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Evaluation of Reading Comprehension Programs

Contract Information

Current Status:

This study has been completed.


September 2004 – June 2010



Contract Number:



Mathematica Policy Research
RG Research Group
RMC Research


Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (as reauthorized in 2001 by the No Child Left Behind Act) is intended to help ensure that all children have the opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach proficiency on challenging state standards and assessments. As the largest federal program supporting elementary and secondary education (funded at $13.9 billion in Fiscal Year 2008), these resources are targeted primarily to high-poverty districts and schools.

In 2006, more than 36 percent of 4th graders read below the basic level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). High school students in the bottom quartile of achievement are more likely than students in the top quartile to drop out of school. At the same time, there are increasing cognitive demands on students' knowledge when they begin reading to learn rather than learning to read. There are multiple techniques for direct instruction of comprehension skills in narrative text that are well-demonstrated in small studies. However, there is not much research on teaching reading comprehension within content areas such as social studies or science. This study was designed to fill this gap by examining the impact of four reading comprehension programs on student outcomes in social studies and science.

  • What are the most effective reading comprehension programs for improving student reading achievement in either social studies or science?
  • Under what conditions and practices do reading comprehension interventions improve student achievement in reading in either social studies or science?

The evaluation questions are being addressed by an experimental design in which 89 schools within ten districts were randomly assigned to one of four competitively-selected reading comprehension programs or to a control group using the usual school reading program. The interventions evaluated were appropriate for funding under Title I for improving the skills of struggling readers. Four programs were implemented in 5th grade classrooms during the 2006–07 school year: ReadAbout (Scholastic), Reading for Knowledge (Success for All), Project CRISS, and Read for Real (Zane-Bloser).

  • No positive impacts of the curricula on student reading comprehension were found in the study's first year; however, students in schools using the Reading for Knowledge curriculum scored statistically significantly lower than control group students.
  • There was a positive, statistically significant impact of ReadAbout on social studies reading comprehension when teachers used it for a second year. This reading program teaches students comprehension skills using a computer program that adapts to each student's reading level. The program also allowed for easier integration of small-group instruction and provided immediate feedback to students.
  • The impacts on fifth-grade reading comprehension were not statistically significantly different from zero for the other two curricula, Read for Real and Project CRISS, when used by schools for a second year.

The final report, titled Effectiveness of Selected Supplemental Reading Comprehension Interventions: Findings from Two Student Cohorts, was released in May 2010.

The interim report, titled Effectiveness of Selected Supplemental Reading Comprehension Interventions: Impacts on a First Cohort of Fifth-Grade Students, was released in May 2009.

A restricted-use file containing de-identified data is available for the purposes of replicating study findings and secondary analysis.