The decision to conduct an evaluation of the efficacy of reading comprehension interventions for informational materials in content areas such as social studies or science resulted from a series of discussions between the IRP and reading experts, as well as from the advice of a separate expert panel convened to identify important and policy-relevant evaluation questions to study in reading. The expert panel's advice was that there are increasing cognitive demands on student knowledge in middle elementary grades where students become primarily engaged in reading to learn, rather than learning to read. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds lack general vocabulary as well as vocabulary related to academic concepts that enable them to comprehend what they are reading and acquire content knowledge. They also do not know how to use strategies to organize and acquire knowledge from informational text in content areas such as science and social studies.7 The panel advised that strategies for improving comprehension are not as well developed as those for decoding and fluency. While there are multiple techniques for direct instruction of comprehension in narrative text that have been well-demonstrated in small studies, there is not as much evidence on teaching reading comprehension within content areas.
This evaluation of reading comprehension is addressing the following questions:
Five interventions were competitively selected by an expert panel and were piloted in three 5th grade classrooms each during the 2005-06 school year. Selection of the interventions was based on existing research evidence, quality of the intervention approach, capability to implement the intervention, and appropriateness of the intervention for the target population. All of the selected interventions supplement the core reading curriculum in teaching reading comprehension of text containing information such as science or social studies content. At the end of the 2005-06 school year, four interventions were selected to participate in the full-scale evaluation beginning in the 2006-07 school year. Those interventions and their publishers are:
Eighty-nine schools within nine districts were randomly assigned to one of the four reading comprehension interventions or to a control group prior to the 2006-07 school year. Each intervention is being implemented in all 5th grade classrooms in each school. The impact of the interventions on a standardized reading comprehension assessment as well as informational texts in science and social studies will be estimated. The first report on the effectiveness of the reading comprehension interventions is expected in Spring 2008.
7National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel, Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.