The analysis sample included 41 elementary schools across 12 states located in rural and small towns in the South and urban areas of the Midwest.
The study used a cluster randomized controlled trial design. The study piloted the SFA® program in fall 2001, when three schools were randomly assigned to SFA® and three schools were randomly assigned to the comparison condition. In fall 2002, 35 new schools were recruited, with 18 schools randomly assigned to implement SFA® in grades K–2 and 17 schools randomly assigned to implement SFA® in grades 3–5.
In Borman et al. (2007), the K–2 group had been the focus, with the 3–5 group providing the comparison. For the K–2 analyses, the study combined the two cohorts of schools and presented findings after the intervention students completed 1, 2, and 3 years of SFA®.
The authors used two samples to evaluate the effectiveness of the SFA® program: a sample that focused on students who were present in schools at the time of baseline and outcome assessments (referred to as the “longitudinal sample” in the study), and a sample that included all students who were given the outcome measure (referred to as the “combined longitudinal and in-mover sample” in the study). Both samples may include students who moved into the study schools after random assignment.
For the effectiveness rating, the WWC focused on third-year findings from the larger (combined) sample of students. Six schools were lost to attrition and reduced the third-year analytic sample to 35 schools. The third-year analyses focused on second-grade students who were in kindergarten when implementation began, and consisted of 1,011 students in 18 SFA® schools and 925 students in 17 comparison schools.
The 18 intervention schools were comprised of 61% minority students, and in the 17 comparison schools, 73% of students were minorities. The percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch was 66% in intervention schools, and 77% in comparison schools.
For the grade 3–5 analyses (Hanselman & Borman, 2013), the authors only used the fall 2002 cohort of schools, but flipped the comparison, using the K–2 group as an experimental control to estimate the effect of the SFA® literacy instruction in grades 3–5.
For the grade 3–5 analyses, the study included two cohorts of students, referred to as “primary” and “secondary” in the study. Students in the primary cohort began using the SFA® reading programs in grade 3, while students in the secondary cohort began using the SFA® reading programs in grade 4.
This report focuses on the primary cohort of students who were in third grade in 2002–03 and experienced the program over 1 year of the study. Their reading achievement outcomes were measured in the spring of the third grade. The analytic sample included 1,197 students in 17 SFA® schools and 1,223 students in 18 comparison schools. Some students in the analytic sample moved into the schools between random assignment and the posttest.
At baseline in the fall of 2002, the percentage of minority students in 17 intervention schools was 83%, while the percentage of minority students in the 18 comparison schools was 75%. The percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch was 86% in intervention schools and 75% in comparison schools.
Students in intervention group received the SFA® whole-school reform program, including the SFA® reading curriculum, tutoring for students’ quarterly assessments, family support teams for students’ parents, a facilitator who worked with school personnel, and training for all intervention teachers. Students were regrouped from across grade levels into reading classes based on their reading level. Classroom instruction was structured around direct instruction, cooperative work in small groups, and regular individual assessments. Some schools took a year to fully implement the program.
For intervention schools that implemented SFA® in grades 3–5, students received Reading Wings, the SFA® reading curriculum for elementary students at the second-grade level and above. The curricular focus throughout lessons was on comprehension of complex text. No intervention students had prior exposure to the K–2 SFA® curriculum.
For the grades K–2 analyses, comparison schools continued using their regular curriculum for grades K–2. In the second cohort of schools recruited in 2002, SFA® was implemented in grades 3–5 in comparison schools (in comparison schools recruited in 2001, no grade levels implemented SFA®). Authors conducted observations at all schools and indicated that students in grades K–2 were not exposed to classroom-level components of SFA® in schools that implemented the intervention in grades 3–5. However, K–2 students in these comparison schools may have had access to some schoolwide components of the grades 3–5 SFA® intervention, such as family support. If comparison students in grades K–2 used these services, the study’s estimate of the effectiveness of SFA® may not reflect the full impact of the schoolwide components of SFA® on outcomes.
For the grades 3–5 analyses, no information is provided on the instruction in grades 3–5 used in the comparison condition. No comparison students had prior exposure to the K–2 SFA® curriculum. While the SFA® school reform program was concurrently implemented in grades K–2 in the comparison schools, SFA® monitored the intervention and comparison classrooms during quarterly visits and found no evidence that the comparison classrooms in grades 3–5 had adopted any of the SFA® components.
Support for implementation
SFA® teachers received 3 days of training during the summer and approximately 8 days of on-site follow-up during the first implementation year. Success for All Foundation trainers visited classrooms, met with groups of teachers, looked at data on children’s progress, and provided feedback to school staff on implementation quality and outcomes.