WWC review of this study

The effects of Peer-Assisted Literacy Strategies for first-grade readers with and without additional mini-skills lessons.

Mathes, P. G., & Babyak, A. E. (2001). Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 16(1), 28–44. Retrieved from: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ630956

  • Quasi-Experimental Design
    , grade

Reviewed: May 2012

No statistically significant positive
Meets WWC standards with reservations
Comprehension outcomes—Substantively important positive effects found
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
Significant? Improvement

Woodcock Reading Mastery Test Revised (WRMT-R): Passage Comprehension subtest

Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies vs. business as usual


Grade 1;
130 students





Characteristics of study sample as reported by study author.

  • Female: 47%
    Male: 53%
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The study took place in five schools in a medium-sized school district in Florida

Study sample

Thirty first-grade teachers from five schools matched on demographic characteristics were selected to form a stratified sample and were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: Peer-Assisted Literacy Strategies (PALS; 10 teachers), Peer-Assisted Literacy Strategies plus Mini-Skills Lesson (PALS plus ML; 10 teachers), or a comparison group (10 teachers). After rank-ordering students by their reading ability within the classroom, each teacher identified five students to be included in the analysis sample: one high-achieving student, one averageachieving student, and three low-achieving students. High- and average-achieving students from the PALS plus ML group did not participate in the ML component of the intervention; thus, sample sizes for the PALS plus ML group are smaller than the other groups. The study began with 150 first-grade students. After attrition, the final analysis sample was 130 students (61 students in PALS, 20 in PALS plus ML, and 49 in the comparison group) and 28 teachers. The post-attrition samples were checked for equivalence at pretest by the WWC, and only one comparison was found to be comparable. The WWC intervention rating is based on the comparison of the combined PALS and PALS plus ML conditions to the comparison group with a total of 130 students across different ability groups. The mean age of the participating students was 6.9 years. Forty-seven percent of the students were female, 39% were African American, 59% were White, and 32% had special needs.

Intervention Group

This study included two intervention conditions, PALS and PALS plus ML, that are combined for the purposes of this review. Teachers in both of these groups implemented PALS with their entire class for 14 weeks in 35-minute sessions three times a week. In each lesson, a stronger reader and a weaker reader were paired. In Sounds and Words activities, students practiced phonemic segmentation, applied alphabetic knowledge to decoding novel words, and read connected text built on previously mastered phonological elements. During Story Sharing time, students made predictions about a book prior to reading it, shared the experience of reading the book with a peer, had repeated exposure to the text, and summarized the text through verbal retelling. In the PALS plus ML condition, a 15- to 20-minute mini-lesson was also given to small groups of low-achieving students in each classroom three times a week during the last six weeks of the PALS intervention. Teachers taught the mini-lessons before the PALS sessions. The content of the mini-lessons was the same as the Words and Sounds portion of PALS.

Comparison Group

Teachers used their regular reading curriculum and did not receive any recommendations or feedback about instruction from the researchers. However, PALS staff collected student data weekly using the Continuous Progress Monitoring measure across all groups (treatment and comparison). All teachers were also given a graph showing students’ progress every month.

Outcome descriptions

The study included several outcome measures, but only the analysis of achievement using the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test–Revised Passage Comprehension subtest meets WWC evidence standards with reservations. For a more detailed description of this outcome measure, see Appendix B.

Support for implementation

Intervention teachers participated in an all-day in-service workshop prior to the intervention. They were provided with a manual describing PALS and practiced using the intervention. During training, PALS project staff were available to provide support needed to implement the program. Project staff conducted three observations of teachers and students; intervention fidelity was 93% for teachers, and ranged from 75% (Sounds and Words) to 82% (Story Sharing) for students.

Reviewed: January 2012

Study sample characteristics were not reported.

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