WWC review of this study

Comparing instructional models for the literacy education of high-risk first graders.

Pinnell, G. S., Lyons, C. A., DeFord, D. E., Bryk, A. S., & Seltzer, M. (1994). Reading Research Quarterly, 29(1), 8–39. Retrieved from: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ475731

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
    , grade
At least one statistically significant positive finding
Meets WWC standards without reservations

Reviewed: July 2013

Reading achievement outcomes—Statistically significant positive effects found
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
Significant? Improvement

Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement: Dictation subtest

Reading Recovery® vs. business as usual

February posttest

Grade 1;
79 students




More Outcomes

Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests (GMRT): Reading subtest

Reading Recovery® vs. business as usual

February posttest

Grade 1;
79 students





Woodcock Reading Mastery Test- Revised (WRMT-R)

Reading Recovery® vs. business as usual

February posttest

Grade 1;
79 students





Characteristics of study sample as reported by study author.

  • 65% Free or reduced price lunch

  • Female: 41%
    Male: 59%
  • Race

  • Rural, Suburban, Urban
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The study took place in ten school districts (two rural, two suburban, and six urban) in Ohio.

Study sample

The authors studied 403 first-grade students distributed across 43 schools from ten districts. The percentage of students in each district who received public assistance in the form of Aid to Dependent Children ranged from 9% and 42%. Four schools per district implemented one of four reading interventions—Reading Recovery®, Reading Success, Direct Instruction Skills Plan, and Reading and Writing Group. Within each school, the ten lowest-scoring students were randomly assigned either to participate in the intervention or to participate in the school’s regular reading program. For this report, the WWC looked at results for students in the ten schools (across ten school districts) who were using Reading Recovery® as their intervention. These schools all had prior experience implementing Reading Recovery®. In the original study design, 100 students were randomly assigned to receive either Reading Recovery® or the comparison condition at ten schools. However, random assignment was not successfully implemented at two schools, and there was minor attrition at the remaining schools, resulting in a final analytic sample of 79 students from eight schools (in eight districts). All students were low achieving, which was defined as students who scored below the 37th percentile on a standardized assessment and who were recommended for compensatory help by their teachers.

Intervention Group

The intervention group was composed of 31 low-achieving students across eight schools. Intervention students received one-on-one tutoring with a trained Reading Recovery® teacher daily for 30 minutes. The activities led by the teacher were aimed at fostering independent reading skills and included: reading both easier and more challenging books, conducting word analysis in context, and participating in activities aimed at improving writing fluency, such as composing sentences and reconstructing cut-up versions of sentences.

Comparison Group

The comparison group included 48 students attending the same eight schools as the intervention group. Students assigned to the comparison group received no special instruction, but continued to participate in their regular reading program and existing federally-funded supplemental education services with an instructional focus on developing basic reading and vocabulary skills. Some lessons from the supplemental education program included teachers reading aloud as well as group reading. Comparison group teachers, none of whom had received Reading Recovery® training, selected instructional materials based on their own discretion.

Outcome descriptions

This WWC review focuses on outcomes measured in February of the academic year in which the study took place because, at that point, no comparison group students had been exposed to the intervention. The WWC review does not include assessments that were measured in May of the same academic year because, at that time, a portion of students who had originally been assigned to the comparison condition had participated in the intervention. Three measures were administered to assess student outcomes in the general reading achievement domain: the Dictation subtest of the Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement, the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test–Revised, and the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test. Results from the Observation Survey: Text Reading Level subtest were not reported because effect sizes that were comparable to other measures could not be calculated. For a more detailed description of the included outcome measures, see Appendix B.

Support for implementation

At least two years prior to the study, Reading Recovery® teachers received specialized training. During this training period that took place over the course of an academic year, the teachers participated in weekly 2.5 hour long sessions, in which they practiced teaching using Reading Recovery® methods and observed other teachers through a one-way mirror. They also received a 1-day orientation at the beginning of the study.


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