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Home Publications What is the evidence base to support reading interventions for improving student outcomes in grades 1–3?

What is the evidence base to support reading interventions for improving student outcomes in grades 1–3?

by Joseph Dimino, Russell Gersten, Kelly Haymond and Rebecca Newman-Gonchar

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. It did not include studies whose subject was intensive (tier 3) intervention--that is, studies geared to students who require more than tier 2 support. The literature search and review identified 27 efficacy studies that the review team determined met What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) evidence standards either with or without reservations (What Works Clearinghouse, 2014a). Of the 27 studies, 23 compared the performance of students who received the intervention with the performance of students who did not. (Some interventions were examined in more than one study, and some studies examined more than one intervention.) The remaining four studies either explored variations in components of one specific intervention or contrasted two interventions, without a control condition. Of the 23 studies that compared students who did and those who did not receive the intervention, 15 studies examined 13 interventions in grade 1, and 8 studies examined 7 interventions in grades 2 and 3. Although this report relies heavily on WWC protocols, procedures, and standards, and WWC-certified reviewers conducted the reviews, this report is not a WWC product. Key findings from the 23 efficacy studies of the 20 interventions include: (1) All but 1 of the 20 interventions demonstrated positive or potentially positive effects in at least one of the four areas of reading performance: word and pseudoword reading, passage reading fluency, reading comprehension, and vocabulary. Effects were strongest and most consistent in word and pseudoword reading, though some interventions also had effects in reading comprehension and passage reading fluency. No effects were found in vocabulary; (2) All 11 of the individually administered interventions and 8 of 9 of the small-group interventions resulted in positive or potentially positive effects; and (3) All 20 interventions included high levels of ongoing support for the teachers, paraeducators, volunteers, and other adults who worked with students. Though the reviewed studies showed that 19 of the 20 reading interventions were effective, most of the interventions included a component that is atypical of current school practice: ongoing support for the interventionist (the teacher, paraeducator, or member of the research staff responsible for delivering the intervention). In addition, the majority of interventions involved individual (one-on-one) interventions, as opposed to typical school implementations, which involve small groups of three to five students. When considering how to use these findings, it is important to consider that these studies do not reflect typical school practice, where weekly or biweekly monitoring of fidelity of implementation and onsite coaching are rarely available. The following are appended: (1) The search, screening, and review process; (2) Forty-three studies reviewed using What Works Clearinghouse standards; (3) Research basis for the studies that the review team determined met What Works Clearinghouse evidence standards; and (4) Summary of the weighted mean effect sizes by area of reading for grade 1 and grade 2 and 3 interventions.

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