highlight research-based interventions advocated by the National Reading Panel and offer ways that teachers can match specific strategies with the individual needs of students with problems in reading comprehension. Finally, we emphasize that whatever strategy is selected, it should be structured, explicit, scaffolded, and intense (Williams et al., 2005)."
  8. What Works Clearinghouse (2016). Read 180®. What Works Clearinghouse intervention report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
    From the abstract: "READ 180®" is a reading program designed for struggling readers who are reading 2 or more years below grade level. It combines online and direct instruction, student assessment, and teacher professional development. "READ 180®" is delivered in 90-minute sessions that include whole-group instruction, three small-group rotations, and whole-class wrap-up. Small-group rotations include individualized instruction using an adaptive computer application, small-group instruction, and independent reading. "READ 180®" is designed for students in elementary through high school. "READ 180®" was found to have positive effects on comprehension and general literacy achievement, potentially positive effects on reading fluency, and no discernible effects on alphabetics for adolescent readers. The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) identified nine studies of "READ 180®" that both fall within the scope of the Adolescent Literacy topic area and meet WWC group design standards. Three studies meet WWC group design standards without reservations, and six studies meet WWC group design standards with reservations. Together, these studies included 8,755 adolescent readers in more than 66 schools in 15 school districts and 10 states. The WWC considers the extent of evidence for "READ 180®" on the reading achievement of adolescent readers to be medium to large for four outcomes--comprehension, general literacy achievement, reading fluency, and alphabetics. The following are appended: (1) Research details for Fitzgerald and Hartry (2008); (2) Research details for Kim et al. (2010); (3) Research details for Swanlund et al. (2012); (4) Research details for Interactive, Inc. (2002); (5) Research details for Meisch et al. (2011); (6) Research details for Sprague et al. (2012); (7) Research details for White et al. (2006); (8) Research details for White et al. (2005); (9) Research details for Yuchak (2013); (10) Outcome measures for each domain; (11) Findings included in the rating for the comprehension domain; (12) Findings included in the rating for the general literacy achievement domain; (13) Findings included in the rating for the reading fluency domain; (14) Findings included in the rating for the alphabetics domain; (15) Description of supplemental findings for the comprehension domain; (16) Description of supplemental findings for the general literacy achievement domain; (17) Description of supplemental findings for the reading fluency domain; and (18) Description of supplemental findings for the alphabetics domain. An explanation of the WWC Rating Criteria, along with a Glossary, are also included."
  9. What Works Clearinghouse. (2014). Repeated reading. What Works Clearinghouse intervention report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
    From the abstract: ""Repeated reading" is an academic practice that aims to increase oral reading fluency. "Repeated reading" can be used with students who have developed initial word reading skills but demonstrate inadequate reading fluency for their grade level. During "repeated reading," a student sits in a quiet location with a teacher and reads a passage aloud at least three times. Typically, the teacher selects a passage of about 50 to 200 words in length. If the student misreads a word or hesitates for longer than 5 seconds, the teacher reads the word aloud, and the student repeats the word correctly. If the student requests help with a word, the teacher reads the word aloud or provides the definition. The student rereads the passage until he or she achieves a satisfactory fluency level. The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) identified two group design studies of "repeated reading" within the scope of the Students with Learning Disabilities topic area that meet WWC group design standards. Both studies meet WWC group design standards without reservations. Together, these studies included 78 students with learning disabilities from grades 5-12 in two different locations. The WWC considers the extent of evidence for "repeated reading" on students with learning disabilities to be small for four outcome domains--reading comprehension, alphabetics, reading fluency, and general reading achievement. There were no studies that meet standards in the five other domains covered by the WWC reading topic area, so this intervention report does not summarize the effectiveness of "repeated reading" for those domains. Appended are: (1) Research details for Ellis & Graves, 1990; (2) Research details for Wexler et al., 2010; (3) Group design outcome measures for each domain; (4) Group design findings included in the rating for the reading comprehension domain; (5) Group design findings included in the rating for the alphabetics domain; (6) Group design findings included in the rating for the reading fluency domain; (7) Group design findings included in the rating for the general reading achievement domain; (8) Group design follow-up test findings in the reading comprehension domain; (9) Group design posttest comparison of "repeated reading" and paraphrasing versus comparison in the reading comprehension domain; (10) Group design follow-up test comparison of "repeated reading" and paraphrasing versus comparison in the reading comprehension domain; and (11) Single-case design study that meets WWC pilot standards. A description of the WWC Rating Criteria and a Glossary of Terms are also included. [The two studies examined in this intervention report are: (1) Ellis, E. S., & Graves, A. W. (1990). "Teaching rural students with learning disabilities: A paraphrasing strategy to increase comprehension of main ideas." "Rural Special Education Quarterly," 10(2), 2-10; and (2) Wexler, J., Vaughn, S., Roberts, G., & Denton, C. (2010). "The efficacy of repeated reading and wide reading practice for high school students with severe reading disabilities." "Learning Disabilities Research & Practice," 25(1), 2-10.]"
  10. What Works Clearinghouse (2013). WWC review of the report "Same-Language-Subtitling (SLS): Using subtitled music video for reading growth". What Works Clearinghouse single study review. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
    From the abstract: "This randomized controlled trial examined the impacts of "Same-Language-Subtitling" ("SLS"), a karaoke-style subtitling intervention, on the reading comprehension skills of secondary school students in Kaneohe, Hawaii. Researchers randomly assigned 198 secondary school students with learning disabilities (ages 14 to 19) to either special education classrooms using the "SLS" intervention or comparison classrooms (special or general education). The final study sample consisted of 51 students in the intervention condition and 98 students in the comparison condition. Researchers assessed the effectiveness of "SLS" by comparing the reading comprehension achievement of students in the "SLS" intervention and comparison conditions at the end of the 12-week intervention in June, and again after the summer break in September. The study did not report the statistical significance of the impact of the "SLS" intervention. However, the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) calculations indicate that students in the "SLS" intervention condition scored significantly higher than students in the comparison condition on the reading comprehension achievement posttests. The research described in this report meets WWC evidence standards without reservations. Appended are: (1) Study details; (2) Outcome measure for the reading comprehension domain; and (3) Study findings for the reading comprehension domain. A glossary of terms is included. (Contains 3 endnotes.)"

Additional Organizations to Consult

  1. Florida Center for Reading Research -
    From the website: "The Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR) is a multidisciplinary research center at Florida State University. FCRR explores all aspects of reading research—basic research into literacy-related skills for typically developing readers and those who struggle, studies of effective prevention and intervention, and psychometric work on formative assessment."
  2. The IRIS Center -
    From the website: "The IRIS Center is a national center dedicated to improving education outcomes for all children, especially those with disabilities birth through age twenty-one, through the use of effective evidence-based practices and interventions."
  3. Vaughn Gross center for Reading and Language Arts at The University of Texas at Austin -
    From the website: "From translating research into practice to providing online professional development, the Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts (VGC) emphasizes scientifically based research and is dedicated to improving instruction for all students, especially struggling readers, English language learners, and special education students."


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

  • reading interventions for secondary students

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

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 for last 15 years, from 2001 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. 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.